Christmas sucked this year. There’s really no other way for me to say it.
I noticed my throat was feeling a little dry and itchy on Monday, December 20th, and decided to get a PCR COVID-19 test that morning. I woke up the next day to the same news that hundreds of thousands of Americans have received in recent weeks. I was positive for COVID-19. My symptoms were mild, but the news effectively cancelled all of my plans for Christmas and New Years.
My family was supposed to visit me here in Wisconsin for a week of holiday festivities, but they decided to stay home, which was obviously the right decision. I was distraught.
Christmas came and went, and my mild COVID-19 symptoms cleared in just a matter of days. I was trying to figure out a way to see my family when my dad made a suggestion-
“Why don’t you just come to Whitefish with me and your brother?”
Bingo. Halleijuah. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am! That was the suggestion I was looking for. Screw opening Christmas presents around a tree and watching cheesy movies. A ski trip beats everything.
I was booking a flight while I was still talking to my dad on the phone.
I wasn’t supposed to go on this trip originally. It was going to be a special trip for just my dad and brother, but the cancelled Christmas plans secured my invitation. Kind of funny to think I had to get COVID to go on a ski trip with my dad and brother, but hey, that’s just the way the world is these days.
I arrived into Kalispell International Airport on Tuesday, January 4th. The clouds were low, but I could see some of the surrounding mountains in the distance. I caught a shuttle to the condo my dad booked in Columbia Falls, MT and started to get settled. My dad and brother weren’t arriving until late that night, and I needed to get some groceries.
You might be asking, ‘Why in the hell is Matt telling me about groceries? I could care less.’, well good sir or madam… let me explain. I’m doing this so that any of you planning on visiting Kalispell, Columbia Falls, or Whitefish doesn’t make the same mistake I did.
You, without a doubt, should book a rental car when visiting this section of Montana. I waited 35 minutes for a $35 Uber to the grocery store that was only 2 miles away. Then, I waited 45 minutes trying to find an Uber to get back to the resort after shopping until I finally gave up. I saw some dude checking out at the grocery store wearing a Whitefish Mountain Resort hoodie and asked him for a ride.
He was incredibly nice, and I slipped him a $20 bill for his troubles. It ended up not being that much of a hassle, but I started to wonder how we were going to get around for the rest of the week. We ended up getting a rental the next day.
I got back to the condo and learned that my dad and brother’s flight was cancelled and that they wouldn’t get to Kalispell until the following night. Bummer, but I went to bed knowing that there was fresh snow arriving overnight. I would have to make due without the companionship of my dad and brother for at least one more day.
I arrived to Whitefish Mountain Resort on Wednesday, January 5th. It had snowed 6″ overnight, and a line had started to form on Chair 1 before 9AM. I met up with a couple of employees at Whitefish and rode the chair up to the top shortly after it opened at 9:30AM.
We got to the summit and I couldn’t see a damn thing (something that I learned is pretty common at Whitefish), but I was stoked. The whole mountain was open, and I had 4 people who knew the place like the back of their hands to show me around. It was going to be a good day.
My group took me down an awesome gladed trail called Black Bear on the mountain’s North Side. I was greeted with fresh tracks in blower snow that felt unbelievable. I had only skied hard-pack frozen granular in the Midwest up until this point this season, and turning on legitimate powder snow brought an instant smile to my face.
The group was pretty stoked as well. They all shared that what we had just skied was best quality snow of the season thus far. I was congratulated for picking this week to visit. Turns out that my COVID Christmas actually led to some pretty spectacular timing.
We rode Chair 7 back to Big Mountain’s Summit Area, and made a beeline for Hellroaring Basin. I’d read plenty about Whitefish’s recent decision to move Chair 8 in Hellroaring Basin, and I was ecstatic to check out this part of the mountain’s terrain.
I followed my group just to the skier’s left of Hellroaring Basin’s Picture Chutes. Again, I enjoyed fresh tracks in steep gladed terrain. I really couldn’t ask for anything better. We got below the Picture Chutes and traversed back to the skier’s right under the cliffs. We then skied an open bowl feature in untouched snow. I was beaming ear-to-ear.
