The Best of “The Big” 2012

Ski Season 2011-2012 is in the books–digitally speaking–and it was a banner year here on “The Big Mountain” north of Whitefish, Montana.  This was especially true if you are a local ski tuner/repair guy.  And it was also true for those of us requiring their services.

Sure, the season started late and then went slow for an extended period. And even once we got deep snows, I still managed to find enough rocks and stumps to get my man Casey (the ski tuner) and I on a first name basis.

After a couple of really good, super-deep seasons, this year’s 303 inches seemed mostly pedestrian–when compared to last year.  But, looking back at the photo-pictorial record of this season, it looks more and more like a pretty magnificent year.   You can look at the pics assembled here and make your own call.

Opening day came on Saturday, December 10th, 2011–a full-week after we were supposed to open.  We were waiting on the “one good” storm that never came, or at least not until January.  So, we opened to marginal snow conditions, skiing on the backside (north-facing slopes) only.  But we had back-to-back inversion days on Saturday and Sunday, opening weekend. Nice!

With very little early season snowpack, we were forced to “download” from the summit of the mountain back to the main village.  In plain speak, that means we rode the chair back down to the village–instead of skiing, because there wasn’t enough snow coverage yet.  The ride back down was anti-climactic, after a 20 minute wait to load the chair.  “Woohoo! We’re skiing again–or we were just minutes ago.  Now we’re riding a chairlift down the mountain.  Hey look at all the grass!”  The discussion naturally turned toward the Resorts’ summer mowing (or lack thereof) habits and snowmaking capabilities.  We appreciated the manmade snow but hoped not to need it.  It was another La Nina winter after all.

Little by little, day by day, with relentless snow-making, we were treated to more and more available terrain.  We had enough snow for the visiting Murphy boys to have some fun snowboarding before Christmas.

And, by New Years we still had lots of grass and shrubs still clearly visible.  Fortunately we were treated to some magnificent late afternoon views on New Years Eve.

We were skiing and seeing the splendid view of sunrays across the valley.  It was mostly easy enough to ignore the grass everywhere.   The view looking west, of Upper Whitefish Lake in some partial sun, made the lake look a brilliant gun-metal blue.  If only I’d taken the picture before the shade overtook the lake again.

Many of us were still skiing on our “rock” skis (backups) until around mid-January, when all of the sudden, La Nina’s fickle, winter faucet turned on.  We got 4 feet of snow in one week and 7 feet for the month.  At that point, we were saying “now this is the Big Mountain we all know and love.”  All we ask of La Nina is to bury us deep.  And then do it again tomorrow. And the next day.  Lather, rinse, repeat, redundantly.

January also brought some more splendid view days.  

I am a sucker for the beauty of natural light.   The play of light and shadow varying from the mountain, across the valley, all the way to Flathead Lake.   It looks like the chiaroscuro effect of the Baroque Era painters (e.g. Rembrandt).  It seems to demonstrate the hand of God illustrating our local canvas.  We get that a lot.

Shade where I’m standing often enables the light across the way to look quite brilliant.

Above, the village roads looked electrified from where I stood….under a magnificent sky that extended as far as you could see.

The deep snows of January enabled greater mountain exploration.  Late afternoon in Evan’s Heaven is always a treat…and this view below was almost screensaver worthy.

There’s Harlan (Steele) in repose at lower left (above). He seemed to be with me for about half of my photo-op worthy moments.  Thanks for your patience Harlan.  We ripped it up!

Weekend night skiing allowed us to ski until as dark as we wanted.  This January sunset was enjoyed among friends.  Thanks Steve & K. 

Sometime in January, word on the mountain had it, that some industrious folks had built a shack off in the tree-line near the top of Swift Creek.  Having just started skiing the Swift Creek trees (the tree-line at skier’s right of the run) on a regular basis last year, it was no “big-thing” to investigate the truth of the matter.

It’s true, the Big had a “stoner shack” of its own.  Just like the legendary one at Keystone and other places.  Although ours had much less capacity (seats maybe 3 or 4) and apparent usage.  It was equipped on the inside with an old Chair 11 sign and outside you can see the poached “closed sign” partially visible.   Nobody said that the shack’s builders and patrons were good citizens on the hill.   Industrious–sure.  Citizens–not so much.

By the end of January, Whitefish was the place to ski.  Tahoe was thin, Colorado and Utah were disappointingly thin, by their own measuring standards.  We were at just about average by then.

So, after a five year hiatus, some friends decided to join us again for another round of skiing the Big Mountain.  It just so happens that during those five years I learned how to ski. I have slowly but surely developed into a skilled, knowledgeable Big Mountain guide–capable of taking folks to the limits of their ability level, without going over-board (at least that’s how I see it; though I suppose its best to allow others to judge).

