The trail map shows 91 marked runs but only hints at the variety of glades, open bowls and groomed runs that suit every ability level. With 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, you’ll find novice runs radiating from the base area while intermediate and advanced choices intermingle over the entire mountain. Drop off the backside onto Hellfire and you’ll relish nearly a three-and-one-half mile run down a tree-bordered drainage.
A quick plunge off the rim drops me into Ptarmigan Bowl, and then I opt for some quick turns along glade-lined Corkscrew. On the mountain’s opposite shoulder, a glide down Russ’s Street finds me craning my neck from side to side, caught between postcard-views of Glacier National Park on my left and a variety of inviting black diamond bowls on my right.
I decide on an early lunch at the Summit House at the 7,000-foot apex of Big Mountain. It’s a great place for a break while soaking in fabulous views of the Canadian Rockies, Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley.
Located 11 miles from Whitefish and 19 miles from Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Big Mountain lies on the Pacific side of the continental divide. The location protects Big Mountain from cold arctic air masses sweeping down from Alberta, and moderates warm air systems creeping up from the south. Mild temperatures—averaging around 25 degrees—and consistent conditions are a welcome change from the high winds, severe blizzards and roller-coasting temperatures on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.
Whitefish Lake is next to Big Mountain, and this area of Montana has more than 1,500 lakes. This huge supply of readily available moisture helps build an average of 300 inches of snowfall a year.
With a deep, white stage so faithfully prepared, folks have a wide choice of snow-related fun. Nordic devotees and snowshoers can enjoy 16 kilometers of trail groomed for both classic and skate. This engaging variety of terrain meanders through unspoiled forest below the Outpost Ski Shop, where you can rent snowshoes.
The Terrain Park, located on Silvertip off Chair 7/Big Creek Express, incorporates tabletops, gap jumps, humbling hits and berms into a playground for one or two boards. A halfpipe is situated off Lift 3/Tenderfoot, and it’s easy to see why Whitetail, adjacent to Silvertip, is a natural for boarder cross events.
Snowcats open up a thousand feet of varied slope to snowsliders. Snowtubers are assisted by a lift found above the Outpost Lodge near the bottom of Chair 6.
For a different experience, rent a Snowcycle a full-suspension contraption whose wheels have been swapped for skis. Ridden and steered like a bicycle, it achieves added stability from skis that are not much longer than your boots and are strapped to your feet. Easy to conquer, Snowcycles are a hoot for wide sweeping turns down the mountain, and a blast over small jumps (use of skid lid highly recommended). A good portion of the mountain is open to Snowcycles, so a nice variety of terrain guarantees you won’t get bored. Snowcycle rentals are available at the Outpost Ski Shop.
Snowmobile tours start at the summit of Big Mountain, descending into the backcountry for an exploration of the local geology, flora and wildlife. Experienced guides are trained in avalanche awareness, CPR and first responder skills.
Picturing myself gorging on delightful local dishes, followed by a magical descent of the mountain on skis by moonlight, I signed up for the Full Moon Dine and Ski package. It was a difficult job, dividing my attention between the delectable feast on my table and a glowing moon filling the windows of the Summit House, but I knew someone had to do it. The ultimate treat was following our guide as he led us down the lunar-illuminated mountain.
Big Mountain offers night skiing on Friday and Saturday, as well as free guided mountain tours daily. Facilities include ski and rental shops, photography and gift stores, and nearly a dozen restaurants and bars. The ski school has a full lineup of programs, while the Kiddie Korner provides on-mountain day care for all ages, including newborns. There’s even a complimentary shuttle between the town of Whitefish and Glacier Village at Big Mountain.
After a long winter of seeing how many tracks they can carve, perhaps the locals can be forgiven for their spring zaniness. Thirty-five years ago, a few bored mountain employees nailed some old skis to an older couch, and set off down the hill. This entertaining escapade quickly became a yearly event, blossoming into the highly anticipated Annual Furniture Race.
Simple rules encourage creativity: 1) attach skis to various “furniture,” 2) tow the creation to the top of the hill, 3) race to the bottom while negotiating some gates, and 4) stop as close as possible to the finish boundary (oh, did I mention your little hotrod must have some sort of braking system?). This year’s affair will be held April 9.
Arrive the weekend before and you can enjoy the Ski-Golf Tournament. If this sort of madcap activity isn’t your style, perhaps the Winter Wine Festival on Feb. 19 or the Whitefish Winter Carnival from Feb. 4 to 6 holds more allure.
There is a nice variety of lodging at the base village as well as in the town of Whitefish and around the Flathead Valley. The area is also dotted with RV parks that welcome winter guests. The low elevation and moderate humidity combine for a wonderful trip, with visitors enjoying improved endurance, better rest and little influence from altitude sickness.
Vicki Andersen, a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon, is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the North American Snowsports Journalists Assn. She can be reached at email@example.com
Big Mountain Facts
Lifts: 11 including two high-speed quads, one quad, one double and five triple chairs, and two T-bars; Chair 6 is a free lift
Lift capacity: 13,800 per hour
Terrain difficulty: 20 percent beginner, 50 percent intermediate, 30 percent advanced
Elevations: 7,000 feet at summit, 4,500 feet at base
Vertical: 2,500 feet
Season: Thanksgiving to mid-April
Big Mountain Resort: Phone (406) 862-2900 or see www.BigMtn.com
Central Reservations: Phone (800) 858-4157 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Snow phone: (406) 862-SNOW
Flathead Convention & Visitor Bureau: Phone (800) 543-3105 or see www.montanasflatheadvalley.com
Whitefish Chamber of Commerce: Phone (406) 862-3501 or see www.whitefishchamber.org
RV Parks (Open in Winter)
Rocky Mountain ‘Hi’ RV Park, Kalispell: Phone (800) 968-5637 or see www.glaciercamping.com
Whitefish RV Park, Whitefish: Phone (406) 862-7275 or see www.whitefishrvpark.com
Whitefish/Glacier Park KOA, Whitefish: Phone (406) 862-4242 or see www.koa.com/where/mt/26161.htm