There’s something about the West that fosters feuds. A century ago, it was cattle ranchers versus sheep ranchers. In the last decade, there were ski hill skirmishes between snowboarders and skiers. The latest quarrel is between Pattee Canyon’s Nordic skiers and folfers. It seems that enthusiasts of these two pursuits wouldn’t cross paths often, but when the winter snowfall is light and the temperature is warm, conditions at Pattee Canyon recreation area are perfect for both gliding skis and gliding discs.
Last week, it looked like anger had led to action after a folfer reported to the Independent that cross-country skiers had taken a chainsaw to a few of Pattee’s folf course holes. A quick investigation revealed that, yes, the folf hole posts had been taken down, but the culprit wasn’t who the folfers suspected.
“Yeah, I cut them down,” says Joe Kipphut, resource forester for the Missoula Ranger District. “I did it because the course is closed for the winter, but nobody is reading the signs.”
Ever since the folf course was put up at Pattee, it has been officially closed for a few months during the winter season, says Kipphut. But few seem to recognize the closure. Instead cross-country skiers often arrive to find footprints (both human and canine) crisscrossing the well-worn grooves they work so hard maintain.
“While the Blue Mountain course is open, people insist on going out and using the Pattee folf course,” says Kipphut. “People ignore the signs. They walk out there with their dogs. They trash the groomed ski trails that the Nordic ski club spends about $5,000 a year on. The problem was that the folfers refused to cooperate, so we had to do that to get their attention.”
Nordic Ski Club President Tom Daer admits to the friction between the two groups.
“With the folfing course totally overlapping the lower ski trails, there is that user conflict,” says Daer, who attributes most of the problem to close quarters. “Those damn posts, the folf course posts were just paralleling the ski trails.”
While Daer thinks taking out the posts is a solution, he thinks that a better long-term remedy would be moving the folf course entirely. He says that there’s enough room in the recreation area to accommodate both groups.
“I don’t think anyone in the ski club—and we have folfers in the ski club—would have any problem with having a winter course up there,” says Daer. “But it’s just a matter of shifting over the course 200 or 300 yards.”
Kipphut says he sided with the skiers because “there is no other place in Missoula for the skiers to go that’s within a 45-minute drive.” He adds that the folfers only have to give up their course for about three months a year.
No one from an official folf group could be reached for comment—another problem according to Daer.
“They’re kind of a loose-knit group,” he says. “It just seems that they don’t have the organization to get the word out [about the course closure]. They don’t have that kind of network.”