It’s strange to be visiting a beautiful, progressive ski town like Whitefish, Mont., that has just had its reputation smeared by a neo-Nazi wingnut who bluffs that he will lead an armed march through its streets.
The town mobilizes, the national media descends, the wingnut turns out to be a complete fraud and the good people of Whitefish remain upset by all the drama.
In the meantime, there’s skiing to be done, and that’s what the SkiZer is here to do. It feels odd to be having a great time in the mountains through all of the angst, but in a way, it might be the best response you can have: Ignore it and move on.
So that’s what the SkiZer did for days 22-24 of the season: Put up some vertical and marvel at what a great resort Whitefish Mountain is.
On the menu for the SkiZer was to hook up with some of the very fit older skiers at the resort. Whitefish Mountain offers free skiing to anyone older than 70, and that has created a culture of old-schoolers who keep on shredding at a high level.
Some of them are amazing.
Fred Frost, 74, regularly skis more than 4 million vertical feet per season. Frost attacks the slopes with a vengeance six days a week for the entire season, skiing between 30,000 and 35,000 vertical feet per day. If you try to keep up with Frost, you have to be on your game: he takes no breaks once he starts down the slopes. The only time he stops is to do what he calls “D and R” — “Drain and refill.”
Others, like the over-70 threesome of Ken Meckel, Bob Donahue and Gary Simonsic, are more casual in their approach, but they ski hard.
They take the SkiZer down Langley, a great, steep run that on this day has loose snow and a little blown-in powder. It’s a challenge as we dip in and out of trees, and everyone in the group skis it strongly.
It’s not just the over-70 crowd doing the shredding at Whitefish Mountain. A large group of over-60s rocks the mountain as well.
Pam Shaw, a brash New Zealander wintering in Whitefish, still has 10 years to go for the free skiing, but she doesn’t care — she just wants to hit anything that’s “f***ing off-piste!” Shaw describes just about everything with the F-word (“I’m a Kiwi, but I swear like I’m Australian”), and she takes the SkiZer on some of the toughest runs at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Steeps, powder and more steeps — Shaw is game, with a spirit that helps give Whitefish Mountain its great vibe.
The resort will announce on Jan. 13 that it’s adding a chairlift to serve its excellent East Rim terrain. The $1.2 million project will relocate the unused front-side Chair 5 to the East Rim.
The chairlift will serve the upper-mountain eastern section of the resort and allow access to the back-side Flower Point and Big Creek Express chairlifts.
It has been a great year at Whitefish Mountain, with huge storms in December helping the resort score record crowds over the holidays. The chairlift relocation was approved by the resort’s board in early January, said Riley Polumbus, public relations manager.
The move will not open up new terrain, but will allow access to an upper-mountain chairlift and improve skier flow, Polumbus said.
The news is fantastic, if you ask the SkiZer. He learned of the chairlift move after arriving at Whitefish Mountain for a prearranged trip to the resort.
Whitefish Mountain is one of SkiZer’s favorites. The move will reduce pressure on the main Big Mountain Express that serves the front side and also make it easier to ski a great section of the mountain. Besides the advanced terrain of the East Rim, several intermediate runs will be served by the relocated chairlift.
As for the day: The skiing was great. SkiZer stepped off the plane and was skiing within two hours — you have to love that kind of access.
This ski area high in the Bitterroots on the Idaho border has some great old-school skiing. The day started with about five inches new of fluffy, cold snow — a great way to see a new ski resort.
It was also SkiZer’s incredible luck to run into Alec McNeill of Missoula, who showed him around for most of the day. The two met in line as the day started, and McNeill turned out to be a jovial host who made sure SkiZer found his way at Lost Trail.
The day started with some powder turns on Chair 1, then we headed to the open terrain of Chair 4. The best skiing was done in some double-diamond bowls: Hollywood Bowl and Shark Fin.