The friends brought snow with them, another 4 feet in a week and 22 inches in 24 hours. That was the most snow in a 24-hour period since 1996–which was coincidentally, the first year I ever skied here.  This year, we shoveled like crazy people–for that one week.  And we even had some nice view days to enjoy the new snow with.   Thanks Brad & MB.

Lets try to get back out in less than five years next time…and since you’ve done it each time you’ve visited, bring fresh snow with you when you come.

It was only a few weeks after Brad & MBs visit, that my buddy, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Morris made it out, also for his “every five years” ski trip to Montana.  He didn’t get the epic, optimum weather for powder-skiing, but he did get some decent opportunities to conquer the Big’s steeps….but not before the obligatory Summit overview of Whitefish photo-op.  This is a mandatory photo–even on a cloudy day.

Morris, ever the adventurous sort, was ready for my “Intro to Pow/Steeps” Course.  He dug following Harlan through First Creek, for his first Double-Black descent on Big Mountain.  And he enjoyed his crack at Evan’s Heaven.

There are few greater joys in life than conquering the steeps on your favorite mountain–that first descent down new terrain is especially rewarding–Morris was chuffed at the bottom of Evans.   Even Murph got a kick out of Morris’ enthusiasm.

During his week here, Morris conquered a number of iconic Big Mountain trails, including First Creek, Gray’s Golf Course and the East Rim Nose.  He deserved to be chuffed, after skiing down into the teeth of this next vista. 

Nicely done Morris.  See you again in 2017.  How bout we shoot for 2013?   That way, we can keep building your “steeps” resume.

March had a record 23 of 31 days with measurable snowfall on the mountain.  Although, some of those days had summit snows and village rains, with the dividing line creating some interesting effects on the mountain.   Sometimes, the rains made the snow ski better. It seemed counterintuitive at the time, but truth is truth.

Also of note during the winter of 2012 was the fact that Whitefish Lake never froze over–for the first of the six winters that I’ve lived here.  The south and north ends froze, but it never met in the middle.  The whole US was 8 degrees warmer on average this past winter, and I suppose we had to share in some of those effects.  The pic below shows the open water hanging strong in the deepest of our mid-winter.

March’s wet but variable weather yielded some great vista-views too.  Not the least of which, was one of my favorite, classic Northern Rockies views seen below.  

Before we knew it, April was upon us.  The final week of the season didn’t give us much fresh snow to play with, but we were able to enjoy some spring “corn” (soft, melting) snow conditions.  Once again, Steve and K, Harlan and I enjoyed skiing the “5/4” line (underneath/adjacent to Chair’s 5 and 4).   And many of us say that “Langley never skies better than it does as corn.”  At least Steve, K, Harlan and I do, anyway.

The final week of the season even brought us some thunder-snow-storm like conditions. Like almost everywhere else I’ve lived, conditions can change very quickly.  It’ll be nice one minute and snowing the next.  Graupel (hard, pellet – pea-sized) snow is always fun, especially when it pelts your face at 40 miles-per-hour.   Below, the ongoing storm in the valley looked quite spectacular and ominous from the mountain.  Thus affirming the truism that it’s “better to be up here…than down there.”

The final weekend brought us the 7th annual “Pond Skim.”  It is always a crowd-magnet.

It was sunny at the beginning of the Pond Skim, but instead of getting a photo, I opted to ski another run.  By the time I got down from that run, it was snowing to beat the band.

Steve and K skied during the festivities and photo-ops.  They even had a chair to themselves, in a day known for relentless lift-lines.

Pond Skim Day yielded some spectacular views.  You just had to capture it while it was available–which is such an apt principle, vis-a-vis’ a ski season.  You take what the Almighty provides when you can…because it might not be there a minute from now.

Alas, before we knew it, Closing Day came on Easter Sunday, April 8th.

Lots of folks dressed for the festivities–both Easter and the final festive day on the mountain.  As if some folks need an excuse to dress up. 

As always, a vigorous crowd gathered at the summit until the chair stopped running. It was a beautiful day for it.  And Gaye, who happens to groom our dog Lady, insisted on taking a picture of yours truly.  Rarely does my camera capture this face.  But here’s a rare exception below…with the peaks of Glacier National Park in the distant background.

While we waited for the chair to finish bringing the last of the skiers to the summit, folks assembled, regaled their exploits, and pledged to do it again next season.  God willing, we should all be so fortunate.   We don’t ever want to take ski season for granted.  It is a gift.

Steve and K were there, with Darnell and Anita. 

John (Gibson – Vert Champ 2007) was there on his “Big Mountain” carving board.

