Bargain on Big Mountain

In an era of high-priced ski areas, Whitefish Mountain Resort lands on the affordable side of most-and-least expensive list

By Tristan Scott
Whitefish Mountain Resort. Beacon file photo

Ski and snowboard films are hitting the silver screen and the first snowfall of winter is right around the corner, marking the start of ski season. And while various mountains and resorts appeal to skiers and snowboarders for a range of reasons, including snow, location and terrain, the cost of a day on the hill is a ubiquitous consideration.

If affordability and minimal crowds top your list of winter-getaway demands, Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain remains one of the preeminent destinations in North America.

That’s according to a recent index of the 50 best ski resorts in North America, a list based on affordability that was researched, compiled and cataloged by the holiday-rental meta-search engine HomeToGo just in time for the 2018-19 ski season.

The data includes the price of ski equipment, lift tickets, accommodation, and food, all provided by the resorts. The list features top ski destinations in 15 states, including Colorado, Vermont, Maine, New Mexico, Montana, as well as in Canada.

According to HomeToGo, it used in-house meta-search data to determine the average price per-person to stay in a four-person accommodation for one night during the period between Nov. 17, 2018 to April 20, 2019.

Ranked at No. 12 on the list, HomeToGo calculates that visitors can access Whitefish Mountain Resort’s vaunted terrain, rent ski and snowboarding equipment and find room and board for a mere $204.09 per day/night.

The only other Montana ski area to make the list is Big Sky, which at $304.75 per day/night is ranked at No. 43, right behind Park City, Utah and Telluride, Colorado.

The most expensive on the list is Aspen Snowmass, Colorado, where skiers and riders can expect to spend $448.20 per day/night, while the most affordable was Fernie Alpine Resort in British Columbia, Canada, just a short drive across the border from Whitefish.

At Fernie, skiers and riders can expect to drop $178.14 per day/night.

Still, given the epic snowpack that has graced Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain during the past few ski seasons and the expanded lift access, its No. 12 ranking is testament to its commitment to improving the guest experience while maintaining affordability.

In April, Whitefish Mountain Resort closed out its 2017-18 season with another banner year, setting a new record with more than 382,000 total skier visits and besting its previous record set in 2016-17 by more than 35,500 total skier visits.

It also marked a record for preseason winter season pass sales at the ski area on Big Mountain — up four percent over the previous season’s record year.

This year, the resort recently announced setting another new record with more than 10,000 winter season passes sold, 11 percent ahead of last winter’s record and marking the third consecutive year of record season pass sales.

While the additional season pass holders helped top the skier visits records, Mother Nature also played a role, bringing storm after storm that delivered 410 inches of snowfall, the resort’s second best snowfall in 21 years behind 2007-08 when it recorded 426 inches. The settled base depth on April 8 (closing day) was 164 inches — the most on record in the last 21 years.

During the 123 days of Whitefish Mountain Resort’s season it snowed 80 days.

Even with skier visits up last season, Whitefish Mountain Resort management was pleased how the addition of East Rim/Chair 5 has helped to disperse guests in such a way to maintain the experience of uncrowded slopes. At 3,000 acres and an average of just over 3,000 skiers per day the resort still provides plenty of elbow room.

In addition to skier visits, Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Ski & Ride School broke records in enrollment for seasonal programs, most notably in the Half Pints program for 5- and 6-year-olds that sold out in early September and currently has a waitlist.

“Our community puts a great value on their winter recreation, which is why for the second season in a row we added classes in every age category, yet once again we’ve experienced growth across the board,” Bill Cubbage, snow sports director for Whitefish Mountain Resort, said. “Our goal is to create a safe and fun environment to learn and develop lifelong skills for skiers and snowboarders of all ages.”

Season pass holders skied more than ever before in the 2017/18 season, surpassing the prior year’s total by nearly 70,000,000 feet setting a new record of 2,098,833,477 feet. This marks only the second time reaching the milestone of 2 billion vertical feet. Season pass holders make up roughly half of the skiing population at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Not on the list was the Flathead Valley’s Blacktail Mountain in Lakeside, which is not only affordable, but it’s the only Montana ski area where you can drive to the top. With views of Flathead Lake and the nearby Swan Mountain Range, the drive up is almost as enjoyable as the ski down. Every run is easy and accessible, making Blacktail feel like a secret spot for winter enthusiasts.

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