Bitterroot Backcountry Guides

Bitterroot Backcountry Guides specializes in guided ski tours at Downing Mountain Lodge and to other destinations on the Bitterroot National Forest. To best maximize your experience and understanding of the terrain, hire Bitterroot Backcountry Guides and enjoy the best that Downing Mountain has to offer on any given day. $400 for groups 1-4 people and $800 for groups 5-10 people. Rates are negotiable for students and others on a tight budget. Guided groups are encouraged to be of similar ability so that we can best meet the needs of the entire group. Guided trips are also available for other locations on the Bitterroot National Forest.


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 hours drive from Hamilton and Missoula Montana. We offer tours for intermediate to expert skiers.

Guided day trips also run independently of visits to Downing Mountain Lodge. Open guided day trips for 2018 have a six person maximum and cost $175 per person. Dates and 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, and Ward Mountain. Anticipate being up early and out all day skiing around 5,000 vertical feet. All participants must supply their own beacon, shovel, and probe pole and should be athletically fit and able to negotiate tree skiing at least at an intermediate level. Bring your own food, water and thermos of tea. Discounts available for students and others on a tight budget, please inquire.

Ski Skills Course, at Downing Mountain Lodge, covers the fundamentals of skiing technique both uphill and downhill, terrain assessment, route finding, and group dynamics and decision making. $425. Bring your own food and beverage. Shuttle available.

The skiing and terrain at Downing Mountain varies from gentle tree glades to open faces and alpine bowls. Most of the popular runs face north to east, promising a long-lasting powder cycle. The advanced south-facing runs are long and descend towards Sawtooth Canyon. The terrain is mostly intermediate to advanced with a few short beginner slopes in the vicinity of the lodge.

From the lodge it is a 2,000-foot climb to the upper bench and another 500 feet to the ridgeline, where skiers can choose from 500-foot alpine or tree runs to 2,500-foot runs back to the lodge. Skiers may also continue out the Downing Mountain ridge to ski north, east, or south aspects. Downing Mountain itself rises to 8,700 feet and is the high point along the ridge until you reach Canyon Peak at 9,100 feet, where few skiers venture.

A typical ski day at Downing Mountain Lodge might include the climb to the summit ridge combined with a couple of shorter laps on runs like Ninas, Lost Glades, the Wave, Powder Park, or the Crown. The grand finale is always the exceptional 2,800-foot descent back to the lodge. Longer tours to Downing Mountain include bowl bouncing far out the ridge. Long, committing descents up to 3,500 feet into Sawtooth Canyon require long climbs back to the ridge or car-shuttling arrangements from the Sawtooth trailhead.

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 Lodge is reserved for lodge guests only, ensuring your privacy on the mountain. The roadway and parking are private and only for use by guests of DML. No Day Skiing. No public access.

The USGS 7.5-minute map for the area is the Ward Mountain quad, which can be purchased in Hamilton at the Paper Clip office supply store on Main Street, or in Missoula at the Trailhead. We recommend that each person carry a copy of this map or the ski map linked to below and a compass while skiing on Downing Mountain. There are marked aerial photos and terrain maps available at the lodge for guests.


John Lehrman, owner of Downing Mountain Lodge and Bitterroot Backcountry Guides, has 15 years experience skiing at Downing Mountain and 20 years 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 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 passed 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 up coming winter and can be found quite active on Facebook and Instagram. 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.

Ski photography and videography is also available for an additional $100. Capturing images from your day on a Nikon D90 and providing direct download opportunity of high quality photographs and videos provides mementos and instructional benefits.


AIARE Avalanche Education Classes: please contact Dennison Webb directly at S.O.L.E. 928-351-7653 or email

Avalanche Level 1, 24 hour course: March, 2018 $495 non SOLE member; all inclusive instruction, lodging, meals

Avalanche Level 2, 32 hour course March 2018 $695 non SOLE member; all inclusive

We are pleased to again be offering a level 1 AIARE avalanche class as well as our first Level 2 AVY class based at Downing Mountain Lodge. AIARE is the leading provider of curriculum based avalanche classes and sets the bar for education in this field of study. Suitable for the winter recreationist looking for a solid introduction to avalanche education or the aspiring avalanche forecaster or backcountry ski guide, these courses are the primers on which all other avalanche education is based. George D'Angelo, Dennison Webb, and Kirk Bachman have years of experience backcountry skiing, climbing and teaching avalanche education classes in the Missoula area as well as in central and north Idaho and the Tetons.
The 24 hour course will lay the groundwork for winter backcountry enthusiasts to travel safely, securely and enjoyably. With two nights lodging at Downing Mountain Lodge and three days spent studying snowpack, assessing terrain, and skiing at Downing Mountain, it will be a great three days of education and enjoyment. We have a limited number of spots available on this hut based course and the price includes Level 1 certification, instruction and materials, food and lodging. We look forward to this fourth season of avalanche education and being able to provide the highest quality training for our guests and the backcountry community. The 32 hour Level 2 course led by Kirk Bachman is the next step in avalanche education and delves into the details and nuances of forecasting, snowpack evaluation and terrain and group management skills more thoroughly and to a deeper level. Expect a fast paced class and an expectation that you have been active in the snow science field during the winter. S.O.L.E is a non-profit outdoor education and leadership school based in Sandpoint, Idaho with a mission to bring the best in outdoor leadership education to the best venues in the Interior Northwest. This weekend course will be a real success led by a leader in the field with many decades of experience. We look forward to hosting these formative courses for our guests.