A Powder-Full Winter

Whitefish Mountain Resort boasts one of the snowiest ski seasons on record, ranks among best snowpacks in the nation

By Tristan Scott
Pete Costain skis at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 11, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Powder hounds whose snow-sensors have been twitching lately are probably channeling last winter’s bodacious bounty, which delivered 9 1/2 feet of white gold on Big Mountain in February alone, followed by another walloping of 8 1/2 feet in March, rounding out the most epic winter in recent memory.

Or maybe that tingling feeling is reminiscent of the 2007-2008 season, when a record 426 inches of powder (35 feet) graced Big Mountain during a season that saw the resort’s name officially change to Whitefish Mountain Resort, a move that rankled some locals who simply cooled their heels in the deep snowpack and groused to their friends between face shots.

Whatever’s giving you the powder fever, it’s working, with this winter stepping up to consistently deliver the goods.

As of Feb. 12, Whitefish Mountain Resort’s 125-inch settle base ranked the mountain third for the deepest snow among all ski areas in the nation, as well as the deepest in the Rocky Mountains and seventh-deepest in North America.

More than 21 feet of powder has fallen on the slopes since Nov. 1 — compared to more than 25 feet by this time a decade ago — and a recent streak of 22 days of snowfall deposited more than 100 inches on Big Mountain, according to Riley Polumbus, Whitefish Mountain Resort’s public relations manager.

“We’re on a good streak,” Polumbus said, noting that Big Mountain has already accumulated 84 percent of its 10-year average of 305 inches. “We have one of the best snowpacks that we’ve had here in a while, historically speaking.”

But with a couple of cold, crisp and clear days breaking up the admirable streak of snow days, skiers and riders are turning their attention to the future, with forecasts calling for a pair of storms to gift the region with more snow in the coming weeks.

Meteorologist Bob Ambrose with Open Snow says Whitefish is sitting smack dab in the middle of the storm track and will benefit from a flow that promises to deliver small, quick-moving storms over the course of the next week.

And while Ullr has been generous, don’t stop praying for snow yet. If there’s any hope of matching last year’s totals, Whitefish will need plenty of powder. Last February concluded with 24 inches in two days followed by a 16-day streak of snow that dumped more than 100 inches on Big Mountain.

For folks who need a mantra or are inclined to speculate, the 10-year average for the month of February is 55 inches of snowfall. Last year gifted us 115 inches, while 2008 delivered 81 inches.

The 10-year average for March is 61 inches, with 102 inches falling last year and 69 inches falling in 2008.

Along with Whitefish’s deep snowpack, Whitefish Mountain Resort and its namesake resort town have experienced an uptick in visitation.

Compared to last winter, total skier visits are up 5 percent, split evenly between season-pass holders and daily lift tickets. Visitors from the Chicago area have been especially prolific, while snow-hungry skiers and riders have been diverting their plans to visit dry regions in Colorado and Utah and instead turning north.

Resorts in Colorado have seen a steep decline in skier visits due to the region’s unusually dry winter, which has impacted much of the central Rockies. In January, the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA reported a 13 percent decrease in skier visits for the first third of the season.

As of Feb. 12, Flathead County was at 140 percent percent of its normal snow water equivalent — a measurement of the amount of water in the snowpack, which is helpful for streamflow forecasting and predicting how harsh the summer fire season could be.

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