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Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana

Whitefish Mountain Resort, formerly Big Mountain, a comfortable and unpretentious resort in Montana, just up the hill from Whitefish, enjoys and suffers eclectic weather and snow conditions from fluff to fog to soup to cement.  It’s a mix of the western side of the Rockies and Pacific Northwest maritime, called “inland maritime,” producing plenty of fluffy powder along with plenty of challenging conditions, depending on the weather.

Big Mountain Ski Resort, Rocky Mountains, MontanaWhile Whitefish Mountain Resort is still a bit of a secret, it has been discovered by skiers and riders drawn here not just by the remoteness, but also by the no-frills, laid-back spirit of its people. Many locals have come here from other resorts that used to be like Whitefish Mountain Resort before turning glitzy. These people are now the guiding force behind developing the ski area in ways that complement its character.

The resort, in the far northwest corner of Montana near the Canadian border, is as big as its name, especially since it has a generous out-of-bounds policy. The uninhabited territory surrounding the ski area is also vast. Every which way you look, Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the Flathead National Forest and the Canadian Rockies thrust jagged peaks into the sky, split by wide valleys filled with lakes and rivers. The combination of mountain protection and thermal effect of the lakes and rivers afford a surprisingly pleasant climate considering the area is so far north. Like most ski resorts near national parks, the majority of visitors come in the summer months, making winter the off-season and refreshingly uncrowded.

The mountain is well-balanced for all abilities, particularly now that the resort is redesigning the beginner area. Families will find Whitefish Mountain Resort resort to be an absolute joy. Mixed groups can ski together, since advanced and expert terrain drop off intermediate trails and eventually meet back up again near the base. While beginners can’t ski from the summit, they have an isolated area that friends and family can easily access to check in, share a few runs and meet for lunch before heading back to their respective runs.

The ski area base, Whitefish Mountain Resort Village, hosts a cluster of hotels and condo properties along with a number of restaurants and historic bars. This base area is under redevelopment and will offer extended facilities once their new Master Plan is put in place. For its 60th anniversary 2007-08 season, look for a new base lodge, new lifts, new retaurants, an expanded terrain park and a new name connecting Big Mountain with the near-by town of Whitefish. Whitefish, a quaint historic railroad town just 8 miles down the mountain, is part of the Whitefish Mountain Resort experience. The town is home base for many visitors and is well-equipped to handle a broad variety of travelers.

The weather here is a mix of the western side of the Rockies and Pacific Northwest maritime, called “inland maritime.” Weather on the eastern side of the Rockies is what’s reported on the Weather Channel — ignore it — where all the “…degrees below zero” occur. Toward the summit, spectacular “snow ghosts,” are created — trees encased in many layers of frost and snow. The weather also produces plenty of fantastic powder, but without the sunshine you’ll find in the southern Rockies. If you forget your sunscreen, you’ll probably survive, but don’t forget your goggles. Pack your sunglasses. When the sun shines, the views and the skiing are both spectacular.

A new, larger day lodge opened for the 2006-07 season on the site of the old Outpost Lodge, near the beginner area. The full-service lodge has ticket sales, rentals, the Kids’ Center, the Snowsports Center and a cafeteria. In conjunction with this development, another beginner chair was installed and more beginner terrain added. This expansion is in addition to regrading done in 2005 to make beginner trails easier. A moving carpet for first-time skiers and riders will also make a debut. All this development is part of the new Master Plan to create a more unified base village and skier plaza.

Photos courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resorttt