As Whitefish Mountain Resort prepares to open for the winter season next week, resort officials can’t wait to see the improvements to Hellroaring Basin in action as skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes.
The resort’s opening day is scheduled for Tuesday, December 7, and recent snowfall has kept it on track for now. As of Friday, the resort had recorded about 26 inches of snow since early November and had a stable 20-inch summit base with about 10 inches at the bottom of Chair 7 at the back of the mountain. However, WMR spokesman Chad Sokol said forecast warm temperatures could make additional snowfall difficult this week.
“It looks like we’re having some unfortunate warm weather this week, but we should start snowing again this weekend,” he told The Pilot on Monday. “People should keep an eye on our website and social media, just in case we have to postpone opening day.”
Prior to the weekend’s record temperatures, the resort shifted its snowmaking efforts around the mountain when conditions allowed, but mostly focused on the higher elevations. Kalispell hit 59 degrees Sunday afternoon, surpassing the daily record of 51 degrees set in 1899, according to the National Weather Service.
Station officials said the recorded snowfall was exactly where it needed to be just over a week before the start of the winter season.
“We would always like to see more snow before opening day, but we actually think we are doing better than average for this point in the season…” said Sokol. “With a La Niña weather model in the forecast, all signs point to a great season ahead. “
Over the summer, the resort moved Chair 8 so the lower terminal is now at Grand Junction and the top is near the intersection of the Toni Matt and Big Ravine ski trails. In doing so, he cuts the long distance at the end of Hell Fire which needed a generous amount of snow to open up each season. Therefore, moving the elevator will increase the opening date of Hellroaring Basin. The station hopes to open the elevator on Saturday, December 11 if conditions allow.
Previously at the top of chair 8 there weren’t any clear trails back to the pool, which meant runners had to run along the front and back up to the top to get back into the area.
“If you remember how the elevator was previously located in Hellroaring Basin, it didn’t exactly live up to its potential…” the resort said in a statement. “We believe that this new configuration will improve the overall fluidity of mountain traffic. And that will allow us to open the Hellroaring Basin earlier in the season.
The elevator ride now takes about 7 minutes and covers 1,082 vertical feet, depending on the station.
With the move of the ski lift, the resort has also created two new trails: Wing and a Prayer, an expert trail, and Short but Sweet, an intermediate route.
The Hellroaring Basin project actually started in 2020 when they started clearing six new tracks, both of which opened this year as well as Pat’s Ride, Lacy Lane, Chet’s Stache and RadJack which debuted last season.
Another big project that the resort has just started work on is the installation of a high-speed six-person chairlift that will replace the 4-chair called Snow Ghost Express. The new ski lift will take skiers from the Base Lodge area to the top of Inspiration Ridge in under 7 minutes. It is the first elevator at WMR that will extend from the Base Lodge area to the upper elevations of the mountain and the first six-person elevator to be installed in Whitefish.
“The new Chair 4 will offer a direct flight to the upper terrain without this stopover and will help reduce traffic on these other lifts by providing an alternative,” the resort’s statement read.
This summer, preparatory work for the new lift began when workers moved soil around the area to modify the terrain, with the first stages of installation taking place next summer with an opening date slated for the 2022-2023 ski season.
This ski season will also be a little different at the resort in terms of COVID-19 protocols. Over the past year, several procedures were adopted to prevent the spread of the virus, including requiring face coverings in elevator lines and indoor facilities.
Now, the resort is encouraging all guests to wear face coverings in crowded places where social distancing cannot be maintained but does not require it. Masks will only be required when guests are involved in a medical intervention or a transport situation where they are in close contact with the trackers.
There are also no longer any Covid-related occupancy limits or seats hosted at resort-run catering facilities and single lines will again be available at chairlifts.
For more information visit skiwhitefish.com