The experience of skiing Whitefish Mountain Resort is intertwined with visiting the western town of Whitefish, Montana. As you walk along Central Avenue, ducking in and out of locally owned shops, you can see the ski hill just eight miles to the north. After the drive from Alberta, it’s a charming place to stretch your legs, and a hot drink from Montana Coffee Traders is vital. On this day, the café was abuzz with talk of how unusually cold it was. Rumour had it that mountain officials were threatening to close the main chair for safety reasons. No one wants to get stuck on a stalled lift when the wind chill is -30 C, so to cover my bases, I popped into Stumptown Snowboards to pick up a face mask.
The next morning, no matter how cozy the fireplace was in my hotel room, staying inside was not an option after commuting all the way from Wild Rose Country. Thankfully, the sunny day took the sting out of the bitter temps. On the way to the hill, the shuttle driver told us we were lucky as the runs at Whitefish can often be steeped in fog.
The good news continued when we arrived at Chair 1, also known as the Big Mountain Express. It was open for business, although some other lifts weren’t. As we floated to the top, the static Chair 5 appeared on our right, frosted white against the dazzling azure sky.
When I’m a newcomer to a mountain, I tend to ride runs a few times over to learn the terrain. So on this day I stuck to the front side, with a Toni Matt migration that became progressively faster. The trail is fairly flat for the first two minutes, but from the second it switched from a road to a run, I felt like a hero. It’s a wide-open slope with a pitch that’s not steep enough to intimidate, yet sheer enough to bless you with some big speed. I detoured onto Bench Run, but jumped back onto Toni Matt to return to Chair 1, one of three high-speed quads at Whitefish.
The resort formerly known as Big Mountain feels like a local’s hill, despite the name change in 2007 to ease marketing efforts to non-locals confused about the location. For Northern Montana residents of the historic railway town, the change is no biggie—even before the ski hill was originally founded in 1947, its moniker was a moving target. In 1935, Whitefish skiers with a thirst for speed formed the Hell Roaring Ski Club, but changed it to Whitefish Lake Ski Club to placate townspeople who weren’t fans of fire and brimstone. Haskill Mountain was another handle and many places on the trail map nod to these moments in the mountain’s history.
Do your best to carve into the 3000 acres of skiable terrain, but don’t forget to carve out time for a hearty lunch. We stopped in to Summit House at the top of Chair 1: elevation 6817 feet. When skies are blue, suds-sipping snowboarders and skiers enjoy a crystal-clear view of Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.
After a day of skiing the Fish, as the locals say, it’s time to thaw those flippers in hot water. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, like I was, you can continue your Big Mountain experience during your après ski. The Lodge’s lakeside hot tub offers an incredible view of the slopes through a veil of steam as they catch the setting sun’s final rays.