This quaint Montana town has the western charm of an outdoor playground but the amenities of a city. Grant Gunderson photo.
Whitefish, Montana locals will proudly tell you that “Whitefish is not a ski town, it’s a town of skiers.” From a quick glance, that phrase feels a bit misleading. It appears that Whitefish has all the classic ingredients of a quintessential ski town. There’s a ski resort eight miles from downtown, a world-class National Park in its backyard, and plenty of open space for backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. But it’s not until you dig a little deeper that you realize that Whitefish is more than just another mountain enclave with world-class skiing.
“Whitefish remains a small town filled with a cross section of people who care deeply about and contribute to this vibrant, unique place every day. When times are especially hard, we continue to unite around the common denominators of community strength, helping our neighbors, and enjoying the outdoors to renew our energy,” Mayor John Muhlfeld explains. He’s just one of many locals that proudly call Whitefish their home.
With a ski season that’s different from any other in history, Whitefish residents continue to navigate how to keep their community safe, while also welcoming careful visitors. From the start of the pandemic, Whitefish became a leader in Montana for safe travel, initiating mask-wearing protocols before it became the standard. Upon arrival this winter, you’ll be greeted by banners hanging from the street lights on Central Avenue—signs of friendly locals all proclaiming in different ways to “Mask Up! So we can Stay Safe.”
It’s clear that this community is something special, and here are a few compelling reasons why.
Reason #1 - The Skiing
The views at Whitefish Ski Resort will take your breath away. GlacierWorld photo.
The main draw to Whitefish is, of course, the skiing. The local Whitefish Mountain Resort exudes a laid-back vibe, largely fueled by the passionate local chargers. It’s the kind of resort where you might bump into your bartender or server while waiting for a chairlift. But don’t let this relaxed atmosphere fool you, while there might be a lack of aggro-looking skiers sporting extreme outerwear, the locals still get after it, skiing bell to bell whenever they can.
Unlike some ski destinations that require bumper-to-bumper congested traffic before even stepping foot on the slopes, Whitefish Mountain resort is only 15 minutes away from town. Plus, with a handful of on-mountain accommodations available—like Kandahar Lodge or the Hibernation House—there’s the option to roll out of bed and be skiing in minutes. If you choose to make the trip out this winter just be sure to check and observe the local health guidelines, explore responsibly, and review the COVID-19 protocols at Whitefish Mountain Resort. While the 2020/2021 winter has had its fair share of challenges, you can still enjoy what the mountains have to offer as long as we all do our part. Simple things like wearing a mask and staying six feet from others in public places can go a long way in maintaining operations for the winter. More details can be found at WhitefishCovidCares.com.
Another perk of Whitefish, of course, is the snow. You’re in Montana after all, where the light and fluffy precipitation is hard to beat. Geographically, the resort couldn’t be more aptly located. Since the town is situated right on the Continental Divide, it means it gets to enjoy all those big Pacific snowstorms and the snow that comes with it. Annually, Whitefish Mountain Resort gets about 330 inches of snow, giving you good odds for scoring a powder day. The weather also stays pretty consistent, meaning that the snowpack won’t get ruined by a pesky freeze-thaw cycle. It’s not unusual to ski two weeks after a storm and still enjoy the turns, rather than trying to make refrozen crud fun.
On top of a consistent snowpack, on a clear day, you can soak in stunning views of Flathead Lake or Glacier National Park. The resort is also famously home to a special phenomenon called snow ghosts. Don’t worry, there’s no paranormal activity at play, these spectres are merely trees beautifully coated in rime ice. Skiing through a grove of snow ghosts feels straight from Dr. Seuss’ imagination, and is an experience hard to find anywhere else in the U.S. Once you’re at the top of the resort, the world is your oyster with 360 degrees of skiing accessible right from the summit. There are 3,000 acres of skiable terrain to choose from, so there’s something to satisfy both the extreme daredevil and first-time skier in your group. “The skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort is unique because it has vast amounts of varying terrain. There is skiing for everyone, from long cruiser groomers to beautiful tree skiing and even expert terrain,” explains local Olympian and X Games medalist Maggie Voisin. If she’s always having a blast skiing at WMR, then there’s a good chance you will too.
For the adventurous, Big Horn, Black Bear, and the Hellroaring Basin will keep you entertained with sustained steep pitches and cliff features to get sendy. For the powder hounds, take a ride on Chair 5 and get your fill on the East Rim Face. If things happen to get socked in from a storm, there’s still plenty of good skiing in the trees. The tree-lined runs of Whitetail, Goat Haunt, Whiskey Spring, and Big Creek are great options for storm skiing. If you’re bringing the kids along, then that’s great news. Be sure to get signed up for lessons with the resort’s ski school. Kids as young as three years old can be enrolled for lessons. Not only will your little ones have a blast perfecting their pizzas and french fries, but you’ll be able to sneak away and get a few moments in the White Room to yourself. That doesn’t sound too shabby, right?