Day five of a six-day ski safari found the SkiZer at Discovery Ski Area, an up-and-coming resort near the cute-as-a-button historic mining town of Philipsburg, Mont.
First, about Philipsburg. It’s a great example of a well-preserved 1800s-era prosperous mining town. Heritage buildings abound, and community is undergoing a renaissance thanks in large part to an exceptional brewery in the center of town.
Philisburg Brewing is a juggernaut, the cultural hub of town, where on a -5 degree January night, the place was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people hoisting away in sweaty bliss. The joint was jumping.
Beyond the brewery, there are a growing number of shops and accommodations taking over as the historic former mining town finds its place as a tourist destination.
The historic Caledonia B&B is enjoying its 100th year.
Philipsburg Brewing the the cultural hub of town.
So, they have the cool, small-town Montana thing locked down. Now, for the skiing.
The enticing steep side of Discovery looms just above the town. The SkiZer gazed up with excitement and made the 30-minute drive to the Disco base at 6,850 feet.
There was bad news: the back-side steeps were closed for lack of snow, so that left only the gentler, front-side cruisers on the menu.
It was all good. The incredible cold snap over Montana weakened, and it got up to a balmy 20 degrees. SkiZer spent the day on the front-side Anaconda chair skiing cruisers in the sunshine. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
Discovery is a very nice area, even if you can only ski half the mountain. SkiZer looks forward to returning to tackle those enticing steeps.
And next year, things will be different. A new road is being built to the back-side from Philipsburg, which will make the drive just a few minutes.
When that happens, keep an eye on Philipsburg. They already love their beer. This town is poised to become a full-on mountain-bike lovin’ ski town.
The SkiZer was back on the slopes of Schweitzer Mountain Resort — a mountain he’s skied more than any other. The return trip served as a reminder that this North Idaho resort is really great.
And this year, Schweitzer has gotten even better.
The resort has added a fantastic new top-of-the-mountain lodge called Sky House. The resort already had excellent terrain, and a well-executed village. It now has an fantastic lodge on top-of-the-mountain to elevate the ski experience.
Sky House chef Peter Tobin designed a menu of small plates that work perfectly in the airy, elegant space. The SkiZer had the Raclette Potatoes, a perfect dish to add fuel to the furnace on a very cold day.
Yes it was cold. Temps were in the single digits at the start of the day and barely hit the teens. The sun occasionally poked through a thin cloud layer, and that helped, particularly on the front-side runs. Some favorites from the day: Laps on the Lakeview Triple, a great drop down the Lakeside Chutes, some fast-and-furious cruises on JR and KMac.
Schweitzer’s terrain is top-notch, it has lots of side-country, plenty of steeps and first-rate lifts. And word on the slopes is that more lifts are coming. This is definitely a resort to watch.
It was nice to be back, and it left the SkiZer hungry to return. Raclette Potatoes will definitely be on the menu.
The SkiZer came back to see an old acquaintance in North Idaho.
That would be Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg. When the SkiZer lived in nearby Spokane, Wash., he skied Silver several times. The last visit was 14 years ago, and all-in-all, he left unimpressed.
A return trip changed a lot of impressions. Those previous trips to Silver always left SkiZer feeling like the mountain had a ways to go to be a top resort.
Things have changed. For one, SkiZer is older and wiser — perhaps more able to appreciate the best qualities of a resort.
Silver has improved in many ways too. Terrain has been improved with better tree-skiing and better grooming. And new ownership has shaken up the service for the better. It’s now a much more fun place to visit inside the lodge and outside.
It was a cold start: 8 degrees Fahrenheit at the base. The ridge-tops were buffeted by a steady 30 mph North wind, and it felt pretty cold. But SkiZer and resort host Willy Bartlett persevered, skiing trees on a side-country run called South of the Border. Other great stashes were found on the double-diamond North Face Glades and a nice fall-line run called Rendezvous.
The frigid wind was tough, and SkiZer called it early. But he needs a return date to explore all the good that Silver has to offer.