On Web, Big Mountain Backlash

By Beacon Staff

On the social networking Web site, facebook.com, the reaction to the newly named Whitefish Mountain Resort – formerly Big Mountain – is anything but friendly.

A group named “Save Big Mountain” has 225 members, and it’s the most politely titled discussion thread out of the three on the site regarding the name change. Another 104-member group has a two-part name, with the first half directing an expletive at “Whitefish Mountain Resort,” and the title’s second half stating “I ski/ride/shovel Big Mountain.”

A third facebook.com page aims its hostility directly at the chairman of the board for Winter Sports, Inc. In a photo resembling the Ghostbusters logo, Bill Foley stands holding a lift ticket scanner overlaid with a red circle and slash. With 69 members, the group is named “I dislike Bill Foley with a passion.”

While facebook.com is now a public Web site, it was limited to college students until recently and nearly all of the members on the anti-Whitefish Mountain Resort pages identify themselves as students at Montana universities, Flathead High School and Whitefish High School.

“Changing Big Mountain’s name is not like the need for changing a diaper, it should never be done,” Heidi Hanson writes on one page, identifying herself as a student at MSU Bozeman. “Stick with what works, seriously.” A few posts down on the same page, Nick Ferrington writes that he is selling bumper stickers directing an expletive at Foley for $2 each.

Winter Sports, Inc. President and CEO Fred Jones announced June 13 the resort was changing its name in a massive re-branding campaign to avoid confusion with Big Sky resort and capitalize on the marketing dollars spent promoting tourism in Whitefish.

But down the hill in town, the new name is receiving mixed reviews a few weeks after the announcement.

Beth Fenhaus, an employee at Montana Coffee Traders on Central Avenue, criticized Winter Sports executives for failing to seek input from Whitefish residents on the name change.

“They cared more about what would bring people to the town than what the people here thought,” Fenhaus said. “They see the old fashioned ski town turning into the next big thing.”

Outside on the sidewalk, a woman who asked not to be identified because she is an employee at the ski resort, also criticized the name change.

“It shouldn’t be changed if it’s been around for so long,” she said. “If they wanted to make more skiers come, we’d get more runs.”

But both the resort employee and Fenhaus, who worked up on the mountain for a season as well, acknowledged that a handful of visitors show up every ski season in Whitefish only to find that they had made reservations for the Big Sky resort.

Others interviewed said they like the new name and applaud the resort’s move to ramp up its national profile.

Zuzu Maysea, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., but spends her summers in Whitefish, called the name change “a wise move.”

Jeff Huffman, a cook at the Pin & Cue bowling alley, agrees: “Anything that will bring more tourists here, I definitely want to see them try.”

Brett Tallman, who has been skiing on the mountain for 41 years, understands the logic behind the name change, but worries some Whitefish businesses with “Big Mountain” in their titles might be at a disadvantage until the new name becomes more widely known.

“I’m sure it will be good for marketing for the mountain but it will probably create confusion for several years,” Tallman said. “On the other hand, there’s a certain amount of positivity that goes with a name, if you mess with that, you can create negative energy around that, so you have to be careful that you’re not creating more negativity.”

Others interviewed were unaware the name had been changed at all.

Asked about the negative reaction with which some Whitefish residents are greeting the new name, Jones, who announced his retirement last week, acknowledged change can be difficult.

“Certainly not everyone’s pleased with it, that’s to be anticipated,” Jones said. “People are attracted to Big Mountain, we understand that and appreciate it.” But “in terms of communicating it to the wider world,” the name Whitefish Mountain Resort “puts a place with the name and distinguishes us from a lot of other ‘Bigs,’” Jones said, alluding to the Big Sky confusion.

“It wasn’t that we didn’t like the name,” he added. “It didn’t work for us.”