LATITUDES

Big Mountain, Small Town

Your guide to the goods at Whitefish Mountain Resort

You’re here. Finally. It wasn’t easy—you probably took a long train ride, or drove through the night and day, or sat on two pricey planes (at least) to get to the northwest corner of the “last best place on earth”—Whitefish, Montana. You and yours came because you like to ski where it’s quiet and clear. You aren’t deterred by soupy fog or the bitter cold and you love to wiggle through tight fir and spruce forests. So long as you don’t complain, take skiing too seriously, or think you’re incredibly cool because you’re from California or Canada, you’ll do just fine here.

Three hundred inches of snow falls annually on the Big, blanketing 3,000 skiable acres from Whitefish Mountain Resort’s summit, which sits at 6,817 feet, to the base 2,353 feet below. Ski from early December to early April, and with lights illuminating three chairs on weekend nights, you don’t have to turn down until spring comes. The $76 adult day passes don’t hurt, and they’re even cheaper if you pick them up at the neighborhood Costco.

The resort has grown up since its days as the homegrown Big Mountain, but you still won’t find a hype-y attitude, heated chairlifts, or a too-clean, too-cute resort village at the base. There’s cheap housing at the Hibernation House, which has a great pancake buffet, as well as spendier digs like the Kandahar Lodge and Snow Bear Chalets, new treehouses that are creative and sustainable. There’s more lodging, hustle, and bustle downtown, which is ten minutes away, and the free SNOW Bus will haul you back up in the morning.

Onto what matters: the skiing. If you want to cruise groomers, schuss Toni Matt and Inspiration, or fly down Big Ravine.

Otherwise, from Chair 1, which drops skiers at the summit, head toward the breathtaking Glacier National Park panorama to access East Rim. These fun, technical lines are short, but the resort plans to move the currently parked Chair 5 here during summer 2017 to make for quicker access. Ski off the nose to Whitey’s for south-facing powder. The Chutes (Chicken Nuggets) are cliffy, N.B.C. (North Bowl Chute) is a fairly skinny line that holds snow and opens up into a fat, powdery apron, and First Creek is playful with more tree cover.

Ski northwest from the summit to meet your match in Hellroaring Basin. For a little action, Picture Chutes has a good band of exposure. For a mellower run, try the Back Nine, which is thick with trees, or Grey’s Golf Course, which is more open. Snow hides longer near trees tight enough to truly test your reflexes, like those between Connie’s Coulee and Teepee (Area 51).

On a powder day, you’ll have to wait for the excellent patrol workers to clear East Rim and Hellroaring, which usually happens by lunchtime. Until the frontside is skied out, hit runs like Good Medicine, the Chair 1 liftline, Langley’s, Cal’s. You could also head the backside, to Chair 7, which services the North Bowl. To get here, head to Grey Wolf from the summit, then drop in anywhere it looks good. These lines, including Bighorn and Mario, are short-lived, but they pack a punch and are peppered with small, poppy cliffs. Or try your hand on Flower Point, a new-ish chair that provides access to soulful tree skiing and some longer, sustained runs. The liftline holds snow well, or you can hook farther right to weave through increasingly dense trees, where it seems like there’s always fresh turns.

Other details: The resort has a generous uphill policy with marked routes (Benny Up!), and provides good backcountry access, including to the Canyon Creek drainage, which is accessible from the Flower Point chair. It’s tempting, but don’t venture out of bounds without the proper gear and education. Also, the tree wells here could swallow you, so ski with partners and keep an eye on them.

And when the day is done, the best ski bar in the world, the Bierstube, is waiting. Tomorrow’s waiting, too—and you never know, it might be an inversion day, and the sun might be smiling down on Big Mountain.