The 2016 snowboard season started out dead slow on the east coast because of a ridiculuous lack of snowfall. So we did the logical thing and booked a trip out west where an epic El Nino was sending big fat cycles of snowfall into the mountains. Our stomping grounds over the last several years have been in the Wasatch mountain regions of Utah. But hearing that the northern Rockies were getting dumped on we booked a trip to some place new to us- Whitefish Ski Resort (formerly Big Mountain) in northwestern Montana. As it turned out, our Whitefish snowboarding trip consisted of four days of epic powder and non-stop fun- we hit it right this year.
The trip was not that expensive. We found flights out of Boston with a plane change in Minneapolis for just $350. We stayed at the Best Western right in town for $75 a night. And, to top it off we scored Liftopia lift tickets for $45 each day ($73 at the window)! The town of Whitefish has a ton of bars and restaurants that are reasonably priced. We even went to one bar that had dollar drafts on Thursday nights. There are also a few really cool distilleries popping up in the area that are worth checking out like the Spotted Bear, which offers some killer hand-made vodka drinks.
We hit the mountain on MLK Day and took a few laps on the middle section of the mountain since the summit lift opens a half hour later. The mountain had received several inches of snow daily in the week prior. Normally, our early to mid season snowboarding involves riding on a good amount of ice and super hard packed man-made snow. This snow was dry and powdery and an absolute blast to rip around on.
At the summit there was quite a bit of fog but no wind. We got some beta from the mountain ambassadors on where the best conditions were, which ended being on the north side of the mountain. This is where we would end up spending 90% of our time because the visibility, snow, and terrain were so good.
Monday was a bit foggy towards the top of the mountain, but Tuesday was a whole new level of socked-in. It reminded me of certain hikes I’ve done on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It got so bad that at times we couldn’t tell what direction we were heading in. So we pulled the plug early that day and decided to take a drive over to Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park is just over an hour from Whitefish, and it’s an amazing place. We entered the park on a road that skirted the 9 mile long Lake MacDonald. This lake was formed when a massive glacier tore through the mountains 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. The rocks on the shoreline are all worn smooth from being sucked up into the glacier and ground down. The water is crystal clear and the surrounding mountain ranges reflect off the surface like a shiny mirror.
A major storm cycle came in off the Pacific that night and dumped 9+ inches of fresh powder. It continued to come down over the next two days fattening up the mountain with glorious, feathery snow. It was a time of pure ecstasy as we ripped in and out of trees off Chairs 11 (Flower Point to the locals) and 7. And although the fog had not lifted, it was much thinner than the previous day and there were plenty of areas where it was non-issue. We shredded the steeps and trees all day long until our legs turned to jello.
This was also the day I got hung out on a cliff face, the snow being too deep to turn around and bail, I ended up attempting a 25 foot wall ride that ended by tomahawking down a short clearing in the trees. It’s easy to get into trouble when you’re alone and don’t have good knowledge of the mountain you’re riding. That experience was a reminder to me to stay vigilant on those high-stoke days.
Our last day riding at Whitefish was again unbelievable. A light to moderate snowfall continued steadily putting down a fresh layer of goods. Exploring the trees on the north side paid off with some super rich terrain. Aerial pow hits were everywhere and once again we rode all day till we were exhausted…. then we rode some more.
Whitefish is a unique place in the lower 48. The locals are low key and super friendly. The foggy conditions tend to keep the posers at bay, making it more of a blessing than an annoyance. The consistent snow and awesome terrain make this a place you go back to again and again. Whitefish snowboarding is so worth the trip out to Montana- we highly recommend you guys check it out.