Whitefish – An Authentic Gem

Nestled in the heart of Montana’s majestic winter landscape, is an authentic gem for skiers and snowboarders—Whitefish Mountain Resort. Known for its rich history in the world of skiing, this locally owned resort is a cherished destination for those seeking a big mountain ski experience.

As the sun peeked over the snow-covered peaks in Fernie, I eagerly prepared for my much-anticipated getaway to Whitefish. I’ve heard countless tales of the mountain, the great terrain, and its warm, welcoming atmosphere. Whitefish is just under a two-hour drive south of Fernie and is part of the Kootenay region. In other words, the Flathead valley looks and feels like home, and the people are wonderful!

Upon my arrival, I checked into the Hidden Moose Lodge and discovered a charming and cozy retreat operated by a family of passionate skiers. The lodge offers comfortable rooms, each adorned with rustic decor that perfectly complements the surrounding wilderness. What truly impressed me, however, was the hospitality and the gourmet breakfast that greeted me each morning, a delightful prelude to my days on the slopes.

Hidden Moose Lodge

Getting to Whitefish Mountain from the Hidden Moose was a short drive. On arrival, I could sense the excitement of fresh snow and I too was stoked to ski powder.

Whitefish Mountain Resort is locally owned and caters to residents and visitors alike. With 11 chairlifts, 111 named runs, 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, and one-day lift tickets under $100, it offers exceptional value that’s hard to find elsewhere.

After an exhilarating few hours of carving perfectly groomed runs on the front side and exploring pristine powder in the backside glades, my legs were satisfied, and I found my way to the Bierstube. Known to locals as “The ’Stube,” it’s Whitefish’s number-one après-ski bar.

The Stube boasts its unique character with an endearing tradition known as “Frabert.” Frabert, a 3-foot-tall stuffed toy monkey adorned with casts on his limbs and a few beer stains, has been a beloved fixture at the Bierstube for decades. Throughout the season, Frabert finds his way into the hands of the “Clod of the Week.” This honor is bestowed upon the skier or boarder who manages to create the most creative or amusing spectacle of themselves on the slopes. These antics often involve mishaps with trees, chairlifts, moguls, or a woefully poor sense of direction. But it’s all in good spirits. The lucky winner not only earns the right to chug a beer from a special mug but also enjoys a brief poem recited by ski patrol members to commemorate their weekly feat.

Hidden Moose lodge

After a few more runs, I rolled down the mountain and retreated to the Hidden Moose Lodge’s great room. There, a crackling fireplace, an après-ski beverage and hot tub awaited my return and warmed my spirits. The atmosphere felt like a gathering of old friends sharing stories of the day’s adventures.

But Whitefish had more to offer than just world-class skiing and comfortable lodges. The town itself was a treasure trove of culture and entertainment. I indulged in a delectable meal at the Firebrand Hotel, immersed myself in the vibrant entertainment scene with a visit to the O’Shaughnessy Centre, and swayed to the rhythm of live music that echoed through the streets from the legendary Great Northern Bar and Grill and other fine estambishments.

Whitefish Ski Heritag

For a long and storied history of skiing in Whitefish drop by the Whitefish Ski Heritage Center, located between the Hidden Moose and Downtown.

As with so many of the ski areas in the western United States, the development of Whitefish was heavily influenced by the volunteers who joined the 10th Mountain Division, a select Army division that fought in the Dolomites at the end of WWII. These troops trained at Camp Hale in the mountains of Colorado near Leadville and present day Vail. The museum has a mock-up of a fully outfitted 10th Mountain soldier, from the skis to the special 10th Mountain white anorak with the wolverine ruff on the hood. The skis the soldier holds are the special edition white wooden boards with screwed on metal edges, a leather/metal toe binding and a cable binding. Looking at them today, one wonders how they made their way downhill in any fashion at all. Still, when they returned at the end of the war, they spread across the west with their new found ski passion and started the majority of the ski hills we ski at now—from Vail to Aspen to Steamboat to Jackson Hole.

Whitefish history

In the early ‘30s, the Hellroaring Ski Club formed to facilitate skiing on the mountain. It was a club, a bunch of friends that liked to ski. They built a bunk house on what became known as Big Mountain. In time, the club was supplanted by a ski corporation that added lifts, a base lodge, a summit restaurant, condos, hotels, and more lifts. Today, Whitefish Mountain hosts almost 500,000 skier visits a year, a far larger number than those first years when the members got together for a seasonal portrait in front of the bunk house. But the first years are important. And the museum opens that window to the past.

My weekend in Whitefish was nothing short of magical with great terrain and nice powder. It was a journey back in time to the roots of skiing, a celebration of genuine hospitality, and an exploration of a ski town that has retained its soul. For me, it was clear that a ski trip to Whitefish Mountain Resort should be on everyone’s bucket list.

On my way home I stopped at another favourite, Montana Coffee Traders, in the heart of Whitefish’s downtown, for a very nice dark roast coffee and chocolate road snacks. 15 minutes out of Whitefish heading North to Canada, I passed the Great Northern Powder Guides, another great powder experience that I hope to repeat.

As I bid farewell to this skiers’ paradise, I couldn’t help but reflect on the unique blend of ski history, family-owned charm, and mountain culture that made my experience in Whitefish truly unforgettable.

By Dan Savage

Photos: WMR