Montana Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Skiing at
Downing Mountain Lodge


Guests will enjoy amazing backcountry skiing on Forest Service lands adjacent to the Lodge, with 3,000 vertical rising directly behind the Lodge.

The bowls, faces, and glades of Downing Mountain are uphill and to the west, providing Forest Service access to the endless Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Ski runs vary from short, intermediate runs near the Lodge to 2,800-foot fall line runs off the summit ridge. For the adrenaline junkie, the terrain provides steep alpine bowls and faces; and, for those high-avalanche-danger days, there are plenty of moderate, north-facing glades. For the committed and dedicated ski tourer, there are a number of 3,500-3,750 foot peak to creek runs to test your endurance and long run love.

Like any mountain environment, Downing Mountain contains serious avalanche terrain. Guests are encouraged to educate themselves in avalanche forecasting and route finding, as well as ego control. Effective communication between friends and ski partners is highly recommended. Carrying and using radios is also recommended.

Backcountry skiing at Downing Mountain is reserved for Lodge guests only, ensuring privacy on the mountain. The roadway and parking are private and only for use by our guests.

Downing Mountain Statistics

  • Parking Lot Elevations 4,800’
  • Lodge Elevation 5,500’
  • Summit of Little Downing Avy Bowl 8,100’
  • Summit of Downing Mountain 8,690’
  • Longest Fall Line Run 2,800’
  • Total Vertical 3,890’
  • Terrain Types burnt tree glades, green tree glades, open bowls, steep faces, natural rock jumps, tight thickets, extreme cliff lines, and extensively chainsaw gladed terrain in Little Downing Mountain Bowl.
  • Forest Types Ponderosa/Douglas Fir, Lodgepole, Spruce/Subalpine fir, Subalpine Larch.

Chainsaw Enhancement on Little Downing

Little Downing Mountain has seen significant chainsaw enhancement since the fire of 2012. The removal of dead hazard trees has been approved by the Bitterroot National Forest in a partnership to mitigate tree hazards while skiing the main bowl and to allow enhancement of nonavalanche terrain. While there remain many parts of Downing Mountain that are in original, natural condition, the Main Avy bowl skis with a character that could only be accomplished through extensive dead tree removal throughout the burn, whilst retaining a natural visual retention character congruent with the current Bitterroot National Forest Plan. Enjoy some of the best-burnt tree glade skiing around no matter the visibility!

Bitterroot Backcountry Guide Service

About Bitterroot Backcountry Guide Service

Bitterroot Backcountry Guides is the only authorized and permitted backcountry ski guide service on the Bitterroot National Forest and as such, we have access to ski guiding opportunities on thousands of acres of Bitterroot National Forest lands. Not only do we guide guests from our home base at Downing Mountain Lodge, we also offer ski guided tours to other incredible ski locations like Camas Peak, Ward Mountain, Gash Point, Sky Pilot Peak, Hidden Peak, Little Saint Joseph Peak, El Capitan and a range of other choices all within an hour drive from Hamilton and Missoula, Montana. We offer tours for intermediate to expert skiers.

Backcountry Gear + Other Items

All participants must supply their own full width, edge to edge skins for their skis or split board, a beacon, shovel, and probe pole. Participants are also responsible for their food, water, and thermos for tea.

Backcountry Skill + Experience

Participants should be athletically fit and able to negotiate tree skiing at least at a high intermediate level. Guided groups are encouraged to be of similar ability so that we can best meet the needs of the entire group. These excursions are not suitable for first-timers in the backcountry!

Backcountry Trip Locations

Locations will be determined by weather and snow coverage but will be picked from the following list: Gash Point, Camas Peak, Canyon Peak, Sky Pilot Peak, El Capitan Peak, Little St Joseph Peak, Downing Mountain and Ward Mountain. Anticipate being up early and out all day skiing around 5,000 vertical feet.

Guided Backcountry Trips Pricing

Public guided day trips have a six-person maximum and are $150 per person.

Private guided day trips are $500 per guide.

Rates are negotiable for students and others on a tight budget.

John Lehrman

John, the owner of Downing Mountain Lodge and Bitterroot Backcountry Guides, has 22 years of experience skiing at Downing Mountain and 30 years of experience skiing in the Bitterroot Range. With experience skiing the backcountry of the French Alps, the Sierra Nevada, the Chilean Volcanoes, the Tetons, British Columbia, and the Icefields Parkway, Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Idaho, he brings a depth of experience to an authentic mountain guiding experience. He is P.S.I.A certified as a backcountry ski guide and holds level 3 avalanche certification from American Avalanche Institute in Jackson Hole, is a Wilderness First Responder and will be sure to provide you with an exceptional guided skiing experience with a commitment to safety, education, and joyfulness. John has been guiding at Downing Mountain Lodge since 2008.

Blake Votilla

Blake officially joined our team in 2015 after completing a successful season guiding on Mount Rainier where he further honed his experience mountain guiding climbers to the summit. Blake has apprentice guided at Downing Mountain Lodge for the past two seasons and we are excited to bring on his youthful energy to Bitterroot Backcountry Guides. Blake will be helping lead trips throughout the Bitterroot Range this upcoming winter. Blake holds Level 2 avalanche certification, Wilderness First Responder, and is a card-carrying optimist and avid backcountry skier who regularly skis all summer and gets his 150+ days a season. He has skied from Alaska to Ecuador with many trips to Idaho, the Tetons, the Cascade Volcanoes, and the Wasatch.

Backcountry Ski Skills Course at Downing Mountain Lodge

This course covers the fundamentals of skiing technique both uphill and downhill, terrain assessment, route finding, and group dynamics and decision making. Participants are responsible for providing their own gear, food, and beverages. A gear shuttle is available. This is a three day course.

$625/person