I followed my group around the rest of the day to explore the entirety of the mountain. I was impressed by Whitefish’s layout and variety of terrain. There really aren’t many mountains out west that you can ride one lift from the base to the Summit, and riding Whitefish’s Chair 1 reminded me of an East Coast ski resort in that only one chair was needed to reach the peak.
Even Whitefish’s groomed runs were spectacular. I enjoyed laying some steep carves on Big Ravine and Toni Matt on the Frontside. It was a fantastic day of skiing.
My dad and brother still weren’t arriving until late that night so I met up with one of the Whitefish Mountain Resort employees at Bulldog Saloon in downtown Whitefish. What a dream that place was.
Bulldog Saloon is the diviest of dive bars, but I absolutely loved it. The drinks were cheap, the vibe was relaxed, and the bathrooms were smothered in pin-up girls from the 1980s. It just felt like a ski bar, ya know?
I had an excellent burger at Bulldog and made my way to the airport. My dad and brother were finally here. I was over-the-moon excited.
My dad taught me how to ski when I was 4-years-old. He didn’t grow up with much money, and didn’t get on a pair of skis until he was 19. He told my mom from the time that I was born that he wanted me to start skiing as early as possible. I attribute so much of my passion for skiing to my relationship with my dad. Skiing accounts for 95% of what we talk about, and skiing with him just feels right. I’m sure you know what I mean. We all have that person who taught us to love skiing or snowboarding.
Being on the mountain with him and my brother was a truly special time. We used to take dozens of ski trips together, but times have changed. I live 1000 miles away, my brother is in college, and my dad is getting older. Ski trips don’t come as frequently as they used to. I made sure to enjoy every single moment of this trip.
My dad doesn’t ski as hard as he used to, but his physical ailments don’t keep him from laying finely-tuned turns on groomers and moderately-pitched tree runs. I had a blast watching him tackle the soft snow at Whitefish with precision and skill. He complained about his knee hurting and his legs being tired, but he was ultimately happy. He was doing the sport he loved with his two sons, and I know it was a special moment for him.
The last day of our trip, Friday, January 7th was legendary.
The snow report claims that only 7″ fell overnight, but it continued to snow throughout the entirety of the day. Powder runs were abundant. The only downside was the visibility. We were so socked in that I lost my balance a couple of times. It was hard to distinguish the slope from the surrounding fog, but that didn’t stop us. The snow was too good, and we weren’t going to let some stupid clouds deter us.
We’re east coast skiers after all…
We finished up a a great run on Whitefish’s Northside around 1:45 PM. Hellroaring Basin had been closed all day for avalanche work, but I noticed that the rope had dropped, and the status was changed to OPEN on the digital trail map.
We made a mad-dash to Connie’s Coulee and had the run of our lives. We couldn’t see shit, but the bottomless pow blowing over our heads was all that mattered. I took it slightly slower than normal, but the snow was fantastic. Again, I could see anything, but I imagine we looked like those hero shots you see ski resorts posing on their social media accounts.
Skiing that steep pitch in waist-deep powder was worth it. I was beaming from ear to ear, and so were the other 50 people waiting to hop on Chair 8 after their runs. The stoke was through the mother-f’in roof.
We finished the day with some more runs in Hellroaring Basin, and I know that I’ll never forget that day. Looking back, it was weird how little I cared about the visibility. I mean I really could have gotten hurt considering I could only see 5 feet in front of me and I was skiing unfamiliar terrain. But, that desire to ski pow with my dad and brother just kept me going, and it was glorious.
We rounded out our trip with fantastic Mexican food from Jalisco Cantina. The three of us shared plenty of laughs and smiles reminiscing on the fantastic time we had in Whitefish.
Our trip was short, but boy oh boy was it sweet. I’ll never forget how the three of us were able to reunite on the slopes of Whitefish following the disaster that was Christmas 2021.
The trip served as reminder how truly special the sport of skiing is to me. I’m far from a religious guy, but my spiritual connection to sliding on snow with wooden and metal planks is the closest thing I have to a religion. Celebrating and honoring that connection with the people I love the most was a fulfilling experience.
Please credit Matt Lorelli, Unofficial Networks for all images in this story.