Max slope angle
30-45 Degrees
Primary aspect
East facing
Vertical descent
5,000.00 ft (1,524.00 m)
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

While the Missions are even more burly in winter than they are in summer, East Saint Mary's remains a relatively safe way to get up into the high country. From the ESM ridgeline, you can get beautiful open turns in the No Fish Drainage, access the coveted West Couloir of Grey Wolf, ski some of the steep lines off the ESM summit, or access even deeper into the range. No matter what you choose, ESM ridge is a great tour, though it is an extremely steep approach and is not suitable for beginners unless they're absurdly strong and good at combat skiing.


The Basics

  • Seasonality/Snow: ESM has a ton of gain, so the upper mountain catches and keeps snow far later than the lower section. It can be skied from December to May, maybe later depending on snowpack. Be careful in the Missions, there isn't any avalanche forecasting for this region, though there is a SNOTEL site up the North Fork of the Jocko River that provides some intel for those who know how to read it.

  • Route Add-ons:

    • You can link this ridge up with the West Couloir of Grey Wolf if the stability is there or ski off the summit of ESM.

  • Number of Days: Most will do this in a day, though there's gorgeous camping near No Fish Lake (for which you will need an additional permit).

  • Navigation: Bring a map and/or a GPS, this area can be prone to whiteout in the winter.

  • The Drive: In the winter, plan to approach from St. Ignatius, the eastern road isn't plowed. In the middle of winter, this road can be treacherous and unplowed, so make sure you've got a car that can handle the conditions and don't push it too hard.

  • Permitting: This route is entirely on the Flathead Reservation and is permitted by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. You will need a Tribal Conservation Permit, which as of Summer 2022, costs $80 for three days or $100 for the year and can be purchased at some outdoor retailers in Missoula or online through the State of Montana Hunting/Permitting Portal - The tribes levy this permit to ensure that they are able to maintain the cultural, ecological, and economic value of their land. Purchase this permit, it's enforced.

  • Bears: The Missions have a healthy grizzly population. Do not visit without knowing how to behave around grizzly bears. From April on you should be carrying bear spray.



  • The must-have avalanche safety gear: beacon, shovel, probe, and the know-how to use it!

  • A good pack for a day with a high potential for booting.

  • Traction: This is your call for this route and totally depends on the snowpack and your comfort on variable snow.

    • Gear to consider:

      • Ski crampons: you'll likely want these.

      • You may want boot crampons + lightweight ice axe and/or BD Whippet.

  • Radios: Radios are becoming more and more common in the backcountry skiing world, as they dramatically improve communication and safety.

  • Navigation: Bring a GPS, this area can be prone to whiteout.


A disclaimer on this description and included GPX track - this line was skied on a single day with certain snow and avalanche conditions. The track described is a reasonable way to move through this terrain, and the description below mentions some of the hazards found during the trip. However, conditions may be significantly different when you visit this area. The advice in this trip report is not meant to be followed perfectly - you will need to adapt the route for the conditions you find and for your party’s abilities.


The Trip

The Approach

You'll park in a clearing at the westernmost point of the lake and then boot or skin to the small campsite at the northern tip of the lake. From here, follow the summer route up the absurdly steep climb, which gains almost 4,600' in 2.1 miles before leveling off slightly at a knob at 8,600'. Skinning and booting this section are both tough, so do what the conditions allow. You'll probably want ski crampons at some point on this climb if you're skinning.

As you climb, you'll break above treeline and reach the ridgeline. There are two points at which you'll reach rocky scrambles. Avoid the first one (at 7,800') by traversing right and by climbing up and over the second. Continue following the ridgeline up to the knob at 8,600'.


The Skiing

From 8,600', you have a ton of options. You can continue up the ridgeline toward ESM where you can either ski off the summit or enter the large No Fish valley, which provides great skiing and also gives access to the obvious West Couloir of Grey Wolf. The possibilities up here are endless, do whatever looks good to you!


The Exit

Once you've gotten your skiing in, ski back up to the knob. You can have an adventurous exit if you ski the bowl south of this knob, but be warned, doing so will require that you contour skier's right before climbing several hundred feet back up to the ridge.

More conservatively, you can ski back alongside the ridgeline to 8,200', where you can ski a south face for almost 1,000' before breaking skier's right back to the ridge. From here, combat ski and boot your way back down to the car.


Participate in your backcountry community!

Even though Missoula Avalanche doesn't forecast for this zone, please consider submitting an observation after your trip describing the travel conditions and snow stability you found! Submitting snow observations and writing trip reports on forums are great ways to contribute to the community and improve avalanche forecasts. It's also incredibly valuable to read the local observations and trip reports written by others, as they'll help keep you updated on what the mountains are doing on a day-to-day basis. This will help determine whether you have a fun time next time you get out!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)


Parking Pass

Reservation Fee

Open Year-round



Gorgeous setting for low-angle turns.


Absurdly steep approach makes for rugged booting/skinning.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

4,000.00 ft (1,219.20 m)

Highest point

8,700.00 ft (2,651.76 m)

Total elevation gain

5,000.00 ft (1,524.00 m)


Big vistas



Typically multi-day


Shuttle required


Terrain type


Snowmobiles allowed



Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Flathead lake + Mission Range, Montana
Flathead lake + Mission Range, Montana
Flathead lake + Mission Range, Montana


Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.