Whitefish, MT: Where Seasons Greetings, Christmas bells and other circa 1980s holiday fashions adorn the main streets
Sure, you could drive to the base of Whitefish Mountain (formerly known as Big Mountain), finding the usual luxury accommodations. However, I recommend a stroll through the center of town where the snow glistened on the front porch's of modest homes, reminiscent of Mayberry street.
"Ski Bum" or "Bro" would not describe any locals that I met here. Whitefish seemed a "second stop" for veteran outdoorsey couples, retreating away from more developed "resort" towns.
One local bike/coffee shop owner is an accomplished ski mountaineer and biker who moved here with his wife after they had originally spent ten years in Jackson Hole together - they wanted to ski more of Canada (5 hours away) and let the grandparents watch the kiddos (now, that is strategy). Another young couple, two snowboarders, were bored by the Denver commuter ski areas and sought to change things up in a more remote area of the Northwest. The other local I met here was a retired competitive downhill skier - he was among the early group to help brand the town to outsiders. He is now living more full time in Palm Springs and comes back to Whitefish for the major events - his only complaint, "lack of sun".
We were experiencing the Pacific Northwest, which was not shy on clouds and overcast skies.
So, amidst the overcast skies, I kept those endorphins high with exhilierating morning boot pack up to Whitefish Mtn.. A favorite along the hike - gaping at the "Ghost" trees. A local told me that the snow-ghosts are the result of rime ice building up around the trees. There is excess build up partly due to less wind - which may otherwise blow the rime ice and snow off the branches.
Ghost Trees in Big Mountain
Worth checking out, I found this link a nice characterization of the sites and experiences around WhiteFish.www.highonadventure.com/Hoa06dec/Larry/Big%20Mountain,%20Montana.htm
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Skiing Glacier National Forest...Recommended as one of the top 1,000 Places to See Before you Die
"Why seek out this feeling of smallness - delight in it, even? Why leave the comforts...walk for miles with a heavy pack...all to reach a place of rocks and silence...why contimplate with exhilaration rather than despair...a frozen lava of mountains extending into the distance until the peaks dissolve at the edge of a hard blue sky?...One answer is that not everything that is more powerful than us must always be hateful to us. What defies our will can provoke anger and respect, but also arouse awe and respect...We are humiliated by what is powerful and mean but awed by what is powerful and noble. ...Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are fail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitation on our will....So grandly is it written there that we may come away from such places not crushed but inspired by what lies beyond us, priviledged to be subject to such majestic necessities." The Art of Travel
Elk Mountain, Glacier National Park
As a first timer on the "Glacial scene," I read up on a few basics.
Glaciers are made up of fallen snow - as the snow ages in the same spot long enough, it begins to compress and transform into ice. Glacier National Park straddles the northern USA and Canada, and is considered a reminant of the Last Ice Age. Glaciers are rivers of ice that are constantly slowly moving. This dense, 700 mile forest is consumed with wildlife, including the increasingly extinct, Grizzly bear. A little homework on fatal bear attacks before setting out? "Male, 1987...last seen alive following and photographing a female with cubs at Elk Mountain in Glacier National Park. Investigators recovered film of the female approaching in attack mode at 50 yards..." Really, that's where we're going?
My guide seemed to enjoy calling out just about every trace of a carnivorous animal he could find.
A mile or so into the forest, I recalled a half-eaten pork sandwich accidentally left in my pack. At about this moment, the guide takes a moment to shout, "look, wolf tracks!". My guide also took fancy in a nearby "animal rub down tree". Like it was some sort of science project, he encouraged me to marvel at the grizzly bear's fur still clinging to it. Unfortunately, this snowplayer takes signs of grizzlies as cue to evacuate the area immediately! Eventually, my guide got the message. From then on out, I was learning about thumper's tracks, flowers and trees. Hence, I proudly display this photo of the enchanting orchid. I chose to leave the grizzly photo ops to National Geographic.
Orchid in Glacier National Park
The night before my trek up Elk Mountain in Glacier National Park, I attended a presentation by a Canadian Ski Mountaineer.
Unlike more mainstream influences, he was not ashamed to say that he sometimes turns back when the risk is too great; he takes pride in being a husdband, and a father of two, and has more to live for than himself. He talked about how he hoped to ski when he's 85, not just until 35. He remarked that knowledge is power in backcountry skiing. Standing in Glacier National Forest, this couldn't be more true - knowledge was a freedom to experience a wilderness that no tram, car, bus, or even bike could fully take a person. And, while appreciating all these freeing experiences, it's still a comfort to have thoughts of loved ones and always return safely home.
In this little write-up, I offer only a sliver of experiences to encounter in this vast forest. I encourage anyone reading to check out more websites and links - your tastebuds will be wet with interest in ALL kinds of things to do. It feels a little under-stated for the magnitude, the history and the sentiment this special place exudes...