Welcome 2 My World! – Skiing the Big Mountain Series
Summer is in the books and we are closing in on another ski season. The days of warm and dry are given back to the Arizonans. The skiers of Whitefish happily embrace the wet.
Below, the summer greens have given way to the golden hues of fall. Bring on the cold!
With snow in the forecast, and less than 30 days until we strap the boards back on, I am growing increasingly more anxious for ski season to arrive. I am ready to embrace the cold mountain air, the stunning panoramic views, and the exhilaration of challenging myself against difficult terrain. I live for all of it. So, to fill the gap between now and then, I’ll show you, with my photography having the larger voice, the extraordinary beauty of the playground in my backyard–The Big Mountain, home of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
This article delivers some of my favorite views up on Big Mountain. These scenes are the reason I carry a camera every day. The format for this article is: I describe the shot you are about to see with narrative and then you see the photo–words first, followed by picture below. I tell you this, because it is customary in hardcopy publications to put the words beneath the photos. I am choosing a different path because of the digital medium–and because I can. Call it artistic license. So, as our Army instructors used to tell us, “don’t fight the hand-out.” Just go with it. And if it helps, just read, scroll-down, view and repeat.
Autumn on Big Mountain is an anxious time. The wet has arrived; we just wait on the cold commensurate to snow-falling. Those conditions occur higher up on the mountain first. Ski conditioning is a priority. Hiking Ptarmigan works the legs and allows me to see the ski mountain beginning to take shape. “Pray for snow!” is the mantra for mountain devotees.
As the snow begins to fly, the mountain takes on it’s winter character. Before long, usually by Christmas, we are “all filled in” and getting deeper. Once that occurs, our mountain compares favorably to just about anywhere. So says the ski bum who moved here from Colorado. The road coming out of Whitefish gives you an unforgettable view of the playground you can’t wait to get to. This pic is taken just south of the viaduct, near the railroad station. Amtrak will deliver you right here, if only you’d ride it.
There are few things more beautiful….and get the occasional skier’s heart racing, like coming around that last switchback and seeing the mountain’s runs laid out right in front of you on a “bluebird” day. The skier term “bluebird” signifying a mostly cloudless blue sky day. We sometimes go weeks between Bluebirds, so we enjoy them whenever we get ’em.
The only thing better than seeing the mountain above right in front of you…is seeing the mountain below right in front of you. And in the latter case, more is always better. Who doesn’t like seeing a vast playground of ski runs laid out below and in front of them?
Below are the Chair 2 & 3 areas of “the Big.” The Fishbowl terrain park, full of jibs, rails, jumps, and whatever other whatnot that people who don’t buy their own skis use to destroy them, is in the Chair 3 area–these terrain park runs are at far left in the pic below. To those that are into those things, I say “have at it hoss” and “keep your tricks confined to the terrain park.” Nobody likes a terrain park trickster doing tricks next to them on a cat-track. But, sadly, it happens all the time. Some say that’s what ski poles are for.
Of course ski poles also help you keep your place in a bustling crowd waiting to get on the chair. We are fortunate to NOT have that problem very often. And outside of Christmas, New Years and President’s Day/Family Day (Canada’s Holiday which is concurrent with our February Federal Holiday), the only thing that can create a crowd is a POWDER Day. Give us 4 inches or more of fresh snow and you are likely to see a Zoo of Humanity.
Chair 1, the Big Mountain Express, takes you on a 7 1/2 minute ride up to the summit. You’ll know you are getting close to the summit when you can see the Big Face on your right, and Ptarmigan Bowl on the left of the chair as you ascend. Ermine have been known to live in the deep snow on the Big Face. They’re the prolific mouse-hunting snow-white weasels of the great Alpine north. They hunt in the late afternoon–occasionally becoming a bonus view for those riding the last Chair. You can bet I’ll be there to see ’em again.
And you know we have a different kind of Big Mountain, when we only have a couple of people per (4-person) chair on our busiest lift. That’s our little secret.
Arriving at the top of Big Mountain, you see the iconic view of the US and Canadian Flags flying proudly on the Summit House deck.
