Resort opens featuring skiing on backside of mountain

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Whitefish Mountain Resort is set to open Thursday with skiing on the north side.

The resort will open its 71st season with limited open terrain, Whitefish Mountain Resort spokesperson Riley Polumbus said.

Polumbus said the final decision on what lifts and runs will open will be made Wednesday morning, but she’s expecting the north side open at the very least. More snow will be needed on the front side of the mountain before opening to skiers this season.

“We’re not going to decide until tomorrow what we’re going to be able to open,” she said. “It’s pretty cold, so we’re still making snow, and we’re just trying to get a few of the lower mountain areas in good shape to see if we can get those open. I think the north side of the mountain is where we’ll be skiing for the most part, and then downloading on Chair 1.”

The Summit House will be open for food and beverage services, though on Tuesday she was still not sure whether the Base Lodge will also be open.

Base Lodge Rentals and Village Rentals will be open and if Chair 6 is not running, shuttles will take skiers up to Chair 1 and back down.

Chair 1 will begin running at 9:30 a.m., while all other lifts will start at 10 a.m.

As of presstime, there was about three feet of settled snow on Big Mountain’s summit.

As to when the front of the mountain opens, Polumbus said she has “no idea.”

“It completely depends on snow,” she said. “We’ll need another storm or so.”

Visitors will get a first look at Ed and Mully’s this weekend as well, Polumbus said. New interior improvements added seating under the north windows, a new fireplace, new lighting and carpet and a new location for the bar. There will also be a new menu, focusing on pub fare and Mexican-inspired meals.

“Ed and Mully’s got a nice upgrade. The interior is completely remodeled. Last year we did the exterior ... so phase two, we just completely remodeled the inside. It’s got an amazing new look,” Polumbus said.

The restaurant will not be open for opening day but will hopefully open come the weekend, Polumbus said.

WMR also upgraded the Big Easy Carpet 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.

“We hadn’t had a new one in 30 years,” she said. “It’s wider than the old one was, so if you’re riding up with a young kid you can be side-by-side. It should be a smoother ride up and an overall big improvement for those beginners.”

This season follows another powder-filled season last year on the mountain, with a new record for total visits at 382,000, as well as a total of 410 inches of snowfall, the second most in the last 20 years.

The resort also set a new record for season pass sales already this year, breaking the 10,000 mark. That number is an 11 percent increase over the previous season.

With new records for tickets sold and continued years of total visit records, Polumbus said she’s optimistic about what this season brings.

“Every year we’ve been growing our season pass base and the Flathead Valley has been growing and I think that’s what’s been part of this. More and more people are discovering what a good value the season pass is here. It’s still a big part of our culture in the Flathead Valley, to get out there and ski as much as possible, so it’s just fun, it’s who we are as a community,” she said. “As far as visitors go, I’m sure that we’ll continue to do well. Christmas is looking good.”

“Keep doing snow dances. We could use a couple more storms,” she added.

The mountain also recently announced a two-year expansion project in the Hellroaring Basin, which could change chairlift locations, provide more access to the basin, add groomed runs and reverse some negative grades on the Hellfire Run.

Chair 8, or the Hellroaring lift, would be moved to carry riders from the Grand Junction area to the intersection of Toni Matt and Big Ravine just under the summit, allowing skiers to both access the front side and re-enter the Basin without flooding Chair 1. Current trails in the basin would also be modified to eliminate adverse grades and create gladed areas.

Plans also call for adding an additional lift to run from Grand Junction to the top of Hellroaring Peak, along with two runs on the west and east ridges. A cat track is proposed to provide access from Hellroaring Peak to Gray Wolf on the mountain’s north side.

This season’s events will include 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 $81 this season. The resort is open daily Dec. 6 to April 7.

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