The slopes at Whitefish’s Big Mountain have been unusually quiet for the last three months.
On March 15, Whitefish Mountain Resort made a sudden announcement that it was closing three weeks early due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first of a wave of closures as the virus arrived in Montana. A few hours later, schools were closed and within a week normal life in the Flathead Valley and across Montana had come to a near standstill.
But three months after that closure, Whitefish Mountain Resort is reopening for the summer season on June 13 with alpine slides, scenic lift rides, an aerial adventure park, mountain biking and more.
“We are excited for summer and especially to welcome back our past visitors along with new ones to a variety of family-friendly outdoor activities at our resort,” said Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves. “We have been working diligently to make sure our guests will feel safe and find comfort in their visit to Whitefish Mountain Resort this summer.”
Because of the ongoing pandemic, the resort is taking extra precautions to safeguard both visitors and employees alike, spokesperson Riley Polumbus said. Every summer, the mountain issues employees a uniform shirt and a hat. This year, in a sign of the times, they will also be issuing a Whitefish Mountain mask/buff. There will be additional hand sanitizing stations spread out on the mountain. The mountain has teamed up with Glacier Distilling Company in Coram to produce sanitizer that will be available to the public and issued to all employees. Signs are also being designed and will be deployed around the mountain to remind people to remain socially distant.
Most, if not all, of the activities on the mountain take place outside, so visitors will not be required to wear masks. Employees will likely wear them whenever they are in close contact with the public or each other.
The mountain has also implemented a new online reservation system that will enable visitors to book an activity for a specific time and date, thus reducing face-to-face contact, except for when they have to sign a waiver or pick up tickets.
“This summer’s new online reservations system will provide added convenience to our guests,” said Director of Sales and Marketing Nick Polumbus. “This creates a more streamlined process that not only makes it easier for our guests to get outside and start having fun, it should also help mitigate the possibility of multiple groups gathering at the same time.”
Normally, Whitefish Mountain Resort employs more than 200 people during the summer. However, this summer it will likely hire about 180 seasonal workers, said Riley Polumbus. The mountain had little trouble filling the positions this year and has hired a number of local students. The mountain has also hired a small number of international students using the J-1 visa program like it does every year, although that group is smaller due to the challenges associated with travel right now.
Riley Polumbus said the mountain is also plowing ahead with a number of projects that have been years in the making, specifically preparations for moving a chairlift in Hellroaring Basin. Polumbus said the chair will be moved next summer. However, this year crews are clearing trees and building a new road (that will eventually become a ski run) to aid in the construction in 2021. They are also doing some tree clearing on the front side of the mountain between Chair 3 and the Heritage T-Bar. Polumbus said that work will open up new skiing opportunities next winter. The mountain is also working on rebuilding the road in front of the base lodge for better traffic flow come winter.
Through much of April and May, most of the phone calls the mountain received were from people canceling reservations but that’s starting to change, Riley Polumbus said. In recent weeks, the number of lodging and activity reservations have once again started to increase.
“The phones are ringing again,” she said.
For more information, visit skiwhitefish.com.