Skiing and Snowboarding
Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain. The Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain has been one of Montana's top ski areas since the 1930s. Eight miles from Whitefish, it's popular among train travelers from the Pacific Northwest and the upper Midwest. The recently expanded Base Lodge houses a Kids Center, bar and cafe, shop, and office for lift tickets, rentals, and lockers. Chair 6 is directly out the upper-level exit. The snow season runs from early December through early April. At this writing, another expansion, including 32 acres of cleared runs, was expected to be completed in time for the 2014/2015 season.The mountain's most distinctive features are its widely spaced trees, which—when encased in snow—are known as snow ghosts. With 3,000 skiable acres, plus out-of-bounds areas for Sno-Cat skiing, Big Mountain offers a lot of terrain to explore and many different lines to discover among those widely spaced trees. The pleasure of exploration and discovery—such as finding a fresh cache of powder many days after a snowstorm—is perhaps the main reason to ski Big Mountain. Easy discovery comes with the help of free mountain tours by mountain ambassadors. They meet intermediate skiers near the bottom of the main quad chair, Glacier Chaser, at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm daily. In general the pitch is in the intermediate to advanced-intermediate range; there's not a whole lot of super-steep or super-easy skiing. A sameness in pitch, however, doesn't mean a sameness in skiing. With trails falling away on all sides of the mountain, there is a tremendous variation in exposure and hence in snow texture; also take into consideration the number of trees to deal with and the views (the best being northeast toward Glacier National Park). Kids love the Super Pipe on the front side's Chair 3; they can spend the whole day on the north side, especially in the natural half pipe of George's Gorge, under Chair 7 (the Big Creek Express). One of Big Mountain's best features is its long high-speed quad, the Glacier Chaser, meaning that runs using most of the mountain's 2,300-foot vertical are interrupted by less than 10 minutes of lift-riding time. A negative is weather. Foggy days are not uncommon; at those times you're thankful that those snow ghosts are around as points of reference. During the summer months the mountain comes alive with wildflowers and an abundance of activities provided by the resort. Ride the lift up the mountain and rent one of their mountain bikes down. Go for a "walk in the treetops" from a boardwalk suspended in the trees and guided by expert naturalists. The zip-line tour will carry you at 50 miles per hour to a height of over 100 feet in the air. Children and adults alike will enjoy the thrill of the Alpine Slide as you race down the mountain on your own sled. 406/862–2900 or 877/754–3474. www.skiwhitefish.com. Early Dec.–early Apr. and mid-June–mid-Sept., daily 9–4; Fri. and Sat. night skiing until 8:30 late Dec.–early Mar.
Backcountry Skiing & Snowboarding
Because of an unusually liberal policy regarding skiing out-of-bounds, backcountry powder skiing and is possible from the top of the Big Mountain. For the most part, the Big Mountain ski patrol does not prevent riders from crossing ski-area boundary ropes, although if you do so and get into trouble, you’re responsible for paying rescue costs. Those who choose to travel out-of-bounds run a high risk of getting lost: it’s easy to ski too far down the wrong drainage, creating the prospect of a tiring and excruciating bushwhack back to the base.
Sno-Cat-skiing. For an introduction to the nearby backcountry, you might want to sign up with Big Mountain Ski and Snowboard School's Sno-Cat-skiing operation, which takes skiers on a daylong off-piste adventure (breakfast and lunch included) for $350 to $375 per person, depending on the month. Whitefish, MT. 406/862–2909. www.skiwhitefish.com.
Glacier Country Avalanche Center. Although the backcountry avalanche danger varies with the winter snowpack, it's best to check the local avalanche forecast with Glacier Country Avalanche Center and to carry transceivers, probe poles, shovels, and, most important, a knowledge of backcountry safety and first aid. Whitefish, MT. 406/257–8402 Advisory hotline.
2,300-foot vertical drop; 3,000 skiable acres; 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 30% advanced; 3 high-speed quad chairs, 1 quad chair, 5 triple chairs, 3 surface lifts. Snow report 406/862–7669 or 877/754–3474.
Lessons and Programs
Group instruction in downhill is offered for $75 for two half-day lessons (plus two lower-mountain lift tickets); cross-country, telemark skiing, and snowboarding lessons are also available. Specialty clinics such as racing, mogul, and telemark techniques are also available, as are children’s programs.
Ski and Snowboard School. Group instruction in downhill is offered for $75 for two half-day lessons (plus two lower-moutain lift tickets and two days' worth of rentals); cross-country, telemark skiing, and snowboarding lessons are also available. Specialty clinics such as racing, mogul, and telemark techniques are also available, as are children's programs. For information, call the Ski and Snowboard School. Whitefish, MT. 406/862–2909. www.skiwhitefish.com.
A full-day ticket is $69; for night skiing the charge is $20.
There are two machine-groomed track systems in the Whitefish area: both systems serve their purpose well enough, but don’t expect inspiring views or a sense of wilderness seclusion.
Big Mountain Nordic Center. The Big Mountain Nordic Center offers 10 miles of groomed trails. Whitefish, MT. 406/862–1900. www.skiwhitefish.com.
Glacier Nordic Touring Center. The well-groomed trails of the Glacier Nordic Touring Center meander around the rolling grounds of the Whitefish Lake Golf Course and are suitable for all levels, from children to serious fitness skiers. 1200 U.S. 93 W, Whitefish, MT, 59937. www.glaciernordicclub.com.
The Outpost Lodge on Big Mountain. Rentals and trail maps are available at the Outpost Lodge on Big Mountain. Whitefish, MT. 406/862–2946.
Full snowboard- or ski-rental packages including skis/snowboard, boots, and poles start at $34 per day (406/862–1995).
There are more than 200 groomed snowmobile trails in the Flathead region. Unless you are an experienced snowmobiler and expert at avalanche forecasting, you should take a guided trip.
Extreme Motorsports. This outfitter rents boats, wakeboats, and Sea-Doos in summer and snowmobiles in winter. They also offer guided snowmobile tours. 6191 Highway 93 S., Whitefish, MT, 59937. 406/862–8594. www.wfmextrememotorsports.com.