So you’re coming to Whitefish to ski the Big Mountain (or wishin’ you were). You’re clearly amped about the trip. You’ve seen the weather reports of one storm after another slamming into the Pacific Northwest. You’ve bookmarked and repeatedly checked the Whitefish Mountain Resort Homepage and you’ve already memorized the trail maps…….and yet, you still find yourself looking for more.
Well, here you are. You’re at the right place. This is the Skiing the Big Mountain Series by Jay Foster. I offer you a locals view, built around annotated reconnaissance photos of the mountain–all brought to you by the retired Army Intel guy turned Ski Bum, Vert Champ, and now mountain reconnaissance team leader.
You can also get some great Big Mountain information–with terrific photos and “how-to” ski it intel at EpicSki’s “wmr-guide.com” website. I suggest you check it out too. And I should also mention that the resort’s website is very thoughtfully constructed too. Check all of it out…or get up here and create some of your own inside information already.
The Big Mountain is, to insult your intelligence and observational acumen, a big mountain. Skiing within Whitefish Mountain Resort’s boundaries gives you 3,000 acres of playground. I’ll break that out for you, using handheld photography and hard-earned local wisdom to illustrate how to ski this mountain with confidence.
Over the course of this multi-part series, I’ll show you the mountain like few others could. I’ll show you the mountain’s highlights, its signature terrain from a skier’s view, and I’ll share a little ski strategy and some local’s lore. This overview article breaks out the major component parts of the Big Mountain.
The mountain, for simplicity’s sake, consists of five main areas–the Chair 2 and Chair 3 areas on the left, the frontside, backside(+T-Bar 2 area), the North Bowl/East Rim/Evan’s areas, and Hellroaring Basin (also commonly referred to as the West Bowl).
What follows, is handheld photography, annotated with trail markings and names, for you to see the views and terrain that you’ll be skiing or riding in just a few days. I’ll break it down for you like nobody else will. But first I’ll show you the whole big mess.
Shown above is the whole frontside of the mountain–annotated run by run. There are 46 runs visible from the town of Whitefish. These are them. I’ll get to many of them later, but first I’ll show you how where it always starts on Big Mountain–from the inception of the mountain, to the beginning of every day within a season (once the terrain opens up)–the Chair 2 area is where all the early bird skiers begin.
Chair 2 (a high-speed quad), services 1110 vertical feet of terrain and opens at 9:00am, 30 minutes prior to Chair 1 opening; all early skiers start their day here, getting 2-3 warm-up runs before being allowed to go to the summit. And if you play your cards right, you just might get an inversion day to yourself.
Notice that, of the five visible, ascending chairs, there is only one sole skier riding up. Even on busy days, you can often find yourself with a chair to yourself on Chair 2.
If you choose to ski Hellroaring or Ed’s, you can go pay your respects to the 10th Mountain Division Warriors of World War II. Some of these men were members of the Knights of Columbus. After the war, the organization gave the mountain a statue of Jesus to commemorate their service. The statue is near the top of the original Big Mountain ski area (now the top of Hellroaring and Ed’s runs). It is an iconic Big Mountain sight….and one under attack. A Wisconsin-based group has recently lobbied the Forest Service to have it removed. And while the courts work, they’ll apparently just attack it, one appendage at a time.
Notice the missing hand in the above photo (this appendage has been fixed…and destroyed once again, remarkably this time within 48 hours of the Forest Service renewing the permit). In any eventual outcome, I recommend you see the monument while you can.
This is the original Big Mountain terrain, where the mountain’s pioneers-Ed Schenk, Lloyd “Mully” Muldown, and others took skiers uphill via rope tows and such. Consequently, these chair 2 area runs bear the names of these men. We are all eternally indebted to them. They saw the potential for alpine abundance and acted on it. Signature runs are Eds, Mully’s, Hellroaring and Heaven.
Seen another way, here are the Chair 2 and Chair 3 areas viewed from lower Toni Matt. At far left is the Fishbowl Terrain Park area, serviced by Chair 3 (a three person fixed lift), visible on your left. The right side of the photo shows you the Chair 2 area from about mid-way down–the tops of Slalom and Heaven are visible from their perch near the Hellroaring/Home Again Junction.
After getting warmed up in the Chair 2 area, you are ready to go to the summit. This next shot below shows you the mountain’s entire 2,365 vertical feet of lift-served terrain, from Summit to the Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Base Lodge, at a glance.
Here you can just begin to see how wide open Ptarmigan Bowl and the Big Face are. You can also see the open glades of Good Medicine, Langley, and the (Chairs) 5/4 line.
The frontside of the mountain includes all of the terrain which feeds back into Chair 1, the only village to summit chair. The North Bowl/East Rim/Evan’s areas also technically feed back into Chair 1, after a lengthy trek down Russ’s Street (cat track), but I’ll break those areas out separately–for clarity’s sake.
The Frontside of Big Mountain is, unique among North American resorts, generally south-facing. Thus, it is subject to temperature fluctuations and regularly changing snow conditions than the naturally more shaded North-facing areas. The frontside gets a healthy dose of the sometimes rare ‘sunlight’ on the Mountain.
The seven and a half minute, 2084 vertical feet, ride up Chair 1 gives you great views of some of the frontside signature runs–Ptarmigan Bowl and the Big Face are foremost among them.
The arrival at the summit gives you 360 degrees of opportunity. You can literally ski in any direction, if your skill level permits it. Or you can go into the Summit House for a hot beverage or some ski mountain chili.
Here you see the classic skier’s view as you choose between skiing the Big Face, Ptarmigan Bowl, Toni Matt, Good Medicine or Big Ravine –all of which are Big Mountain classics. Pick one–you can’t go wrong.
