Whitefish, Montana, is a vibrant mountain town neighboring Glacier National Park. It's a welcoming community with boundless opportunities for adventure all day, every day—bookended with world-class dining, cultural attractions and distinctive accommodations. When six OR family members hit the town for 48 hours last winter to test gear and shoot photos for the fall and winter catalogs, this is what they discovered.
Arrive at Glacier Park International Airport on Alaska Airlines flight # 2074
Wowza! A quick hop from Seattle. An hour and 20 minutes and we’re on the ground, just 11 miles from downtown Whitefish. Flying in we could see the peaks of Glacier National Park and the massive Flathead Valley. There’s a big lake, huge ski resort, cool little town, six million acres of public land—and only two days to get after it. Let’s go!
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Picked up the rental car and we’re downtown drinking coffee at Montana Coffee Traders. That was fast! Hugs from Hillery who just drove in to meet us from Bozeman. Feels like home already. We picked up groceries at this cool little market around the corner, and now it's off to Whitefish Mountain Resort to check in.
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The resort’s just seven miles up the road and the crew is freaking out at where we have landed for the next two days. Snow Bear Chalets is like a dream—you can throw a snowball to the ski slopes. There’s a hot tub on the deck, and from below it looks as if these Hansel and Gretel chalets are supported by tree timbers. We crack a local brew and gaze out at the slopes from the deck. Upstairs someone screams. “Have you seen this!?” There’s a secret room in the loft where you can look at the stars that twinkle from a deep blue cone in the turret of the chalet.
We took the SNOW Bus back to town and the owner of Wasabi is pouring unfiltered sake into local handmade pottery cups for us. Then she brings out something called Hamachi Carpaccio—fresh yellowtail pounded flat, seared with hot curry oil, and topped with scattered avocado, tobiko, chives and tare sauce. It’s a short trip from the coast for the fish to get flown in fresh. We never thought we’d be eating sushi in Montana!
The lower mountain lifts crank up and we ski right from Snow Bear to Chair 3. We take a few warmups before the Big Mountain Express to the summit opens at 9:30 a.m. From the top at 7,000-feet, we stare out to the jagged peaks of Glacier National Park. No time on this trip, but it’s only 25 miles to the west entrance of Glacier from town. Whitefish is surrounded by some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. And the ski mountain is sweet. It's a seven-minute high-speed lift ride to the summit, then point your skis in any direction across 3,000 acres. Down at the Base Lodge, we eat lunch and warm up by the fire pit on the deck. There are also uphill routes, and a couple of the crew opt for an afternoon workout, skinning 2,500-vertical feet to the top. The rest of us are headed out to go fat biking.
Just 20 minutes north of downtown, the Whitefish Bike Retreat is a funky little lodge located on the Whitefish Trail. Over the past decade, the town has rallied to create nearly 50 miles of hiking and biking trails on public, state and federal lands. And in the winter, fat bikes are a great way to explore. They even have guides who can steer you in the right direction. Crickett is the energetic owner and she tours us around through the forest. It’s a hoot to be gliding over the snow, so quiet in the cool mountain air.
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We’re back in downtown, kicking around, checking out the shops. The sense of community here feels real. I can’t believe how many restaurants and local stores are within a couple of blocks. There are walking trails along the Whitefish River that go all the way from downtown to Whitefish Lake. Everyone is so friendly as we walk around.
We asked a local for a good secret spot for dinner and they told us to check out The Last Chair. There’s a fire roaring when we walk in and some skiers are having a local brew and reminiscing about the day’s antics. Our crew is stoked by the fresh menu. Chef Tim has a list of a dozen local farms he works with. This is a place where you can meet the farmer who supplied ingredients for your meal. We start out with the “Tot-chos”—house-made tater tots, with queso, black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole and lime. Then we dig into local beef burgers topped with huckleberry goat cheese.
For a little mountain town, there sure seems to be a lot going on. Some folks are out for a show at the theater, others hitting local watering holes for live music. We’re pretty tired, and a hot tub at Snow Bear is top of our list—breathtaking experiences in the day and relaxing hospitality at night.
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We cook breakfast and hit the slopes for some morning powder. A couple of locals on the chair lift tell us about Hellroaring Basin. The west bowl is grizzly bear habitat, and they close the basin on April 1 every year so the bears can wake up in peace. No doubt, this place is wild. We check out the East Rim and Flower Point. It’s such a playful mountain, with long, smooth groomers mixed in with glades, bowls, and steeps like Big Horn. (Scared me just a little bit!)
I can’t believe we’re packing up. In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s only been two days of adventure. I learned a lot—like the fact that the storms from the west just bump up against the Continental Divide, dumping more than 300 inches of snow each winter. But the average temperature in town is just 24 degrees. All the cold is on the east side of the Divide. Plus, it's at a lower altitude, making it easy to hit the ground running. We definitely have to come back.
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Depart Glacier Park International Airport
We came to Whitefish because at OR, we think life gets better the minute we step out the door on a new adventure. We learn about ourselves, each other, and the environment every time we get out. We come home a little wiser and stronger. We see the world more clearly, and that compels us to treat it better. More than anything, we’re convinced that if we inspire more people to get outside, the world will be a better place. From talking to people around town, we know they want to protect it. The friendly and inclusive nature of the culture here really left an impression.
Photos by Elise Giordano.