John Lehrman has been backcountry skiing in the canyons and on the peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains for the past 22 years, and he’s excited to finally be able to share his experience and knowledge as a licensed guide.
Last week, the Bitterroot National Forest approved a Special Use Permit for Lehrman, owner of Downing Mountain Lodge above Hamilton, to offer guided backcountry ski services from the lodge and other popular destinations on public lands in the county. Lehrman, who has been working on getting the permit for five years, is now the only certified backcountry ski guide for the Bitterroot National Forest, home to some of the best skiing terrain in the state.
“Now we can guide guests at the lodge on Downing Mountain, as well as day skiers, to popular destinations like Gash Point, Camas Peak, El Capitan and the Como Peaks, Little St. Joseph Peak, Ward Mountain and Sweeney Peak,” Lehrman said. “This will add depth to our business and will allow forest users on the Bitterroot to hire a day guide to increase their enjoyment and safety while backcountry skiing in the wilds of Montana. We are the only outfit to have such a permit on the Bitterroot and we are pleased to announce this next phase in our business and the opportunity that it brings.”
Lehrman will also offer avalanche classes based at the lodge next January in a partnership with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.
“That is something we were not able to provide before the Special Use Permit,” Lehrman said. “Now folks coming from further afield or just looking for local knowledge can tap into the wealth of experience that I have from skiing on the Bitterroot for the past 22 years. Backcountry skiing has been the only growth sector of the skiing industry for numerous years now, due in part to advanced equipment and the fact that people are looking for a more authentic experience that skiing in the mountains provides, rather than paying for a lift ticket and skiing amongst crowds. I will be actively marketing the guide service locally in Montana as well as in distant skier-soaked cities that are linked to Missoula via one flight, namely Salt Lake City, Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis.”
Lehrman has been working with Bitterroot forest wilderness and trails program manager Deb Gale and resource specialist Marty Almquist for the past five years to get the permit approved, and West Fork District ranger Dave Campbell signed the permit last week.
“We were able to cruise through the initial and secondary screening processes by writing our application to fit the existing forest plan,” Lehrman explained. “And then we were able to make it through the scoping period and public comment with no deflections, taking us right to the point of approval where we negotiated the final hurdle.”
There are many licensed hunting, snowmobiling and hiking guides in the Bitterroot, Lehrman said, but no ski guides until now.
“We can’t go into Management Area Six’s, which are potential additions to the wilderness area,” he said. “The Forest Service plan doesn’t allow any new outfitter permits in those areas, which are places like Blodgett, Boulder and Kootenai Canyons. But we can still go in Management Area Five’s, areas like Gash Creek and Little St. Joe Peak that are perfect for backcountry skiing.”
Lehrman said his clients will provide all their own equipment.
“We provide the guide service, education, meals, accommodations and avalanche education out of the lodge,” he said. “A lot of people are making the crossover from downhill skiing to backcountry skiing but they don’t have the experience to do it right. However, a lot of folks have the financial where-with-all to hire a guide. They may not be experienced in route finding and terrain choice, which is where I come in.”
Lehrman said he will really gear up to book guided ski trips next winter.
“We look forward to this new opportunity for our business and the increased options for guided recreation on the Bitterroot National Forest, home of some fantastic skiing opportunities in the backcountry,” he said.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or email@example.com.