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Skiing

Blacktail Mountain Ski Area Gears Up for Opening Day

With high hopes for an incoming storm, Blacktail anticipates solid snow cover, encourages public to snow dance

By Anusha Mathur
A skier rides the chairlift at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area outside of Lakeside on Jan. 8, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Jessi Wood, general manager of Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, truly believes that she has the best office in the world. She sips her 20-ounce cup of coffee overlooking expansive vistas of Glacier National Park. She finds herself peering out the window, beyond the tree line, upon a thick layer of light gray clouds. 

Blacktail is one of just a handful of ‘Upside-Down Ski Areas’ in the country, meaning its facilities, lodge area, office space, and parking are at the top of the mountain, rather than the bottom. Today, from the top of the slopes, Wood anxiously hopes these clouds will float upwards to dump snow on Blacktail. 

“I just love looking out this window,” Wood said. “There’s a forecasted storm that’s meant to come in today and hopefully that’ll get us some snow through the weekend.”

Down in the Flathead Valley, despite a ferocious bout of snowfall at the end of October, the ground is all but barren. While the lack of snowfall down below may worry those itching to strap into their skis as soon as possible, Wood tells these people not to fret; up on the mountain, a blanket of snow is forming, slowly but surely.

Another hidden blessing for Blacktail is that it’s north-facing, meaning the mountain keeps most of the snow that falls, rather than freezing and thawing. Still, Wood said that Blacktail needs more than flurries to get the snowpack where it needs to be by the Dec. 8 opening day. 

“We’re pushing for the eighth and need some snow to get there,” Wood said. “We do have the unique ability to be able to open just the top half of the ski area. Because we’re upside down, we can just open Olympic and the top half of Thunderhead if we have enough snow for that.”

With the weather in the hands of the winter gods out of Wood’s control, she and her colleagues focus on getting their crew ready. They’re in the process of testing all the rental gear, training season workers, and preparing for groomers to pack snow this weekend. 

“We have our orientation this weekend and it’s the first time that we get our staff, our Blacktail family, all back together again,” Wood said. “When we get some more snow, we’ll start building some ramps and track packing. It’s a really exciting time.”

Blacktail is also partnering with Tamarack Brewing this Saturday Dec. 2 to host the first snow dance of the season, a time-honored ritual. It’s an opportunity for the public to get their skis waxed, have fun axe-throwing and dancing, listen to live music by Chris Evans, as well as support Blacktail’s quick response unit. 

“Hopefully, folks will come out and do the snow dance with us,” Wood said. “We have such a nice local family ski area and we’re really proud of what we do.”

Wood encourages visitors and locals alike to visit Blacktail this winter, especially with a promising opening day in sights.

“At a lot of ski areas, you have to be an advanced skier to get to the summit,” Wood said. “But with us, first time skiers get to come and look at Glacier National Park from miles and miles away with this gorgeous skyline, which is pretty special. With our north-facing slopes, we keep the snow that we get, and our snow quality is really good. And we’re a family place.”

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