Big Mountain No More

By Beacon Staff

Big Mountain Resort announced Wednesday its new name will be Whitefish Mountain Resort.

“On the eve of our 60th anniversary, we have looked back to understand what has made us special and unique to our guests,” said Winter Sports Inc. CEO Fred Jones in a press release. “We have looked at where we are today from the perspective of our guests’ current and evolving needs, as well as our dynamic competitive landscape and where gaps exist to meeting and improving on guest needs.”

“Our offering is often underestimated and misunderstood and to many more, our name is highly generic. Therefore we are changing our name and graphic identity to Whitefish Mountain Resort and rolling out both substantive programs as well as communications that better set us apart and convey our unique guest experience.

“This initiative is also about a closer integration between the town and the resort, because Whitefish truly represents who we are,” emphasized Jones.

For weeks now in Whitefish, gossip has been rampant over whether Jones would announce the new name change at the June 13 ribbon-cutting for the new $10.6 million Day Lodge. While the resort has made tweaks to its moniker in the past, there was speculation that this change would be more drastic.

Right up until Wednesday, Big Mountain employees would not comment on the truth of the name change rumor, nor would Jones.

According to the press release, the new branding platform is a culmination of nearly a year of research and analysis that included interviews with customers, employees, influencers and community members, visits to and analysis of major competitive resorts, and some introspection about the resort’s strengths and weaknesses.

Winter Sports, Inc. developed its new branding platform in conjunction with brandadvisors™ of San Francisco. President and founder Charles Rashall served as executive strategic director and Tom Suiter, a part-time Whitefish resident and artist, served as executive creative director.

Also underway at Big Mountain, er, Whitefish Mountain Resort, a $20 million renovation and expansion project.

Dozens of state road crews, backhoes and bulldozers cluster up either side of the road approaching the resort, part of a massive reconstruction project to widen and straighten the sometimes white-knuckle drive.

Where the road ends, a more specialized project improves the second leg of the journey to the top – constructing and re-aligning Big Mountain’s chairlift system. It’s a job undertaken by a crew of highly trained lift construction specialists.

The reconfiguration of the chairlifts will improve access to beginner terrain and re-establish the ski school, Jones said in an interview last week. It will also create a plateau, at the level of the developing village, where skiers and riders load onto Chairs One and Two while others unload from Chair Six.

“To remain competitive we had to resolve these issues,” Jones added. “The lifts are being positioned in conjunction with our overall village plan.”

But “rearranging” two ski lifts is no small task. Chair One will keep its current lift towers, but all other components are to be replaced, including the cable, 187 chairs, the struts at the top of the lift towers to guide the chairs called “cross-arms,” and a new 900-horsepower motor to pull it all up the mountain all day, every day.

Chair Two will be realigned to comply with U.S. Forest Service guidelines and lengthened to drop it down to the same level as Chair One’s loading area. Chair Two gets new towers and most of the components coming off of Chair One.

Mark Haselby, site manager for Doppelmayr CTEC, and his 10-man crew, are charged with the task of rebuilding both lifts before the snow starts falling in force. Haselby, 48, has done chairlift construction for 22 years and worked on more than 60 lifts. He helped build Chair One 18 years ago.

“I guess you could say I’m going full-circle in my career,” Haselby said.

In order to remove the massive lift cables, Haselby has clamps pull tension on either direction of the loop to create slack in the 16,000-foot long cable, which weighs 87,000 pounds, then severs it. Once severed, he attaches a thinner cable to one end of the lift cable, and unthreads it, like attaching a thick fly line to the thinner, lighter leader and feeding it through the eyes of the rod.

To detach and reattach the heavy cross-arms, Haselby contracts the work out to a logging helicopter capable of flying the parts up the mountain and nestling them on the tops of the lift towers, with the help of the crew.

“Obviously, catching cross-arms up on a tower is not everyday work for anyone,” he added. Haselby also uses the chopper to fly yard-wide buckets of concrete up the slopes, where a crew waits to wrangle them and pour it into tower foundation reinforcements.

Three feet of snow still covers the upper portions of the mountain, preventing cranes and other big machines from working up high, but the crew will make its way further up when it melts off and the less-steep roads become passable.

Chair One is scheduled to be complete by mid-September, and Chair Two at some point after that.

“It’s safe to say it’ll be ready by ski season,” Haselby said.