By Heather Burke, Boston.com Correspondent
I fell in love with Montana skiing a decade ago, my first trip to Big Sky. I was hooked on the big mountains, the vast ski terrain, few skiers and unbelievable views. As John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charlie, “For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love.” I happily returned to ski Big Sky four more times, more love, my son loved it too – so much so he went to college in Montana and stayed there.
Last winter I fell in ski love again, with Montana’s original Big Mountain, redubbed Whitefish Mountain Resort in 2007 (the ski area dates back to 1947). Whitefish, in northwest Montana, sits at the edge of Glacier National Park near the largest fresh water lake in the west – Flathead Lake, with Big Mountain as the skiers’ centerpiece. The views of frosty glacial peaks in nearby Canada and the nearby Park are mesmerizing from the 6,817’ summit of Whitefish, where a new lodge is perched, and trails drop in all directions.
Skiing at Whitefish feels bigger than its 2,353’ vertical, served by swift quads on three sides. I have two new BFFs, big fall-line friends, Toni Matt (yes, named for the guy who hucked Tuckerman’s headwall in 1939 then moved to Whitefish) and Inspiration are two of the most fun, long, sweeping ski trails on the frontside with fantastic southern views of Whitefish Lake. Sporting 3,000-acres from big bold groomers to snowy bowls in between and steeper black diamond glades in Hellroaring Basin, it could take a whole season to “Ski the Fish.”
Whitefish Mountain Resort quickly moved into my top 10 ski resorts. You’ve got big mountain terrain, amiable locals, lively après ski at the Bierstube, and the most authentic western ski town – namesake Whitefish – six-miles away. Whitefish is like cowboy country meets ski town – these Montanans embrace snow with a big Winter Carnival and the Ski Joring World Championships where good ole cowboys are rope-towed on skis by rodeo horses, flying off jumps, grabbing rings, and drinking cold beers between elimination laps on the local grass strip airport. You just have to experience Whitefish to see what I mean by cool western ski towns.
To ski Whitefish, take a week, fly into Kalispell Montana just 18 miles away, even take a day to visit Glacier National Park. You can lodge in town at Grouse Mountain Lodge or The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, or up on the mountain at Morning Eagle Lodge at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
By Heather Burke
Photos of Whitefish Mountain Resort by Greg Burke