When winter arrived in western Montana this year in mid-October, it left a settled base of 2 feet of snow at the summit of Whitefish Mountain Resort. Locals knew this was going to be a deep-snow winter. And it has been!
Annually, 300 inches of snowfall lands in the ski area, formerly known as The Big Mountain, and glazes the Whitefish Mountain Range. It’s the lovely enclave of winter recreation, uncrowded, ungentrified and unpretentious.
Skiers revel in the powder pockets like Good Medicine, a luxuriously lengthy run where the evergreens are spaced for perfect turns and often untracked lines two days after new snow falls.
There’s a seemingly second ski area, the North Side of the mountain, a natural playground of gullies, half pipes and gentle glades. There is the Hellroaring Basin, a steep-sided drainage of black and double-black diamond dashes with one intermediate run, the groomed Hell Fire.
Finding some of the hidden treats takes a local’s knowledge, which is why the resort’s platoon of yellow coats—Snow Ambassadors—escort visitors on free mountain tours thrice daily, 10 a.m., 10:30 and 1:30 p.m., departing from the base of the quad chair, Big Mountain Express.
Tours allow for differing abilities while sampling a variety of mostly intermediate runs like Toni Matt, named for the famous Austrian racer who ran the ski school a half-century ago.
Snow Ambassador Doug Dye points out some super steeps from the top of the mountain called North Bowl Chute.
“NBC chute isn’t for the faint of heart, and what happens in NBC stays in NBC,” he declares.
He’s a retired teacher who grew up here and undoubtedly knows every hidden powder glade on Whitefish Mountain Resort. His favorite? “The one I just finished, soon to be replaced by the one I’m about to do. And Good Medicine with fresh powder is always tough to beat.”
This winter, even visitors can feel like locals with the purchase of the “December and Beyond Package,” that will keep them coming back for $40 tickets all year long—a regularly priced ticket is $61 per day.
It’s a screaming deal, a Ski and Stay in the Hibernation House for $70/person/day or an Edelweiss Condo for $99/person/day any time between Dec. 4-24. The resort throws in a free Frequent Skier Card for unlimited $40 lift tickets for the rest of the season.
Yet Whitefish is not just about sliding on snow. Named for the splashy native piscatory critter, the “whitefish,” the resort town on Whitefish Lake celebrated a 100th birthday in 2005. The town’s dedication became official in April 1905 when Whitefish became an incorporated burg just as the Great Northern Railway chugged into town en route to the Pacific.
The town’s 36-hole golf course, which during winter is called Glacier Nordic Center, provides some of the most delightful groomed cross-country skiing in Montana. Just outside town is the Stillwater Mountain Lodge’s Nordic trails where dogs are welcome with their well-mannered masters. Glacier National Park is only 45 minutes away with a million acres to explore.
Snowshoeing, ice skating, dog sledding and snowmobiling entice families off the slopes for other adventures. Outfitters, locations and rental information are available at www.explorewhitefish.com, the grand web site for everything Whitefish.
In town, the library, cultural arts facility, ice rink and aquatic center join the Stumptown Historical Society Museum in the Great Northern Railway Depot as fashionable $15 million community efforts that offer events and activities for visitors.
Downtown eateries and dry goods shops line Central Avenue, also home to nightlife and occasional wildlife such as the Yetis that venture down from the mountain during the annual February Winter Carnival of parades, ski races and general merriment.
Soft pillows and down comforters await snow lovers at places like the historic Garden Wall B&B, The Hidden Moose Lodge and the elegant Whitefish Lake Lodge which offers lakeside rooms with mountain views. The Whitefish Lake Lodge is home to the Boat Club Restaurant and Lounge known for Montana classics such as Cowboy Rib Steak or Montana Buffalo.
A downtown don’t-miss restaurant is Pescado Blanco, which serves “mountain Mexican” an exciting merging of northern Rockies favorites with southern Mexican spices for a special like the namesake Pescado Blanco, grilled seasoned Mahi Mahi topped with an avocado-orange salsa, red cabbage and chipotle crema, and served on handmade corn tortillas. Desserts cannot be passed up: Mud Pie, a Mexican chocolate crust filled with coffee ice cream and topped with toasted almonds and fudge.
Whitefish has it all: winter’s finest snows, the nightlife, ski life and other recreation in this glacier-gouged valley in the land of the shining mountains.
Getting There: Whitefish is about a 5-hour drive from Spokane via I-90 and Montana Highway 135 at St. Regis. Follow U.S. 135 from St. Regis to Highway 200. Turn left at Highway 200 towards Plains. Just prior to Plains look for Highway 28 on the right to Kalispell and Glacier National Park. Turn right at Highway 28 and follow past Hot Springs, Montana to the Intersection of Highway 93 at Elmo on Flathead Lake. Follow Highway 93 to the right (north) through Kalispell and continue north to Whitefish.
For more information on Whitefish Mountain Resort, call (877) SKI-FISH or www.skiwhitefish.com.
For more information of Whitefish lodging, dining and recreation, call (877) 862-3548 or www.explorewhitefish.com