In the right conditions, the setting sun transforms the snow-puffed meringues along Skook Ridge into a rip current of lava, which rushes past the ghostly white flanks of Douglas fir that punctuate the ridgeline before crashing against Great Northern Mountain in the distance, bathing the whole landscape in a tangerine alpenglow.
It’s a sweet sunset, and has become a familiar scene to skiers and snowboarders whose winter afternoons have led them to Skook, a sneaky backcountry zone just beyond the boundaries of Whitefish Mountain Resort, where unbroken lines of powder lurk above Canyon Creek.
It’s also a scene that, rendered in the talented hands of Whitefish artist Jordan Porter, is gaining currency in the snowboarding industry.
This year, Porter’s depiction of Skookaleel Ridge and Great Northern Mountain — which he inarguably captured in oil paints under “the right conditions” — appeared as the graphic of professional snowboarder and Olympic gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington’s newest deck by Gnu.
“It’s pretty cool to paint a landscape that’s so familiar to my friends and the people who know this area really intimately and have it appear on something that’s going to get broad recognition,” Porter said. “And to have collaborated with Kaitlyn on the project, and for her to recognize how special and unique this area is, that really meant a lot to me.”
As an artist, Porter strives to capture scenes that transport him home and remind him of the otherworldly nature that lies in his backyard. Through that marriage of the familiar and the phenomenal, Porter has broadened his appeal in recent years and developed a dedicated following of fans drawn to his work, whether it depicts Glacier National Park in autumn or the snowghosts that inhabit Big Mountain.
Porter, who grew up in Whitefish and lives here now, first started his journey as a professional artist with his renderings of the Flathead Valley in the winter, with a particular focus on Big Mountain and those snow-entombed evergreens that are a unique feature of the region.
These are the pieces — with their fluffy snow, recognizable geography and perfect light — that caught his friends’ eyes when he first started painting again a few years ago, after a break with the art form in adulthood.
As his audience grows and his work on display at Going-to-the-Sun Gallery in downtown Whitefish continues to generate more commissions, Porter, a lifelong skier and mountain sports enthusiast, sees his snowboard design as a natural progression in his career.
“This project seemed like such a natural step in my art career,” he said.
After meeting Farrington, who won the gold medal in the women’s half-pipe competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and has since relocated to the Flathead Valley, Porter was excited when she expressed an interest in featuring his depiction of a local mountain scene on her upcoming Klassy snowboard for Gnu.
“I was so stoked for someone like Kaitlyn to recognize how special this place is, to the point that she wanted to feature it on her new snowboard,” Porter said, admiring the shiny new deck on display at Stumptown Snowboards in downtown Whitefish.
Porter’s journey as an artist started young, and by the time he was at Whitefish High School, art was his full focus. But by the time he graduated in 2005, Porter felt burnt out on art. He stopped painting and got more into mountain biking in his early 20s.
Then, he went to Whistler, British Columbia, where he encountered a lively community of artists creating work. It was a way back into the art world he’d left on pause, Porter said, because it started out with just wanting to decorate his home.
“I was inspired by a lot of artists in Whistler,” he said, adding that Michael “Chili” Thom’s wildly colorful creations projected not just the landscapes he loved but also the feeling of seeing those landscapes.
“It was my involvement in mountain sports that led me to spend a lot of time in Whistler where I became familiar with the work of Chili Thom,” Porter said. “He was definitely one of my main inspirations to start landscape painting and I feel like this kind of work contributes back to that mountain town network-type scene. It’s also something that I would like to keep a connection with. I trend towards more traditional subject matter and painting technique but hope to do more projects like this in the future.”
Porter couldn’t afford Chili Thom’s work, so he started painting his own snowghosts and other Whistler winter scenes. Then, proud of his work, he posted them on social media, where friends began asking if they could get a painting like that.
Today, his Instagram page brims with the radiant snowghosts that have become his signature, as well as more classic depictions of landscapes, including in Glacier National Park.
To see more of Porter’s work, check out his Instagram page at jporterart or his website at jporterart.com.