As was the little Easter Bunny girl.  When I moved into position to take a picture of the whole crowd from a distance, she just happened to be moving across in front of me.  She couldn’t help but think that I must be taking a photo of her–so she stopped and posed.   And I took this pic below.   She seemed like such a ham….of an Easter Bunny.   Too cute~!

When the final rider arrived at the summit, he was greeted in traditional manner…..with a volley of incoming snowballs.   After he cleared the lift area, the chair stopped running for the season as the crowd roared.  Ski season traditions are fun and festive, even as they come to their inevitable end.

Over the next 30-45 minutes, little by little, the crowd began to peel off, one or two at a time, for our last, lift-served run down the mountain.

During my final run, I took my time, stopping to take some pics along the way.  At the top of the “Chute” I got the following pic of the village and the lake.  I loved how the Whitefish Lake Lodge area, in the distance, was a brilliant green hue, from the sunlight shining brightly on it.  The pic doesn’t quite do justice to it….though it is beautiful nonetheless.

The spectacular views of the opening and closing weekend of the 2011-12 season were a fitting bookend to another great season.  It wasn’t the deepest year.  It wasn’t the coldest. And you could maybe argue that it wasn’t the best year ever….but it was a pretty darned good one.

This season did yield some very memorable moments.  From Morris’ first trip through First Creek, to my first venture down the narrower, center chute of Haskill’s Slide, to learning the Back-Door to Evan’s Heaven, and the east route into lower NBC (North Bowl Chute), it was a year of improving confidence, learning and bulletproofing new routes, and enjoying the opportunity to share them among friends and family.

I’ve never skied any better than I did this season…and I enjoyed it more than ever.  Skiing well is its own reward.   Come and see for yourself next year.  If you promise not to lollygag, I just might ski with you–for a run or two. R/JDPF

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The Vert Top 10 of 2012

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

Congratulations to Tony Cooper, your King of the Big Mountain in 2012!

Tony battled broken ribs and marginal early season snow conditions to ultimately win big–and finish 7th on the all-time Vert list (see The Top 75 Vert Seasons at right).  Tony skied his 4,532,564 vertical feet in just 107 ski-days–resulting in one of the highest daily vert averages (42,360’/day) of all-time.   He can be extraordinarily proud of his accomplishments.  Tony is in the Top 10 for the second consecutive season–and his vert achievement arc is still ascending steeply.  Go get ’em Tony~!

Returning for the ninth consecutive time to the Top 10 are both Fred Frost and Russell Carpenter–a remarkable feat of consistency and durability for both of them.  They’ve set the “ski bum” standard for years.  To best them on this list, you have to earn it, day-in and day-out.   We can all count on Fred and Russ to do their part–year-in and year-out.

John Gibson made his seventh consecutive appearance in 2012.  He’s clearly having fun and riding better than ever.  Yours truly made my fifth consecutive Top 10 list–and I know I’m enjoying myself more than ever too.  Quality time on snow translates to better skiing and riding.  The more you do, the better you get; the better you get, the bigger and better our Big Mountain playground becomes.  And I’m just now learning the nooks and crannies and where all the powder stashes remain, even days after the snow was new.

A hearty welcome back is in order for John Wachsmuth, Steve Calger and Kay Yobst, each making a third Top 10 appearance after a season out of the mix. Nice job getting back to the top! And this applies doubly to Kay, who won her 3rd Ladies Vert Title (see The Top 10 Ladies of Big Mountain – 2012 at right), while earning the 10th place overall.

Steve Sliper also made it back into the Top 10 for the second consecutive year, finishing 5th again.  Well done Steve!

And welcome to Fred Koenig, who made his first overall Top 10 list, setting a Vert personal best, all on a new, surgically replaced hip.  I’d say it’s now fully battle-tested.  Nice effort Fred!

The historical archive of each season’s Top 10 is in the Vert Records at right. These records are unofficial and I am in no way affiliated with Whitefish Mountain Resort.  I am, however, an enthusiastic supporter of the mountain and its activities.  Come share some time and fun on the mountain, winter or summer.   It is a Big Mountain; there’s room enough for all of us.  Come and get some~!

As always, if you see an inaccuracy, I welcome constructive inputs to “set the record” straight.  Best regards.  See you on the hill~!  JDPF

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The Top 75 Vert Seasons

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

The following information highlights some of the rich, recent history at Whitefish Mountain Resort (known from 1947-2006 as The Big Mountain).  This is another component piece of the Vert Records–to view more, look in the Vert Records Category listings at right.

Here are the Top 75 Vert Seasons skied at Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly The Big Mountain) between 2003 and 2012.   Season 1 was the 2003-2004 Season.  Season 9 (2011-2012) was completed in April 2012.

