Northwest Montana ski areas ready for Old Man Winter

December 3, 2018 GMT

Montana skiers and snowboarders are gearing up for another great season on the slopes with opening day at resorts across the region within sight.

The sticks are waxed and tuned, and season passes are in hand. The only ingredient still lacking? More snow.

Old Man Winter took the bypass around Northwest Montana for most of November, choosing to target the mountains in west-central and Southwest Montana with early dumps of snow. Unfortunately, only minor accumulating snow is in the forecast for the remainder of this week, and long-range weather models show a dry and cold start to December.

While conditions remain a bit thin in this neck of the woods, spirits are high that Ullr will ultimately provide.

Everything at Blacktail Mountain above Lakeside is ready for action, Office Manager Arin Lever said Friday. “We’re just waiting for Mother Nature to come into play,” she said. “We’re hoping that we get that dump that’s hit the other areas.”

About 2 feet of snow was on the summit of Big Mountain at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Sunday. Snow-making has been in progress as conditions allow on the lower mountain and on high-traffic zones at the summit.

“We’re trying to get the beginner terrain covered,” explained Whitefish Mountain spokeswoman Riley Polumbus. “Everyone needs to pray for snow.”

Let the snow dances begin.

Whitefish Mountain Resort

The lifts at Whitefish Mountain Resort are set to begin spinning Thursday, Dec. 6, and guests will find a few upgrades on and off the slopes.

The second phase of the remodel at Ed and Mully’s restaurant is wrapping up. Along with a fresh look, the interior improvements include added seating under the windows looking onto the slopes, and a new location for the bar. There is a new large fireplace along with new finishes, lighting and carpet. The restrooms and kitchen also were remodeled.

“It’s just a better flow,” Polumbus said of the redesign. “It opens up the entryway more.”

A new menu at Ed and Mully’s will focus on Mexican-inspired dishes, along with standard pub fare.

The resort also replaced its “Big Easy Carpet” surface lift with a new Boardwalk conveyor lift serving beginner terrain near the Base Lodge. Polumbus said the new conveyor offers a smoother ride with fewer abrupt stops.

The grooming fleet was upgraded with two Prinoth BR-350s and a Prinoth Winch Cat for steeper terrain.

Crews were busy in the summer clearing overgrown gladed areas of brush and trees. The gladed areas include 15 acres in the Ptarmigan Bowl, 8 acres in the North Bowl and 7 acres on the North Side of the mountain along Whitetail, Silver Tip and Kodiak.

“Lately, we’ve been putting more hours into [glading],” Polumbus said.

Two new snow reporters. Eli Williams and Rhyan McLaury, will be up and at ’em providing overnight snowfall totals and slope conditions every morning. Polumbus said they plan to tap into social media, and will focus on the resort’s new marketing campaign based around the resort’s character.

“They’ll be telling a little of that story throughout the season,” Polumbus said.

Skiers can check out conditions with their own eyes via the resort’s new panoramic webcam on the summit. The panoramic ultra-HD digital PanoAlpin webcam system is refreshed every 10 minutes and offers the option to look back at previous times or create a time-lapse.

The existing webcams will be repurposed: one will replace the “Hellroaring Chalet” camera while the other will be used at the summit as a snow stake camera.

A full slate of events is planned for the season, including the 20th anniversary of the Nate Chute snowboard races, and the annual Whitefish Whiteout ski mountaineering race.

A regular adult lift ticket is priced at 140 card is good for four days of skiing.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap between a day ticket and a season pass,” Lever said. “It’s a nice combination.”

Fifth-graders and skiers 7 and younger ski free at Blacktail.

Blacktail was put on the real estate market a few years ago and remains for sale with a price tag of 38, the same as the past three years, said ski area Director Bruce Zwang.

“We’re all volunteer-operated and a nonprofit,” he said of the low prices. “It takes 10,000 volunteer hours each year to make that thing go.”

Volunteers were busy this fall clearing brush from some of the glades on the south aspects of the mountain. A new website is also planned to go live this winter, along with a new weather station.

Other than that, “things will stay fairly consistent as they did last year,” Zwang said.

Skiers can expect deep snow, steep terrain and the best darn lunch this side of the Kootenai at the Turner Day Lodge.

“Our chef is returning this year,” Zwang said, with a menu featuring homemade burgers, fresh-cut fries and homemade soups. The lodge is BYOB, Zwang said.

Turner is planning to open Dec. 21 and will operate daily though the New Year, except Christmas Day. After Jan. 1 the area is open Friday to Sunday and Presidents Day.

The entire mountain is available for rent on non-operating days.

Turner offers one lift, 22 named runs and a vertical drop of 2,110 feet.