Otherworldly is a fitting word to describe the scene atop Big Mountain, the trees bending over under the weight of the ice crystals -- collectively known as rime -- that have accumulated on their boughs. (The phenomenon earns them the nickname "snow ghosts.") The sun peeks through the wafts of fog, and Whitefish Lake is intermittently visible below.
Located in northwestern Montana, across from Glacier National Park and above the town that shares its name, Whitefish Mountain Resort is one of the most distinctive ski areas in the West. "You can see the mountain from town, and the town from the mountain, plus a national park. The views are pretty hard to beat," says Whitefish Mountain Resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus.
Beyond the memorable views, this is a resort with plenty of terrain -- 3,000-plus acres of it -- and vertical drop, but it still has a low-key vibe and a small-town feel. At its base, the resort also has one of the best après-ski bars in the West: the rollicking, cavernous Bierstube (be sure to ask the bartenders for your free custom souvenir ring, available in a variety of sizes and colors).
The terrain includes gentle groomers, steep chutes, and bowls. You'll also find more solitude -- and untracked powder -- here than at other Western ski resorts of comparable size. The climate makes for great conditions, fresh snow or not. Those looking for timber will also not be disappointed. And with all of this terrain, the resort's Ambassadors are a great resource, offering free tours at 10:30am and 1:30pm.
Part of the allure is the town of Whitefish itself, which has more than its fair share of restaurants, nightspots, and shops. The slopes are just 8 miles from downtown, but Whitefish is not just a ski town: It's a gateway to a national park, a railroad town, and a fun family destination to boot.
What's New at Whitefish
La Niña got off to a slow start this year, but the resort picked up a few nice storms in the final days of 2011 and now has a mid-mountain base of about 50 inches. On the mountain, a new lift -- Chair 10 (Bad Rock) -- improves skier traffic but doesn't access any new terrain. In town below, Haskill Station (www.haskillstation.com) is a fun new kid-friendly restaurant on the way to the slopes. Night skiing begins Jan. 6.
Best Ski Deals at Whitefish Mountain Resort
For beginners, Whitefish has an awesome ski deal: $72 gets you rentals, beginner lift tickets, and lessons on two consecutive days.
On the mountain, Hibernation House is the budget lodging option, with deals starting at $79 per person for lodging, lift tickets, and breakfast. Below, Grouse Mountain Lodge, conveniently located on 8 miles of groomed cross-country trails at the Glacier Nordic Center, has a $99 per night ski-and-stay deal; a five-day package includes snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in Glacier National Park as well as downhill skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort ($1,974 per person). Additional specials and ski-and-stay deals can be found here and here.
Save the Date: Best Winter Events at Whitefish
The Whitefish Winter Carnival kicks off Jan. 6 with sled dog races and continues Jan. 29-30 with the World Skijoring Championships (skijoring involves a skier being pulled by a horse). The carnival culminates Feb. 4 with a parade and fireworks. And every Wednesday at the Bierstube, a stuffed monkey known as Frabert is awarded to the "Clod of the Week" at 5:30pm.