Beyond the Summit House, to the east are the Peaks of Glacier Park.
The only thing that can make the Peaks of Glacier more interesting is an Inversion day–notice the cloud layer looking like a lake just this side of Glacier’s Peaks. I would call this a partial inversion. It’s nice over here where we’re skiing.
South of West Glacier are the Swan Mountains, which comprise the east shoulder of the Flathead Valley. That point of eastern prominence makes the Swans a frequent spectacle of Sun, Clouds, and Earth interplay. The base photo of this very website is the “Swans Aglow” pic below. That phenomenon happens often and it is almost always spectacular.
Of course the Swan’s Aglow are a wondrous thing, but in this shot below, they’re almost an afterthought, with the local inversion layer crowning Stoltz Knob (the hilltop at roughly mid-picture–it is the high ground southeast of and nearest the Ski Resort’s Base-Lodge) creating a magnificent visual effect. If you look close you can also see the bottom of Chair 1 near the bottom center of the pic. It’s noticeably colder skiing in those clouds.
Turning our view south, you can see Flathead Lake (when it’s not socked in by clouds), some 30 miles hence. Flathead Lake is at its most beautiful, when it is aglow in brilliant sunshine. This distant sunlight effect is known as Alpenglow.
Of course some days you can’t see Flathead Lake. On total inversion days, you can’t even see the Flathead Valley. Those are the days when going to the mountain is a must for valley residents. They take one look outside, see the clouds and wet, then see a brilliant view like this on a mountain web-cam, and stop what they had planned to do and get in gear on their way to the mountain. Its what folks do. Of course, some of us go to the mountain every day, no matter what the conditions. Because that, my friends, is the beginning of ski wisdom. How’s that for some local ski-lore for you?
Another view of “why” folks must get out of the valley when it’s socked in. This shows just how dense that cloud layer can be…and how glorious it is to be on the plane side of it.
Looking a little closer to home, the town of Whitefish is smartly in frame. Highway 93 goes straight away, virtually due south, from the Whitefish grid. And just northwest of town is Whitefish Lake.
The frontside offers numerous vantage points to look down upon the poor, fellow residents of Whitefish who are busy working and leaving us to enjoy the mountain in peace.
Whitefish Lake will freeze over in December/January and will remain so until the end of the ski season.
Anyone who has ever been to Big Mountain in mid-winter has seen our iconic Snow Ghosts. Only a handful of ski areas feature this natural phenomenon. Whitefish Mountain Resort and Schweitzer Mountain, near Sandpoint, Idaho are your only options for seeing this stunning treat. One visitor last year, thought that Artists, with more money and snowmaking capability than sense, actually created these. Crazy Canadians, how much Labatts does one need to come up with that notion? They get off the bus at 8:30 am asking for directions to the Bierstube. You probably think I’m kidding; locals know I’m not.
And speaking of iconic figures, you wouldn’t be skiing Whitefish Mountain Resort on the Big Mountain if you didn’t have a celebrity sighting. Who is this Big Mountain icon in action?
That would be Fred Frost, three time Vert Champion, my arch-nemesis–err friend and ski buddy. We don’t compete in anything but our compulsion to enjoy the mountain most.
Skiing the mountain offers some amazing vistas for all patrons to see. But, it takes a little skill to get to some of these views.
Evan’s Heaven was named for the soft and deep snow conditions that would often linger after other areas were skied out. But the bonus here is the view. Looking down on Whitefish never felt better. Evan we salute you…and thanks for sharing your Heaven.
The penalty for skiing Evan’s is a long trek down Russ’s Street back to the Chairlifts. But even Russ’s Street (referred to often as cat-track) offers you some memorable beauty. Flathead lake appears much closer in frame, which is about the only virtue in skiing down the cat track–what with all the tricksters using it as an on-the-go terrain park. That uphill side berm at skier’s right does look inviting though. Doesn’t it?
Good Medicine is an iconic piece of Big Mountain frontside terrain. Acres and acres of open glades. When the snow is soft and deep, you immediately get how it was named. This pic below shows a distant, partial valley inversion ongoing. Good Medicine indeed~!