Congratulations to Tony Cooper for breaking into the Top 10 in 2012! Nicely done.

Once again, I am in no way affiliated with Whitefish Mountain Resort, though I am arguably among it’s most enthusiastic patrons.  I recommend you visit, summer and winter.   Come and make some memories of your own!

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The Top 10 Ladies of Big Mountain – 2012

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

The following highlights some of the rich, recent ski history at Whitefish Mountain Resort (known from 1947-2006 as The Big Mountain).  The Vert Era began over Thanksgiving weekend 2003 and has continued for nine seasons now.  Feel free to “poke around” the Vert Records (the last tab under Categories at bottom right on the homepage here) to see the records and embrace some recent and emerging Big Mountain nostalgia.

All hail Katherine (Kay) Yobst, the “Queen of the Big Mountain” in 2012.  She earned a hearty congratulations for winning her 3rd Ladies Vert Title, surging over the final week to pass 4-time Ladies Champion Jeanne Reichstadt in a very close finish.

And congratulations to all the ladies on this list for outskiing your peers.  Below is the ladies Top 10 list for the 2011-2012 season.

On principle, I did not include the girls from the teens and junior’s categories on this “Ladies” list….but some of those girls had prolific seasons too.  They’ve clearly got the chops to challenge the ladies when they grow into adults themselves.

And, in the interests of completing the record, for historical comparisons, below are the Top 10 all-time vert season performances by the Ladies–clearly this isn’t the first “rodeo” for either Kay or Jeanne.   The top Ladies of Big Mountain show up every year.  My hat is off to them!

Congratulations to all who “got it done” on the Big Mountain in the 2011-2012 season.

The data depicted is unofficial and I am in no way affiliated with Whitefish Mountain Resort–though I do recommend you visit, winter or summer.  Come and make some history of your own.

As always, I appreciate any constructive inputs.  If you see something amiss and can “complete the record,” I welcome your information and would be happy to hear from you.  JDPF

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Black Keys – En Fuego con El Camino

Music Reviews 2012 – The Black Keys – El Camino

The Black Keys have done it again. In less than a year, they’ve gone from first time Saturday Night Live (SNL) guests….to returning veterans …..warmly enjoyed and relished by the SNL Cast and Crew. These guys–Dan Auerbach (guitarist/vocalist) and Patrick Carney (drums) are at the highest they’ve ever been…and still climbing.  The sky may be the limit….but they’re already soaring above the stratosphere.  Their new record, El Camino (and yeah, they know, it’s a crappy mini-van and not an El Camino), was released December 6th, 2011.

The new record is very good.  Said by one fan and i-Tunes critic…..this record is “groovier” than the others.   And it is.  Both, in the late 60s/early 70s sense of the term….since there are a few songs that hearken back a 60s/70s type feel…..and in the sense that the whole record delivers song after song of distinct and memorable grooves.

This record, without any of the band’s history that I embraced last year, would have sucked me in.   Two of the songs would have ensured that.  Little Black Submarine and Sisters took me immediately to my Black Keys favorites list.   They rock, they groove, and they do it with such style and irony.  Little Black Submarine spins you into this dark ballad about broken hearts being blind, for two and half minutes, only to diverge into a fiery, Zeppelinesque jam for the remaining minute and a half.  Broken hearts are blind…..and dammit they are intense too.   The ballad doesn’t get you quite there…..they had to infuse a pounding, incendiery groove to tell the rest of that story.

Sisters sets about beating you into submission on a relentless, pounding groove of its own…..arguably the grooviest of all the El Camino jams.  It is worthy~!  It finishes with a kind of Black Keys signature—Patrick Carney dropping his drumsticks on his snare as the final exclamation point to a song well-done.

The record’s album art, which famously isn’t a Chevy El Camino, ostensibly reflects the modest roots of the band.  The band apparently paid their dues and earned their chops riding around Ohio in a crappy mini-van back in their early days.  The Black Keys’ website is full of pictures of crappy mini-vans in broadside view.  Sort of one stop shopping for those missing their fix of wood paneling auto decor.   We all miss it.  The Keys are just doing their part to keep it alive.  Viva El Camino~!

El Camino is again produced by Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, who produced 2010’s phenomenally successful Brother’s CD.   El Camino picks up where Brother’s left off and demonstrates that the Black Keys can build upon their explosive successes. They still have that “grounded in the garage,” two man band thing going…..punctuated with extra musicians/instruments where they add value and make additional sense.  The Keys, in each form, can seemingly do no wrong lately.  It all works.

Even my colleagues on the ski mountain are jammin’ with ’em.  Some local snowboarders were rocking out to the Keys, enjoying the day today, offering to share their whiskey flask with me.   While I politely declined, I did concede that the Black Keys are a worthy companion to a whiskey punctuated day of snowboarding.

