Three years after a ski resort opened on Whitefish’s Big Mountain, the owners realized that once the snow melted there was little for their equipment and employees to do during the warm months. That all changed in 1950, when Winter Sports, Inc. started offering scenic lift rides up the mountain.
Sixty-seven years later, the lifts are still rolling come June. Since then, Whitefish Mountain Resort has dramatically expanded its summer activities, says spokesperson Riley Polumbus. This year, the resort is offering everything from mountain biking to zip-line tours from June 17 until Sept. 24.
“Summer provides many ways to play on the mountain for all ages,” says resort CEO Dan Graves.
Big Mountain was one of the first resorts to offer summer chairlift rides in the 1950s, giving visitors a chance to take in the stunning views of the Flathead Valley. That tradition continued unchanged until the 1980s, when mountain biking began to grow in popularity. For a few years, cyclists were permitted on the chairlift until that decision was reversed due to the bikes damaging the slopes. In 1990, the resort opened its Nordic trails to mountain bikers during the summer, and in the mid-1990s, it built a designated bike trail from the summit to the base. After adding new trails, the resort in 2006 started to look for ways to cement its place as the primary downhill biking center in the region.
A decade later, the resort is continuing to move toward that goal. Beginning on June 17, two chairlifts will carry bikers up the mountain, providing access to 22 different routes for a total of 30 miles of trail.
Because of 400 inches of snow this past winter, work continues on reopening two of the resort’s 24 trails, the Runaway Train and GNR. In an effort to cater to bikers of all abilities, the resort over the years has constructed a variety of trails for everyone from beginners to experts.
The resort is also putting the finishing touches on its brand new Strider Bike Park near the Base Lodge. The park allows kids ages 2 to 6 work on their balance and riding skills on pedal-less strider bikes. Polumbus says it’s a great way to help kids learn how to ride in a safe environment.
“It’s going to be a super cool track for the young kids,” she says.
For those who are not interested in biking, the resort has plenty of other options, with Montana’s only “Alpine Slide,” an aerial adventure park, zip-line tours and hiking on the Danny On Memorial Trail.
While Polumbus says winter will always be the resort’s bread and butter, summer is becoming an increasingly important part of their business model, nearly seven decades after it became one of the first mountains to offer scenic lift rides.
“We’re a family-oriented destination and so we want to make sure we have something for the entire family,” she says.