Skiers and riders who braved the early-season conditions at Whitefish Mountain Resort this past week were treated to troves of powder stashes, sundogs, bluebird skies, and glittering inversions.
They also endured scarcely covered terrain bristling with sticks and other obstacles — nothing that a molten P-Tex candle can’t fix — cold temperatures and a dearth of new snow, although that pattern shifted Dec. 10 and is expected to continue through the week.
Despite the early-season conditions, spirits were high with snow in the forecast as Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain opened for its 71st season on Dec. 6 with cold but sunny weather. As of Dec. 10, the backside was open for skiing, and resort employees were making as much snow as possible at a frenetic pace to try and open the front side soon.
“Snowmaking crews are working around the clock to open additional terrain in time for the weekend,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said.
Chairs 1, 5, 6, 7 and T-Bar 2 are open to provide access to the north and east sides of the mountain, but no terrain is open to ski down to the Base Lodge.
Downloading on Chair 1 has been available throughout the day, but due to weight-load requirements, passengers are loaded every third chair on the way down. T-Bar 2 and Chair 5 will close at 3 p.m., Chair 7 will close at 3:30 p.m. and Chair 6 will close at 2:30 p.m.
Beginning at 3 p.m., skiers and riders have the option of descending to the base on Russ’s Street.
“We’d like to remind everyone to ski and ride with care, within their ability levels, and remember early-season conditions exist; unmarked obstacles and other natural terrain features may be encountered at any time,” said David Stephens, Whitefish Mountain Resort ski patrol manager. “Skiers and riders need to respect all closures and safety signage. It’s a long season and we want you to enjoy every day. Please do not enter closed trails. Season pass holders who enter inbounds closures risk losing their pass privileges and persons leaving the resort boundary are reminded that you are on your own.”
Due to concern for public safety and low snowpack on the front side of the mountain, officials at Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Flathead National Forest have implemented a temporary closure of uphill skiing until the resort receives more snow. Conditions will be assessed daily and uphill travel will resume as soon as trail and snow conditions allow
Chair 7 opens daily at 9:45 a.m. and open runs in the area include: Caribou, Black Bear, Goat Haunt, Gray Wolf, Kodiak, Marmot, Silvertip and Whitetail. Bigfoot T-Bar 2 opens at 9:45 a.m. with access to Big Creek, Whiskey Spring, North Fork to Inside Road, Inside Road, Lynx, Lodi Ridge and Trapper’s Trail.
On the east side, Russ’s Street to Moe Mentum, Moe Mentum, North Bowl Face and Evan’s Heaven all will open and be serviced by Chair 5, which will open at 9:45 a.m. All terrain below Chair 5 remained closed.
Additional terrain may become available during the day as determined by ski patrol.
Visitors were also greeted by the newly remodeled interior of Ed and Mully’s Bar and Grill, which has a fresh look and design that allows more room for lunch and a ski-break beverages.
The remodel comes on the heels of last year’s exterior remodel, and adds window-side seating with a view of the slopes, a new large fireplace, lighting and carpet that furnishes the restaurant with a modern-mountain feel.
The improvements to Ed and Mully’s build on the ski area’s pattern of recent investments, including making annual improvements like multi-million-dollar remodels of the Summit House and Bierstube; expansions of the Base Lodge and Bike Park; and the addition of the Flower Point Chair and subsequent relocation of Chair 5, now called East Rim Chair.
The ski resort is also more popular than ever.
Last winter, the ski area surpassed the previous year’s record of 346,859 total skier visits, tallying more than 350,000 skier visits.
The record visitation emerged during one of the best winters on record, which saw Big Mountain accumulate 410 inches of snow, the second-deepest snowpack in 21 years, behind 2007-08 when it recorded 426 inches.
According to Graves, the CEO, the ski area’s continued growth has enabled it to enhance the visitor experience by adding more terrain, services and infrastructure while maintaining its unique character and identity.
“We are pleased to continue what has been more than a decade of steady improvements at Whitefish Mountain Resort with the projects we’ve been working on this summer,” Graves said.