Attaining success is every resort’s goal. Not letting that success change you is a whole new ball game. Whitefish is handling both with grace these days. With its growing reputation (hello No. 3) comes growing skier visits—and skier demands. But the DNA of the place remains stubbornly consistent: authentic, Montana friendly, fiercely independent. Skiers notice, and the numbers back it up. Ranked No. 2 in Service, Overall Satisfaction, and Value is an ideal—and unusual— holy trinity for a resort. And with arguably the most authentic ski town in sight of lift towers, landing No. 1 in Local Flavor is the resort’s secret sauce to success.
Not to mention, there’s a reason they call it Big Mountain. Namely, 3,000 exhilarating acres. With a legit terrain profile of 50-percent black diamond or double black diamond runs, there’s certainly enough terrain to keep everyone happy. But rest assured: This is a skier’s mountain. (Beeline to Hellroaring Basin or anything off of Chair 5.) But sweet steeps and obligatory jump turns are delivered without the local arrogance found at some of the bigger resorts. “It’s a great mountain that hasn’t lost its identity as a super-friendly locals’ hill,” opines one fan, and it’s a common sentiment. It is a fast-twitch mountain of hidden nooks and surprise fall lines. If you’re a newbie, invest the time in the free mountain tour. Yes, there’s no denying the famous “frequent fog” as one reader grouses. But “that’s what tree skiing is for,” another correctly counters. And when the fog lifts, “what a freaking view!”
Whitefish frequently inspires fans to write in all caps about both the resort and the town, which have “the friendliest people ANYWHERE.” A bit more unheralded, the town’s sophisticated dining and spirits scene pleasantly surprises visitors. But at the end of the day, it’s the area’s enduring small-town warmth that’s the flypaper that keeps visitors stuck on the place. As with any mountain-town resort on the rise, the hot local debate is if success equals progress. “We’re getting too much attention,” a Whitefish regular complains. “Please move us down a few pegs next year.” That, my friend, is up to you guys. — Greg Ditrinco
There’s something slightly melancholy about Whitefish’s rise up the rankings, and the heartfelt affection it’s receiving from a new generation of fans. The overwhelming message from readers is: “The locals are friendly and helpful. It’s the people who really make it special.” Apparently, the genuine hospitality found here is increasingly rare in the rapidly consolidating resort universe. That’s a shame. More the reason to head to Whitefish, which, not surprisingly, lands No. 1 in Local Flavor.
Oddly enough, what can get overlooked is the serious skiing. A glance at the trail map shows that black is the dominant trail color. Hellroaring Basin is big-time legit, as is almost everything in the East Rim pod when taking advantage of the new Chair 5. One reader does grouse that when the weather report says “chilly,” “we’re talking frostbite.” Relax. That’s just Montana grading on a curve. There’s no grade inflation needed for the “warm and welcoming” town of Whitefish. “I’m hesitant to say too many great things. I would rather it remain a secret,” is a common sentiment.
At every turn, it becomes clear that Whitefish embraces the old school passion that fuels the sport. Kids six and under ski free (the industry standard is 4). And the resort actually keeps a (public!) tracker on its website of vertical feet skied across a gloriously wide range of patrons: super seniors, kids, college students, business partners, even employees, and so on. The fun part is the disclaimer, which advises everyone to please chill out: “Your vertical is approximate and some scans can take several days to show up, or they might not show up at all. Our recommendation is that you enjoy the vertical program but not get too terribly hung-up on the results.” Whitefish gets it. Come crank a few turns here, and you will too. — Greg Ditrinco
LOCAL TIP: In what’s known locally as the “4 o’clock clear,” the mountain’s famous cloud cover tends to break up just about the time the lifts close. Act like a local and grab the last chair to the summit, linger a bit, and soak in the alpenglow and the glorious views on the way down.
MANDATORY RUN: Inspiration. The name says it all. This meandering groomer off the Big Mountain Express drops down the ridgeline with Glacier National Park views to skier’s left and valley views to the right. On an inversion day, the clouds stretch like a fluffy sea across the valley floor.
FAMILY EXPERIENCE: Without being too melodramatic, take an off-day trip with the kids to Glacier National Park for a Ranger-led snowshoe walk to see the eponymous features of the park before they disappear.