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|Resort: Whitefish Mountain Resort (previously known as Big Mountain)
Country: Montana, USA
Date: 24-27 Januaray 2008. (4 full days on the slopes)
Our holiday: Part of a 10 day trip that continued with a week in Fernie. (see next report)
I travelled with my usual 2 snowboarding mates. We are fairly experienced powder-hungry riders who have explored the European Alps extensively and are now looking for new challenges across the pond.
Whitefish Mountain Resort official website. Daily snow reports are logged at 6am and a summary of today's conditions is added around midday once the reporter has spent a couple of hours on the slopes. (local time = GMT-7hrs)
7 day local weather forecast
Basics : Whitefish Mountain Resort is located 20 minutes north of the town of Whitefish, in the far north of Montana 75 minutes from the US/Canada border. My two mates live in Germany and Switzerland so travel logistics were complicated. We decided to fly to the local Kalispell airport which is only 15 minutes south of Whitefish. My flights were with Northwest from Gatwick. Outbound involved two stops via Minneapolis and Seattle, 18 hours, departing Gatwick midday, arriving Kalispell 11.45pm local time, yuk. The return journey was not so bad with one stop in Minneapolis only, 12 hours, departing Kalispell 2pm, arriving Gatwick 9.10am (next day). Fare = ¬£475
Lift system: Is excellent. Three out of the four main lifts are fast quads. All of the lifts are very well linked meaning that you spend far more time on the slopes than on your bum.
The resort claims that the area covers 3000 acres.
In summary; steep at the top, much flatter at the bottom. A perfect mix of immaculately groomed pistes and vast areas of ungroomed open, gladed and forested terrain. As is the norm with North American resorts all of the area within the resort boundaries is patrolled and avalanche controlled - the "if you can see it, ride it" mantra very much applies here. The area is divided into 4 main sections:
Accessed by Chair 1 (a new fast quad) which covers the 800m vertical in only 7-8 minutes. There are endless different routes back down to the bottom. Toni Matt, Inspiration, and Moe-Mentum are long wide groomers of European red-ish run gradient at the top moderating to blue-ish gradient at the bottom. Of far greater interest to us were the large areas of ungroomed terrain. Big Face is a wide open moderately steep run with very few trees directly under the normally disused Chair 5. This continues into pisted (but not always groomed) red-black-ish runs under (also normally disused) Chair 4, with tighter trees between the pistes. This is the quickest (not groomed) route down to the base and was superb in good snow. To rider's left from the summit is East Rim which accesses some seriously steep chutes between rocks/trees into more open bowls below. Evan's Heavan is an area of tight-ish trees with a multitude of routes through it. Bigfoot T-bar is open at weekends only and serves a few short yo-yo runs but more importantly provides access to a vast area of tight trees on the backside. (see below)
Served preominantly by Chair 7, a fast quad, 7 minutes. Straight down are several groomed runs the steeper of which were heavily mogulled at the top. To rider's left from the summit are some scarily steep runs that moderate to almost complete flatness at the bottom (board off and some walking is required ) To rider's right is the most interesting area (accessed from the Bigfoot T-bar). A vast expanse of mostly tight trees with numerous long routes down. Great and challenging tree-dodging fun after a moderate snowfall, a bit more complicated after a big dump, as it's easy to get stuck! All fall-line routes lead down to a cat-track to Chair 7 so there are no worries about getting lost.
My favourite area. Very steep lightly-gladed runs at the top that were superb in good snow. These all lead down to a long long trail of blue-ish gradient that was equally good - the perfect gradient for full speed turns all the way down with trees a plenty to weave between and big pockets of powder at the sides of the run. Felt like a proper race-track.
The only downer about Hellroaring is the chair out which is a slow old triple with no foot-rests i.e. uncomfortable.
Chair 2 area
A seperate hill accessed by Chair 2, another fast quad, 4 minutes. The runs here aren't particularly interesting although the Swift Creek blue is a good fast cruise. However this chair was my preferred route to the two excellent terrain parks and the (massive, biggest I've ever seen!) half-pipe.
The snow : Superb. Already a 200cm+ base when we arrived. Our first day (Thursday) was illuminated by glorious sunshine (amazing views from the summit) and it hadn't snowed for a week. Nevertheless snow all over the mountain was in great condition with plenty of soft spots off-piste. It then snowed Friday, Saturday afternoon and megadumped Sunday so that by Sunday afternoon we were swimming in oodles of knee-waist deep pow.
The backside faces north and on Thursday after the dry sunny spell this area had the best snow. I would imagine that snow conditions on the south-facing frontside would deteriorate fairly rapidly in warmer late-season weather.
I had heard tales that Big Mountain is often troubled by fog. However this wasn't a problem during our visit except for only a brief period at the summit on Sunday afternoon when it was dumping.
Crowds: Overall a crowd-free resort. There was sometimes slight-moderate traffic on the main lifts and in the lunchtime eateries but once on the hill you would often be the only person on a run from top to bottom. After some overnight new the snow would normally become tracked reasonably quickly but was never excessively choppy or mogully. Much easier to find fresh tracks than in Fernie. Never any queues for the lifts.
Off-piste : Vast and varied although not quite as steep, exciting or extensive as Fernie. See the above area write-ups for more info.
The resort : There is a well-developed slope-side village with plenty of accommodation and a few shops, restaurants and bars. Lots of activity immediately after the lifts shut but I was informed that it goes dead later in the evenings.
We stayed in Whitefish town. A typical touristy American town with a very attractive main street. Lots of character. Plenty of bars and restaurants and a brewery which provides free samples of its products.
There is a regular free bus that links the town and the resort.
Food: For lunch we ate in either the Summit Hut which is a big self-service restaurant serving the usual burgers, salads, nachos, chilli, baked potatoes, burritos, etc. Or in The Chalet just above the base which is table service but similar stuff. Both were very good.
In the evenings in Whitefish we ate in:
Great Northern Bar - burgers, cheap but not Great
Mackenzie Pizza Company - decent pizzas.
There are also plenty of more upmarket (and expensive) restaurants.
At the end of each day we went for a beer in the Bierstube which was always busy.
Later in the evenings there were lots of good and well-populated bars which remained lively until the early hours. The most popular appeared to be the Great Northern which sometimes had live music. The local brewery means that there is a wide range of beers to try.
Accommodation : We stayed in the Pine Lodge which is a comfortable albeit characterless hotel 10 minutes on foot from the town centre. $85 per night for a room that sleeps two in two big double beds, plus a third can be squeezed in although I wouldn't recommended this as the extra rollaway bed is small and springy.
The rate includes breakfast. (cereal, pastries, coffee, fruit juice, bananas/apples)
There is a small not-very-warm swimming pool.
The hotel offers a free shuttle service to/from Kalispell airport between 5am and midnight. So if you arrive on the 11.45pm from Seattle make sure you phone the hotel straight away or you risk being stranded at the airport. I couldn't see any taxis when I arrived. There is a free direct line phone from the airport to all local hotels.
Costs: Probably the best value resort I have ever visited, helped by the weak dollar. Futhermore prices on the hill were no more expensive that those in town. Lift pass = $56/day dropping to $51/day if purchased for 3 consecutive days or more. Pint = $3. Lunch including a drink = $10. Dinner including beer = $15-20. Hotel = <$30pppn if 3 sleep in one room.
Conclusion: Big varied area, 4 days wasn't enough to explore it all, superb snow, excellent lift system, no crowds, cheap. I would visit again.
Whitefish Resort Report Feedback Thread and pics
Last edited by A snowHead on Sat 9-02-08 20:49; edited 3 times in total