The 2017-18 ski season gets underway in Northwest Montana this month with some new improvements ready to greet skiers and snowboarders.
The National Weather Service predicts that La Niña will bring colder- and wetter-than-usual temperatures to the area this winter, boding well for those who plan to converge on area resorts.
The Daily Inter Lake spoke with employees at the area’s three major ski resorts, Whitefish, Blacktail and Turner to see what lies ahead this winter.
Whitefish Mountain Resort
The white-veined peak looming over Whitefish will start running its lifts Thursday, Dec. 7.
Like ski resorts around the country, Whitefish Mountain Resort is welcoming guests with promises of better infrastructure on the slopes and more aprés-ski options below. But it’s also marking 70 years as Northwest Montana’s winter sports hub.
“We will be doing a little celebration of the founders of our ski resort,” said the mountain’s public relations manager Riley Polumbus.
Those founders developed the resort, opening it to the public on December 14, 1947. Despite initial hardships, it’s grown from “a T-bar, a few runs, and a lodge” to 3,000 acres and 105 marked trails. In September, Ski Magazine ranked Whitefish Mountain Resort as one of North America’s top 10 ski areas.
It continues to evolve this season with the relocation of Chair 5 from Ptarmigan Bowl to the East Rim area. The fixed-grip triple chair will run every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the bottom terminal located near the intersection of Russ’s Street and Moe-Mentum ski runs. The top terminal will be located on the knob just west of Don’s Descent on the East Rim.
From the top, skiers can access the East Rim and North Bowl as well as north side terrain. With an elevation rise of 805 feet, the East Rim lift ride will take about six minutes.
“It’s going to take a little pressure off that main chairlift, and also skiers will be able to avoid having to take that [Russ’s Street] traverse to Chair 1,” Polumbus said.
Down in the village, Ed & Mully’s Bar & Grill and The Bierstube have been remodeled.
The resort’s 70th anniversary celebrations will begin with a Thursday, Dec. 14 commemoration of Schenck, Prentice, and local ski pioneer Lloyd “Mully” Muldown.
“We’ll be having a little ceremony to commemorate them, and we’ll be unveiling a plaque,” Polumbus said.
Members of the public are welcome to attend this ceremony at 10 a.m. in the lift plaza. As with Opening Day 1947, coffee and doughnuts will be served.
Other December events include a Women’s Ski and Ride Day on Dec. 16, and torchlight parades on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
Lakeside’s local ski resort hasn’t yet determined a start date. Blacktail Mountain relies entirely on natural snow, and recent rain and warm temperatures haven’t helped it build up much of a base, general manager Steve Spencer said.
Even so, he said “we’re optimistic about the season.”
Blacktail measures about 1,000 acres and touts its “family friendly, affordable skiing.” Spencer said that “we’ve got about 40 percent more gladed area” this year, thanks to a fire sale.
Once it does open, hours of operation will extend from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Weather permitting, Blacktail will be open every day of the Christmas season, Dec. 21 to Jan. 1.
Earlier this year the ski area was listed for sale at $3.5 million. Spencer said he is still seeking a buyer.
Visit www.blacktailmountain.com for more information.
Farther afield, Libby’s 400-acre Turner Mountain is preparing for another season as the region’s only volunteer-run mountain.
Director Bruce Zwang said that “snow permitting, we’re shooting for the 22nd of December” to open the resort. It will stay open daily, except for Christmas, then adopt a Friday/Saturday/Sunday schedule. Zwang says the mountain’s season typically lasts until the first week of April.
“Our biggest change is [that] we revamped the lower part of our skiway,” he said. “Previously it kind of flattened out,” but the mountain had “made more of a slope to it, so you can glide back to the lift without any problems.”
Upcoming Turner events include a Customer Appreciation Day the Monday of Presidents’ Day weekend with free and reduced price skiing, and a “crazy days” celebration in mid-March. Visit http://www.skiturner.com/ for more information.
Tickets can be purchased at the office of Bruce Zwang, CPA, 519 California Ave. in Libby, or at the Libby Sports Center, 204 West 9th St.