When the skiing is said and done, the fun is far from over. Once you’ve peeled your ski boots and base layers off, it’s time to experience what else Whitefish has to offer.
The resort’s ski school is a great place for the little shredder to hone their skills. GlacierWorld photo.
Fleur Bake Shop offers French-style pastries, espresso and more, one of many top-notch restaurants in Whitefish.
Reason #2 - The Food
To understand what sets Whitefish apart from other outdoor meccas simply requires a stroll downtown. This former railroad hub has evolved into a foodie’s absolute dream destination, with an assortment of mouth-watering restaurants, cafes, and bars all clustered right in town. Even though Whitefish is a far cry away from the interstate, the town has the culinary scene of a metropolitan city. “There just isn’t anywhere else like Whitefish and I’ve traveled all around the world despite being so young. The town has everything to offer for anyone who’s an outdoor lover. Whatever you enjoy about the outdoors I guarantee Whitefish has it! Last but not least downtown Whitefish has such incredible restaurants, cafes, bars and a local distillery,” explains Voisin and that’s big praise coming from an athlete who’s normally hopping all over the globe.
Choosing a place to dine is no simple task. Our best recommendation is to go with what you’re craving. For the sweet tooth, we suggest Amazing Crepes. Nothing gives you a better jolt of energy for a day at the hill than espresso and freshly made Raspberry Danish crepe. Plus, with most crepes under $10, you don’t have to break the bank to have a satisfying breakfast or lunch. If you’re looking for a cup of Joe, head to Swift Creek Cafe, owned by the Moreno Halphen family, who’s been dabbling with the food and coffee scene for the last 80 years. Boasting more than just coffee, the cafe has a delectable selection of breakfast and lunch options, making it tough to drop by for a quick Americano. It’s hard to resist dishes like Chef Christian’s fresh buttermilk pancakes topped with his own peanut praline butter. I mean, you’re going to burn it off skiing—so, why not indulge?
When dinner time rolls around, the food options only increase. If you’re looking for a proper dine-in experience the Whitefish Lake Restaurant at Whitefish Lake Golf Club is hard to beat. The 75-year-old log clubhouse exudes rustic charm and with unforgettable seafood, steaks, house specialties, and too many cocktails and bottles of wine to choose from on the menu, so you’re sure to feel content after the meal. For the budget-minded travelers and dirtbags among us, there’s plenty of delicious take-out and dine-in options to satisfy your fix. Options like Piggyback BBQ are perfect for some post-ski fuel, and just because it’s more affordable doesn’t mean you’re losing any quality. Piggyback makes a point to source local ingredients for all their meals, including the wood—Flathead Cherry wood—which gives their BBQ its one-of-a-kind flavor.
As a reminder, take out options are abundant this year, so make sure to fuel up at local businesses. If there’s anything you should take away from this, it’s that Whitefish isn’t a town of skiers. It’s more like a town of skiers who really enjoy food, and you’re sure to find something that fits your palate.
Reason #3 - Apres Ski
Relax after a day of skiing by the fire at the Lodge at Whitefish. Noah Couser photo.
It’s not an authentic ski vacation without a little bit of apres-ski, and Whitefish has no shortage of it. Unlike some sleepy outdoor spots that turn into ghost towns when the lifts stop spinning, downtown Whitefish is the spot to be with a variety of watering holes. There are spots like the Red Room Lounge, that feel more at place in an urban environment than in Northwest Montana. With a sophisticated vibe and an impressive list of cocktails, you want to settle in for a drink or two. If you’re looking for something more casual, Craggy Range Bar & Grill has plenty of room for you and your pals, and sixteen craft beers on tap to quench your thirst. For the beer snobs, don’t worry, this tiny town even has a small but growing craft beer scene. With local breweries like Bonsai Brewing Project, you can find top-notch beer and enjoy it in a pub that’s relaxing and even kid friendly. Plus, beer is so much cheaper in Montana that you might as well bring a few six-packs home with you as souvenirs. Seating capacity is limited this year and operating hours are different. Be flexible and plan accordingly. Whitefish is encouraging visitors to create a winter where safety comes first.
Reason #4 - Art/ Culture
Fun fact: In normal years, Whitefish hosts the World Ski Joring Championships—an event you don’t want to miss. Brian Schott photo.
With how jaw-droppingly gorgeous Northern Montana is, it’s no surprise that the region attracts artists of all shapes and sizes. It’s easy to feel this creative energy throughout the town. From multiple galleries downtown to exhibits and stunning murals in local restaurants, you’re sure to stumble across paintings, pottery, and metalwork that catch your eye. Plus, you can even bring home a Montana-made memento with you.
Creativity manifests itself in not just paintings and sculptures in these parts, but through performance as well. Whitefish boasts both the Alpine Theatre Project and the Whitefish Theatre Company, hosting everything from Broadway to Shakespeare. Live music is equally as vibrant, and during a normal year, you can find the streets filled with music. From open mic nights at local bars to concerts at the O’Shaughnessy Center, musical performances ranging from rock, country, jazz, and jam bands.
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