Perhaps that explains why snowboarders are predictably unpredictable.  The Black Keys are very predictable though.  In fact, they are on fire.  El Camino is hot, a sure winner.  And I can’t wait to see what they will do next.  I’m quite certain I’m not alone.  I predict that they’ll stay smolderin’ hot for awhile.

If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you check ’em out.

Support the Musicians you like! Enjoy JDPF

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Big Mountain Overview

Welcome To My World! – This is the Skiing the Big Mountain Series – by JDPF

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 “” 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.

Most folks get off the chair and turn right back around and go back toward the runs they just rode up over.  

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

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Daughtry Delivers Again~!

Music Reviews 2011 – Daughtry – Break the Spell

Much to the chagrin of the coastal elites, American Idol Alum Chris Daughtry and his bandmates, collectively known as Daughtry, have delivered another album.  Break the Spell, Chris’s 3rd post-Idol record and the second with the current band lineup, was released November 21st.  Break the Spell continues in the vein of it’s predecessor Daughtry records–offering home-spun, heartland friendly, sing-along music.   And if I had to give it, my three-word review would be “I love it.”  This record affirms what Idol fans recognized years ago, Daughtry rocks!

Break the Spell isn’t without critics though.  Jon Dolan, a music reviewer at Rolling Stone, pronounced it “more cheeseball rock ballads about really meaning it, man.”  His write-up makes me worry for his mental health (not really).   Life must really suck…when your beat requires you to write reviews about groups you can’t stand.   Given his negative reviews about Evanescence’s new record, Nickelback’s new record, and now Daughtry, I figured I must find out a little about who this guy is.  So after spending a lawyer’s hour looking for some biographical info on him (there’s ten minutes I can’t have back), it turns out, Jon Dolan is just a guy who writes the articles that serve as juxtaposition to my own.  And he savvily keeps himself otherwise off the internet.  Hmmm.  Maybe I could learn a few things from him?

I did find a Dolan article which was positive–he thanked R.E.M. for being a “gateway” band–one that took him down a path toward Embarrassment Records (which somehow seemed aptly named though otherwise unfamiliar to me).  Ok, so he likes alternative music.  He doesn’t like straightforward, unambiguous, “from the heart” music.  To him, that is clearly “cheeseball.”  I can only surmise….that one person’s cheeseball is another’s sustenance.

Daughtry’s Break the Spell is very definitely in the sustenance category for me.  It continues in the vein of Leave This Town (the band’s last record)….in which we began to see the “worn-in” (in a good sense) Daughtry.   This is the evolved, thought-through Daughtry–distinguishable from the immediately post-Idol, frantically delivered first record Daughtry.   Daughtry writes songs about life.  His life just happens to revolve around his family and his music.  And yeah, Jon, I think he really does “mean it.”

Songs about a baby that didn’t make it (e.g. Gone Too Soon) certainly aren’t “cheeseball” by any standard of measure.   That kind of subject matter is deeply personal and not easily faked. Nothing about this record makes me think Daughtry is faking anything.  Chris Daughtry labored in obscurity far too long to take his current role lightly.  He is serious and focused….and he is smart enough to recognize that the country-loving heartland is his fan-base.  Its us Okies, Iowans and Carolinians (Caccalaccans) that will be buying his records for years to come….while the coastal elitists are saying “WTF?  Who are these idiots buying Daughtry records?”

Among the standouts on this record, Outta My Head, the title track, and the first two singles, Renegade and Crawling Back to You (and several others) are all sing-along worthy. The title track takes me to a place of memorable, visceral earnest.  Daughtry sells a story of angst and inexplicable attachment in a bad but unquittable relationship…..building to a crescendo reminiscent of his first single It’s Not Over back in 2006.   As he sings “the way you pull me in, the way you chew me up, the way you spit me out….I keep coming back, I can’t get enough, I can’t go without” with an ever growing conviction, culminating in a last stanza wail that could never ever be construed as faking it.

This record also pays homage to Daughtry’s roots.   Losing My Mind delivers the first Daughtry falsetto I can remember hearing….and it reminds me instantly of Ed Kowalczyk and Live (the Band originally from Pennsylvania whom the Idol-Contestant Daughtry cited as a major influence).   Some may remember that Daughtry’s Idol run culminated with him singing alongside Kowalczyk on the Idol Finale that season.   The well-done falsetto was cool when Live did it on Turn My Head (on 1997’s Secret Samadhi), and it’s cool hearing Daughtry do it here.  Good falsetto can’t be faked….and it isn’t easy.  Very nice Chris~!

