Surrounded by lakes, rivers and rugged mountains, Whitefish has just about everything anyone — visitor and local alike — could want in outdoor recreation: Fly fishing and rafting or kayaking on the various forks of the Flathead and Stillwater rivers; paddle boarding on the eponymous Whitefish Lake or, just down the road a piece, Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi; mountain biking on the extensive system of dirt roads and singletrack; skiing and snowboarding on Whitefish Mountain Resort; riding the countless backcountry ski and snowboard lines, etc.
Indeed, there are countless ways to spend one’s time there at any time of the year, and a multitude of reasons why one should, particularly in winter.
Here are five of them:
The ski hill
Whitefish Mountain Resort, which started out some 70 years ago known simply as The Big Mountain (“Big is our middle name” went the old motto), is a 3,000-acre playground with about half of its terrain rated black diamond or double-diamond. With an average annual snowfall of 300-plus inches (they’re ahead of that rate this winter) and 9 chairs, you’ll have no problem experiencing all of the 105 marked runs on the hill. Check out Toni Matt, Hell Fire and The Big Ravine for long, top-to-bottom groomers; anywhere off the Flower Point chair for fun glade skiing, and the chutes and steep lines under the new East Rim lift and in Hellroaring Basin.
When conditions are right — cold temps, fog and high humidity — the trees on the upper third of Whitefish Mountain Resort are encased in a coating of rime, or hoar frost, and they take on the semblance of shambling ghosts. This phenomenon is welcomed and embraced by the locals — one of whom thinks a particular snow ghost tree resembles a rabbit and puts colored eggs at the base of the tree come Eastertide.
A few miles to the east of Whitefish rears the craggy heights of the continental divide, which cleaves perhaps the crown jewel of the northern Rockies, Glacier National Park. Though the park is quite busy in the summer, it’s relatively empty come the snows, and that makes it a perfect place for winter recreation. Ice skate on Lake McDonald, explore the nearby woods on snowshoes, or ski up the snow-covered Going-to-the-Sun road (or better yet, wait until the road is plowed in mid-May but before cars are allowed and cycle up to Logan Pass).
Food and beverage
Though Montana is known as a meat-and-potatoes kind of state, you can probably find whatever culinary delight you have in mind in Whitefish. Check out Cafe Kandahar — and its James Beard Award-nominated chef — for “thoughtfully constructed cuisine”; Wasabi Sushi bar for sashimi, tempura, nigiri and, yes, sushi; Abruzzo and Latitude 48 for upscale Italian-style cuisine, and Mama Blanca’s for Latin-fusion comfort food. You can wash that all down with a huge selection of brews at Great Northern Brewery or distilled drinks at Spotted Bear Spirits.
Although there a few upscale trappings in and around Whitefish, the general atmosphere is one of a laid-back mountain town, where the community is more into sharing its outdoor bounty than improving one’s portfolio. Says one long-time resident: “Everyone’s friendly and happy here, and that starts with a feeling of inclusion, whether you are a local or a visitor. Lots of times a local skier or snowboarder on the chair will give helpful advance to someone who’s new to the ski hill. We have that interaction, and I think that’s something rare and unique to Whitefish.”