And while you are skiing the classic frontside runs, other folks are undoubtedly skiing down Inspiration–aptly named because of the spectacular views looking down on Whitefish and the rest of the Flathead Valley. Inspiration gives access to several mountain classics, from Elephant’s Graveyard, No Name, Cal’s Country, Haskill’s and Elkweed off the left side of the Inspiration ridgeline; to the Big Face and Langley off of skier’s right.
Skiing Inspiration or any of the expert runs off either side will eventually get you back to the main village and chair 1–for another trip back to the opportunities available at the summit.
Among the great options at the summit is skiing the Backside (now referred to as the “Northside” on the Whitefish Mountain Resort Trail Maps). If you choose to ski back here and you aren’t yet an expert skier, you will have to navigate the infamous Big Mountain landmark–the “Ant-hill.” The Ant-hill (sometimes referred to as “Fill Slope” on resort publications) is among the most treacherous parts of Big Mountain. It isn’t super-steep, but it’s steeper than novices are ususally comfortable with, and especially daunting when crowded. The more crowded it gets, the icier and bumpier it becomes, making it even more daunting for beginners. It gets its nick-name from the all of the bustling activity of skier’s and riders competing for limited space–just trying to safely get to somewhere better. All that activity looks like an ant-colony on snow.
The Backside and T-Bar 2 area includes all of the terrain culminating at Chair 7 (a high speed quad which services 1216 vertical feet of terrain). Most of this terrain is primarily North-facing. This terrain is the best bet for keeping good snow when we’ve had variable conditions on the frontside. Here below is the view looking north from the top of Marmot. Hollywood follows the Chair 7 lift-line.
Seen while riding back up Chair 7, you see the centerpiece of the Mountain’s North Side steeps. Marmot, Black Bear and the Chair 7 liftline are known for keeping good snow long after the frontside has turned to crud. The chair 7 lifltine is also known affectionately as Hollywood–since you are skiing/riding on “TV” for all the spectators riding the lift.
Another option off the Big Mountain Summit is the North Bowl. The North Bowl Face is the terrain just below the deck of the Summit House. Schmidt’s Chute is just west of the North Bowl face, accessed from the start of the cat-track to Inspiration, just below and south of the Top of Chair 5. These runs, along with the East Rim Face, Nose, and Whitey’s, all feed into MoeMentum. MoeMentum is named for 1994, Lillehammer Olympic Gold Medalist, Downhiller and Big Mountain veteran, Tommy Moe.
The East Rim and Evan’s Heaven areas include much of the signature expert terrain on the mountain. The deeper the snow, the better this terrain gets. And while that is true of just about everywhere on the mountain, the East Rim and Evans areas tend to keep good snow a hair longer than the more direct routes back down to the main village.
After skiing out of the North Bowl, East Rim, or Evan’s areas, once you pass the MoeMentum – Russ’s Street Junction, look up on your right, and you will see the Big Mountain’s most revered, signature run–Haskill’s Slide is the longest, double-black diamond, steep run on the mountain. Haskill’s is a right of passage for all budding experts.
After skiing the East Rim/Evan’s areas, or even Haskill’s, you have a fairly long Russ’s Street trek back to the main village area and Chair 1. This ride is lengthy but offers some spectacularly scenic views over Whitefish and the Flathead Valley. After arriving back at Chair 1, you can go up and do it all again….or you can seek another great route.
The last great option off the summit is Hellroaring Basin, or the “West Bowl” as it is sometimes referred, includes all the terrain serviced by Chair 8. This terrain is typically the last terrain opened up for skiing by the Resort–both in terms of the season, as snowpack deepens enough for safe skiing (usually by Christmas), and in daily terms, since avalanche control is paramount here. It isn’t uncommon, for the West Bowl to not open up after a significant snowstorm, until the Ski Patrollers get the blasting done–usually by mid or late morning.
Hellroaring Basin includes mostly advanced-level skier terrain, with only one run (Hellfire) for intermediate level skiers to enjoy. Hellroaring Basin does hold some of Big Mountain’s best signature terrain.
Slingshot, Picture Chutes and Gray’s Golf Course offer challenges for even the best skiers and Hellfire is the longest run on the mountain (at 3.3 miles). The first mile or so of Hellfire is cat track, but once you turn left, the rest has been hailed and regaled as like skiing a “formula one” course.
The ride out of the West Bowl is on Chair 8, a fixed triple chair, which takes you up 1272 vertical feet. It spits you out just above the top of Chair 2. From there you can ski past the 10th Mountain Monument one more time, on your way, no doubt to get a cold beverage in the village. But, the question is, where will you go?
The historic Chalet, the original Big Mountain building built in 1947, still houses the Hellroaring Saloon and Eatery–monster piles of nachos and fresh, local Montana microbrews on draft. Or, how about the Bierstube? Brought to you by the guys who ran the Dire Wolf–the best ski-town Pub ever. They’ve got even more microbrews on tap and some seriously big burgers. It’s the perfect finish to a day of skiing some serious “pow.”
On that note (who’s hungry?), this completes your Big Mountain Overview. Are you ready to ski/ride yet?
Coming soon in the Skiing the Big Mountain Series are some more detailed, “break-out” articles. In these upcoming articles, I will examine the mountain’s component parts in greater detail, illustrating the closer range photography and describing it for you like only I can. It ain’t skiing, but its pictures taken of the ski area, by the skier, for the skier. So, stay with me….live vicariously….or better yet, come get some of your own.
Once again, I am in no way associated with Whitefish Mountain Resort–though I am among the most enthusiastic of their patrons. The opinions posted here are solely mine, reflecting good, bad or otherwise upon me alone.
Come see us here in Whitefish….and always ski, ride and travel safely. Godspeed. See you on the hill! JDPF