The i-Tunes “Deluxe Version” of Break the Spell includes four bonus tracks.   Daughtrys’ bonus tracks and seeming throwaways are anything but that (as the Leave This Town – B-Sides release proved).   Who’s They and Everything But Me are among my favorite songs on the new album.   Who’s They is a song which seems to pre-address the elitists criticism. Daughtry sings “They say we need to be a certain way to fit the mold, or so they say…. who’s they? How can we pretend to care and bend because we’re told we’re not okay…. who’s they?”

To that question, I say, whomever they collectively are, they certainly include the critics at Rolling Stone.   And I say this as someone who has had a continuing subscription to Rolling Stone for over a decade.   I subscribe to keep up on what music is coming out when….and I almost always go straight to the music reviews. Jon Dolan’s Daughtry review made me think two things.   Why do I pay money to read what some elitist, non-fan has to say about bands I like?  And, why do I still subscribe to Rolling Stone?

Undoubtedly, because I still value knowing who is in the studio right now and when new records are going to come out.  And I do enjoy a Matt Taibbi induced laugh once in a while….though I don’t necessarily buy into his football analysis.  Perhaps Rolling Stone should consider some new blood in their reviewer pool?  Maybe adding a heartland-based reviewer–somebody who could explain what it is that people like about Daughtry….instead of making poor Jon Dolan grind out another teeth-gritting, lambasting review.

For Chris and the Daughtry boys, I’d say, who cares what some Rolling Stone elitist has to say? You’ve got a gift….and a loyal following who wants to hear what you’ll do next.  Keep the faith….and keep bringing it, baby~!  Rock on Chris…and the Daughtry boys~!

Support the Musicians you like.  JDPF

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3 Doors Down – No Kryptonite Here

Music Reviews 2011 – 3 Doors Down – Time Of My Life

Mississippi’s own modern rockers–3 Doors Down–released their fifth studio album, Time of My Life, on July 19, 2011.  For the band’s faithful, it doesn’t disappoint.  This album rocks like it’s predecessors– predictably and directly.  It has some terrific material.  But, for those unfamiliar with the band, there probably isn’t a Kryptonite (their breakaway smash debut single)-like song in the mix.  I love many of these new songs, but don’t expect a huge rush of new fans based on this record.  And that may be considered disappointing by some.

3 Doors Down, consists of Brad Arnold on vocals, Matt Roberts on guitar/vocals, Todd Harrell on bass, Chris Henderson on rhythm guitar, and Greg Upchurch (formerly of Puddle of Mudd) on drums (the band’s 4th drummer over time).  Upchurch replaced Daniel Adair, who left the band to be Nickelback’s drummer in 2005.

Few bands have demonstrated more mainstream consistency over the last decade than Escatawpa, Mississippi’s own finest—3 Doors Down.  The band has sold over 16 million records over that time with two records charting to #1.   2005’s Seventeen Days went straight to #1, as did, 2008’s self-titled 3 Doors Down release.  Both were strong records start to finish.  They added greater heft to an already strong reputation and created immense expectation for all upcoming records.

On the strength of those records, I had very high expectations for Time Of My Life.  And had the album met my lofty expectations, I would have already written about it.  As it stands, I would compare the new record to the band’s second album, 2003’s Away From the Sun.   To be fair, both of these records have some very strong content.  The best songs on them are very good.  I have six of the new songs in regular rotation in my current playlists and they don’t ever trigger an itchy skip-finger.   But it is true, I don’t include all the new album’s songs in my playlists….and I don’t listen to this album start to finish like I did the last two albums.  This isn’t a conscious, discriminative choice.  This is a subconscious, freedom of neural navigation response.  Some of these songs just haven’t grabbed me–so I don’t sit through them.  If I get an itchy skip-finger, I move on to the next song, until one does.

Given how that process works, I try to focus more here on the songs that did grab me.  The best songs on Time Of My Life all seem to be mid-to-up-tempo rockers–in the spirit of the Kryptonite model.  Leading that list are Round and Round, On the Run, the title-track, and Believer. These songs are jammin‘, no question about it.  They are all at the heart of 3 Doors Down’s signature sound.  They share a seemingly boundless and overflowing, palpable energy.   Kryptonite did it ten years ago, It’s Not My Time and Citizen/Soldier did it five years ago, and these songs do the same thing.  They get the personal amperage humming on 220.  All rock fans can dig that.

But if I am being honest, comparatively, this album hasn’t held my attention like the previous ones.  On some level, that really does disappoint me.  I love 3 Doors Down.  And, as such, I don’t want to impugn any of their work.  They deserve better than that.   They really are among the best, most consistent bands out there.  They deliver songs I love and relate to on every record.  I just wanted a third straight “start to finish” jam…..and didn’t get it this time.