Hellroaring Basin–the “West Bowl”–offers some iconic terrain of it’s own. Picture Chutes is the cliff band at pic-center and Gray’s Golf Course is the wide-open snowfield at far left.
Over the course of the season, we are often blessed with family and friends reveling in the glory of our backyard. For me, I love nothing more than keeping them challenged and having fun, while I ski the slightly more difficult terrain “just right over here.” That way I can take pictures of you “doing your thing” in Glory-Hole–which ordinarily wouldn’t be something you’d want your ma and sis seeing you do on the internet.
Of course, my favorite kind of ski day, is the one I’m doing right now. It is a distinct blessing and privilege to be the retired 40-something ski bum. My favorite mountain photo op usually occurs when we have a little sun, a little shade, and competing hues. The light, the dark, the colors and shadows interacting to showcase Earth’s inherent beauty.
And nothing is more beautiful when you are in the shade of the clouds, than seeing a distant Alpenglow. When we do, most folks are thinking “bring that sun over this way”–but I say “only for a little while because the shade keeps our snow conditions better.”
Nothing says “divine providence” like sun-rays shining through cloud-cover. I’ve seen too many Sunday School-room photos to believe otherwise. They are a worthy photo-op.
And nothing gets my blood going like the Big Mountain “Steeps” right in front of me. This pic below is a cell-phone shot, capturing the view looking down the East Rim ‘Nose’–a signature Big Mountain (Double-Black-Diamond) run. Short and sweet though it is.
Seen another way, here are some adventures atop the East Rim–about 75-yards east of where I was looking down the nose. They’re up deciding which chute they want to tangle with. Who said we don’t have our fair share of Big Mountain Adventurers?
Now, the question is: when are you going to be one of them? When are you coming out for some of this? There’s a full-on Bluebird about to break out. Let’s go find some POW~!
Come and get it. If you can afford to get here, Whitefish Mountain Resort is a bargain-especially for you Active Duty military (rentals are free) and Seniors. Over 70 skis free.
The Big Mountain is a worthy destination. Skiing Whitefish is character-building. If you can ski well here, in all conditions, you can ski well anywhere. I promise you! JDPF
———————–the fine print—————————————————
I am in no way affiliated with Whitefish Mountain Resort on the Big Mountain. Though, it can certainly be substantiated that I am one of their most enthusiastic patrons. I strongly recommend your patronage if you have the opportunity and means.
The content and opinions in this article and series are mine alone. All of these photos were taken with my now defunct Canon Powershot Camera. I can’t wait to get out this winter to try out our new Nikon and Contour Video cameras. HD Ski-video coming up. Stay tuned~!
This is my Skiing the Big Mountain Series. It is my attempt to capture, in words and photos, the joy and splendor encountered in the day-to-day life of a full-time “ski bum.” I have had the distinct privilege of skiing 456 days over the last four seasons. Over that time, I have learned to ski at advanced levels, enjoying increasingly more challenging terrain and conditions. I am just starting to learn all the nooks and powder-stash crannies. The more I discover on Big Mountain, the more there is to like. My bounty is plentiful. I feel obligated to share. I hope you can stay with me and enjoy the show~! Yours, JDPF
Beautiful images – I could almost feel the windswept cold!
Great show and a great narrative…It’s hard to capture the beauty of it all but you have shown
“The Big” and Whitefish Mountain Resort well. Keep it up. Think Snow!!
Great piece. I hope you don’t mind that I linked to it as further reading in my own guide to the mountain.
Fair enough….I just briefly checked out your WMR guide—very nice!
I am working on my own “Skiing the Big Mountain” series of articles. It will be similar in spirit to your own….but as different as we both are in approach and skill set. You’ve showcased some terrific photos on your site. I love the way you’ve done the Backside and West Bowl (I didn’t get much beyond that). If you don’t mind, I’ll send folks your way too. See you on the hill. JDPF
Thanks, Jay! I watched you tour the site via Google Analytics.