To celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Whitefish Mountain Resort, here’s a list of 7.5 things you have to do in this Rocky Mountain town located just two hours south of Fernie, BC.
The year was 1947. The world was enjoying its second year of peace and Americans were discovering new areas to explore both globally and in their own backyard. Ed Schenck and George Prentice were busy doing the latter, transforming a remote logging town in Montana, into a downhill ski destination. A handful of hardcores had been skiing on the appropriately named Big Mountain, which overlooks the town of Whitefish, since the 1920s but it wasn’t until the duo established a T-bar on its slopes that things really took off. On Sunday, December 14, 1947, the resort opened and tickets to ride the new T-bar were $2. A beer was 10 cents.
Approximately 1,000 people from the surrounding Flathead Valley visited the hill on its opening day. There’s still a T-bar at Whitefish Mountain Resort but there are also 11 chairlifts, including the first high-speed, six-seater chair in the northern part of the State, appropriately called the Snow Ghost Express. Together they service 3,000 skiable acres of terrain, all of which overlook the Flathead Valley and the 5.2 square miles of water that make up Whitefish Lake.
It’s this surrounding area we focus on in this story. Much has been written about the 75th anniversary, but what is there to do in the community when you’re not schussing the 113 runs at Whitefish Mountain Resort? Here’s a list of 7.5 things to explore in Whitefish, Montana and also a few pointers about how to be a respectful “Friend Of The Fish” when you visit.
7.5 Things To Do in Whitefish, Montana During The Winter
#1. Fat Bike at Whitefish Bike Retreat
The Whitefish Bike Retreat is a unique lodge located eight miles out of the city that caters to fat bikers, nordic skiers, and snowshoers in the winter months. New for this season are the six miles of groomed trails that connect to the larger Whitefish Trail system. Amenities of the trail-side lodge include wood-fired sauna, shared kitchen and common space, private sleeping quarters, shared rooms with bunks, a bike workshop. They also provide snowshoe and fat bike rentals.
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: When exploring the local trails, always bring a bag for TP and trash and pack it out.
#2. Ski and Snowshoe in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is much busier in the summer months and for good reason: it encompasses over a million acres, 130 lakes, and all kinds of wildlife from river otters to Great Horned owls. But hardly anyone visits in the wintertime, making it the perfect place to get away from the crowds and enjoy the type of silence only a backcountry winter experience can provide. There are no limits as to where competent backcountry alpine skiers can go but be aware snowmobiling is not allowed within the park boundaries. For guided excursions, Whitefish Outfitters offer full- and half-day snowshoe and nordic skiing tours in the park.
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Always pack layers, extra food and water, and way-finding devices.
#3. Go Snowmobiling
As mentioned above, snowmobiles aren’t allowed in Glacier National Park but there are plenty of other places to explore around Whitefish. From relaxed, groomed trails to extreme terrain there’s something for every type of sledhead. Popular spots include Upper Whitefish Lake, Olney Red Meadow, Desert Mountain, and Canyon Creek, which access 80 miles of groomed trails and lots of mountain riding. Whitefish Marine, located just south of the city, offers full and half-day snowmobile tours of the Stillwater State Forest
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Be extra kind to guides, staff, and workers. They are the backbone of Whitefish.
#4. Enjoy a Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
There’s nothing more nostalgic and magical than a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow. Grab a seat in the sleigh, bundle up under the blankets with friends and family members, and enjoy the beautiful scenery as gentle draft horses guide you through the snow. The Bar W Guest Ranch, located at the base of Spencer Mountain, offers 30- to 45-minute sleigh rides for up to ten people at a time and afterwards they’ll warm you up with hot chocolate and cookies.
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Fuel up at local businesses. Our merchants rely on your support!
#5. Try Skating
When the weather is clear and cold, there are various places around Whitefish where you can ice skate on natural ponds and lakes. Given our plethora of snow in the winter months, however, a lot of time people will have to dig their way down to the ice. Instead, try visiting the local rink, the Stumptown Ice Den. This facility is a community success story because it’s owned by a non-profit and managed by tireless volunteers. Public skating is offered multiple times a week at the Ice Den, and skates can be rented there.
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Avoid single-use plastic. Use or buy a reusable water bottle. Please recycle.
#6. Go Cat Skiing
Backcountry skiing is a truly amazing experience, especially when you don’t have to hike up to the top of the mountain under your own power. Great Northern Powder Guides is Montana’s only backcountry cat skiing operation and it’s located 20 miles north of Whitefish. It operates on over 20,000 acres in the beautiful Stillwater State Forest and all of their trips are fully guided, ensuring guests enjoy the best and safest outing possible. The company runs seven days a week and has the ability to carry up to 14 guests in each snowcat – you can book out the entire vehicle for a private outing or jump in with like-minded others in a shared excursion.
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Ignite inclusive conversations and show mutual respect for all people.
#7. Explore the Festive City
Whitefish is definitely a magical place in the wintertime. Festive lights are strewn throughout the city’s downtown core, live music spills out from the doorways of multiple venues, and the smells of a variety of delicacies waft through the crisp, clean air. It’s a city with plenty of urban amenities, from art studios such as the FoR Fine Art Gallery to funky shopping venues like Chill Clothing Company. When not shopping, rest and rejuvenate at one of the 40 cafés, wineries, bakeries, distilleries, restaurants, and breweries in town. Here is a list of recommendations:
- Ciao Mambo
- Spotted Bear Spirits
- Unleashed Winery
- Fleur Bake Shop
- INDAH Sushi
- Loula’s Cafe
- Wild Coffee Company
- Amazing Crepes
- Sweet Peaks Ice Cream
- Tupelo Grille
- The Last Chair Kitchen & Bar
- The Wich House
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Breathe deep. Be patient when waiting in lines or traffic.
#7.5. Ski Tour Off Big Mountain
Although we said we wouldn’t concentrate on Whitefish Mountain Resort in this article, we wanted to sneak in half a mention about an outfit that guides tours off the resort. Whitefish Vertical Adventures provides guided ski and splitboard tours to experienced skiers out of the resort area boundary on Big Mountain, but uses the ski lifts for access. Full and half day trips are available and they do have avalanche safety gear available for rent.
Be A Friend Of The Fish Tip: Hire local guides for your adventures. You’ll learn a lot along the way.
For more info about visiting Whitefish, Montana in the winter months, visit ExploreWhitefish.com.