When I try to piece it together, when I ask what it is the new record is missing, that the last two had, I have to say that the quality of the ballads here, doesn’t match the best of the previous record’s ballads.  And I wouldn’t be saying this, if I hadn’t reattacked this theory with another round of “giving them a chance.”  The standard I’m gauging against is Be Like That, Here Without You, and Let Me Be Myself.  Those ballads are modern era classics.  And the new record’s ballads just aren’t in that class.

Unlike my fellow music reviewers at Rolling Stone, I don’t write wholly negative reviews. If I don’t have any good things to say, you won’t hear about an album from me.  If I like it, you’ll hear why.  But, for my own credibility, I also have to make honest comparisons.  And in this case, Time of My Life is like Away from the Sun was for me—an album where I liked about half of it.  The rest I chalk up to the notion that nobody, not one artist/band, does every record with nothing but brilliant songs.  All artists have peaks and valley’s in their discography and repertoire.  This album demonstrates that principle to me.

And since I don’t want to finish on that distinction, I’ll retake the high ground by providing you my best of 3 Doors Down playlist.  The contents of which, demonstrate unequivocally, the strength, versatility, and durability of the best thing to ever come out of Mississippi (I’ll happily entertain alternative suggestions to that notion)—the rock band 3 Doors Down.

               The Best of 3 Doors Down 

  1. Kryptonite – from 2000’s The Better Life
  2. Loser – from The Better Life
  3. Duck and Run – from The Better Life
  4. Be Like That – from American Pie 2’s Soundtrack
  5. When I’m Gone – from 2003’s Away From the Sun
  6. Here Without You – from Away From the Sun
  7. Right Where I Belong – from 2005’s Seventeen Days
  8. It’s Not Me – from Seventeen Days
  9. Be Somebody – from Seventeen Days
  10. Landing in London (w/Bob Seger) – from Seventeen Days
  11. Father’s Son – from Seventeen Days
  12. My World – from Seventeen Days
  13. Here By Me – from Seventeen Days
  14. Citizen/Soldier – from 2008’s 3 Doors Down
  15. It’s Not My Time – from 3 Doors Down
  16. Let Me Be Myself – from 3 Doors Down
  17. Pages – from 3 Doors Down
  18. It’s the Only One You’ve Got – from 3 Doors Down
  19. Time of My Life – from 2011’s Time of My Life
  20. Round and Round – from Time of My life
  21. On the Run – from Time of My Life
  22. Believer – from Time of My Life
  23. The Silence Remains – from Time of My Life

Support the Musicians You Like.  Enjoy~!  JDPF

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Kid Rock – Voice of a Generation?

Music Reviews 2011 – Kid Rid – Born Free

Kid Rock’s tenth album, Born Free, released November 16th, 2010, is his best yet.  And that’s saying something, given the success of 2007’s Rock N Roll Jesus–Kid Rock’s first #1 album.  Rock had set the bar pretty high before and yet he delivered again, raising his own standard. Born Free began where Rock N Roll Jesus left off, building on the themes that took him to #1. Born Free showcases Rock’s maturity and growing craftmanship. And, dare I say it? Can Kid Rock be the Voice of a Generation? Hear me out and then you can be the judge.

Whatever else you can call him, Robert James “Bob” Ritchie–Kid Rock, is undoubtedly an integrator.  He crosses genres like a pizza delivery man crosses streets. From rock and blues, to country, to gospel, to southern rock, to rap and hip hop, Kid Rock plays them all like a pro.  He has fans in each genre and collectively he takes us places that no other artist can.  And these days he’s taking on us on a soulful, country-infused, journey across America’s heartland (“into the Purple Sky”), singing songs most of us can relate to–to the exclusion of his rap and metal fans (who by-the-way aren’t so happy about it).

2007’s Rock N Roll Jesus demonstrated that Rock could make music for the mainstream masses.   The summertime classic, All Summer Long sampled Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama to maximum effect. If that doesn’t demonstrate genius, then what does? We loved Skynyrd doing it in 1974 and we love it even more integrated smartly into a new, sing-along, feel-good song.  Kid Rock took a classic and worked it into his own modern classic, as evidenced by it charting to #1 in eight countries. After that, Rock could never be “under the radar” again.

However rich his recent successes have been, Kid Rock worked in relative obscurity for years.  Rock got his start DJ’ing and rap’n in the Detroit area.  He was originally signed at age 17.   After years working the Detroit area rap scene, he later worked in Nashville and L.A., soaking in local flavors, adding to his repertoire.  And he now seems quite comfortable mixing it all up.  He mixes styles, raps and croons, and does duets with stars.  Kid Rock has woven a believable tapestry in an age of confusion.  He seemlessly works it all in…and makes it all work.  And no one is more surprised than I am.  I don’t like half the genres that Kid Rock samples from…but I like Rock’s newer music.

