It’s arguable that more skiers in Western Montana have their first backcountry experience here at Mount Fuji than anywhere else on this side of the state. While the decent is neither steep nor lengthy, don’t let her Nerf-coated appearance fool you. Many a shredder has shared bottomless turns on these 800 vertical feet near Lolo Pass.
Upon arriving at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center, you’ll encounter a large parking lot brimming with trucks and snowmobile trailers. While everyone gears up in the same spot, you’ll be parting ways soon enough. Head out the main trail (alongside the cross country skiers and snowmobilers) and plan for one to two hours of skinning/hiking to get you to the top. There’s more than one route to the summit and people typically follow the snowmobile-groomed Pack Creek Road about 1.5 miles to Fuji’s base. Alternatively, one could skin the groomed Glade Creek Loop (skier only) to the foot of the slope. Depending on the snow conditions and your equipment, the packed snowmobile trail can sometimes be faster, even with the longer distance. Near the base you are likely to find a skin track, or maybe a snowboarder’s boot pack, to follow up to the 6,052-foot summit.
Should you be lucky enough to be the one setting the course, choose a safe path and bootpackers should be respectful of any established routes. No one makes friends when they stomp up an otherwise meticulously-crafted skin track. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the Bitterroot Mountains and deep pockets of powder skiing/riding on your way down. This “mountain” is cone-shaped and fall-line routes that start right next to each other can end up very far apart at the bottom. Keep an eye out for where you are headed and watch for thick brush at the base, especially in the early season.
NOTE: As you make plans to follow in the footsteps of the many powder-hungry skiers before you, note this: Ms. Fuji may have a kind and gentle face, but she has a dark and stormy past. A young, new-to-the-backcountry skier was killed on Mount Fuji in 1985 when he was caught in an avalanche here on this seemingly forgiving slope. Be careful to read up on avalanche conditions, take classes and invest in proper backcountry safety equipment. Oh, and if you go…see if you can figure out why it was named Mount Fuji in the first place.