Born Free was produced by Rick Rubin–well-known for contributing to great records, from Johnny Cash, to Adele, to Metallica, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many, many more. Rubin’s production and collaboration virtually ensures that you will get the best and the most from the Band or Artist.  This record was no exception.

Born Free is full of interesting collaborations.  Kid Rock has worked with a number of credible (in their own right) artists over the years.  On this record, he took it to another level.   Guest artists included Martina McBride, Rapper T.I. (who were, believe it or not, both in the same song), Trace Adkins, Zac Brown, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot drummer), David Hidalgo (Los Lobos guitarist), Benmont Tench (Heartbreakers’ keyboardist), Bob Seger, and long-time duet partner Sheryl Crow.   Rock’s duets with Sheryl Crow are, by now, as close to sure money as an artist can get. This record’s Collide is no exception.  Crow and Rock compliment each other perfectly over Seger’s piano, Tench’s B-3, and Hidalgo’s very southern guitar–sure money indeed.

Born Free is the first of Kid Rock’s albums to come without a parental advisory. Coincidentally, Rock turned 40 not too long ago.  Is he growing up?  Maybe, who knows?…but, he’s certainly wiser.  Only a wise man would let Benmont Tench have his way with a whole record.  Tom Petty knows this.  Let the man work already.  Tench is generously applied throughout Born Free.  His keyboards lending dignity to and “church’ing up” several songs. Most notably, Care, When It Rains, and Rock On definitely showcase the Benmont Tench church-effect.  A Hammond B-3 in the margins has never sounded better. It’s just another sensible layer added on–that somehow makes the sum seem greater than the individual parts.  And that, my friends, is musical synergy–graduate level application of music theory.  Kid Rock has taken his craft to that level.  And Rick Rubin gets another notch on his belt for home run albums produced.

Born Free has no shortage of great songs–potential favorites.  The title track got widespread attention at the 2011 Super Bowl.  And while this is a rock solid effort at a flag-waving classic (just like Mellencamp’s Our Country a few years ago), and easily the best known song on the album, it isn’t even close to my favorite.  That honor has migrated from Purple Sky to Rock On, to First Time in a Long Time, to When it Rains, over the months since the albums release.

And while picking a favorite song has been an evolving process over time, the album is, most assuredly, a start to finish listen and a great album to accompany a small gathering. In this capacity, at least twice I’ve heard someone ask, “who is this?” and “is this the Eagles?”  The first time I heard it, I thought, “hmmm?”  The second time I heard it, I thought, “this is pretty high praise.”  Nobody sounds like the Eagles anymore–except maybe the reunited Eagles.  But the point is the same, Kid Rock is playing new music that is reminiscent of the Eagles, and his fellow Michigander and idol Bob Seger.  And that is cross-generational music.  Maybe when his rap and metal fans grow a little older they’ll embrace the beauty of this new direction.

The Eagles were absolutely the ‘voice of a generation’ back in the mid-seventies.  The Eagles – Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is among the top 10 selling records ever (selling over 42 million copies) and they certainly had America’s complete, rapt attention with Hotel California back in 1977.  Kid Rock has a a long way to go to get into that territory. But that said, Kid Rock is enjoying a similar success to the Eagles.  Like they were in the late 70s, he is now good enough, big enough, and ‘on top of his game’ enough to do whatever he wants. The fact that he wants to work at making great music, with friends from all over, from all styles of music, is is a beautiful thing.  And that just might be the signature of the younger generation.  While he may not be the voice of your generation, he is blending and crossing boundaries much more common to the younger generation of Americans now.

Kid Rock may not deserve any sweeping, lofty labels or grandiose legacy just yet.  But he does deserve credit for the sustained growth of his craft.  He is hitting on all cylinders, writing, producing and singing.  He’s working with proven winners.  And it’s all fun and games when everything works.  And each record seems to work better than the last.  He’s obviously having fun…and he’s working on a new record, Chillin’ The Most, due out in 2012. I can’t wait to see where it will take us.

Until then, I’ll keep enjoying Born Free.  It’s fresh, it’s light, it’s straightforward.  I suggest you check it out.  Or if it suits you better, then don’t.

Either way, Support the Musicians You Like.  Enjoy~!

A special thanks to Amanda “Yaya” Gage for introducing me to Rock N’ Roll Jesus. Congrats to you and Derrick! — And hello to Kinsley Jo – welcome to the clan.

And a hearty thanks to Karen Thielke for being the first to share an enthusiasm for Born Free with me.  You were right….and I too am sold.   JDPF

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The Views of Big Mountain

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

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