Fog and freezing temperatures did little to sway opening-day crowds at Whitefish Mountain Resort, which saw more than 1,550 visitors at the start of its 70th season Thursday. Skiers and snowboarders coursed down 29 of the resort’s 105 marked trails in temperatures in the teens and 20s on a moderate 31-inch base.
Snow levels at the bottom of the mountain remained a thin 5 inches, so skiers flocked to open terrain on higher ground on the north and east faces of the mountain.
Chairs 1, 5, 6, 7, 11 and T-Bar 2 were open, with Chair 1 downloading throughout the day, or providing rides to the base area.
Longtime skier Damon Foster of Whitefish was among the two dozen snow junkies lined up in front of Chair 1 around 8:30 a.m. — an hour before it would open for public use.
“I’ve been skiing since I was 4 years old — I’m 50 now and I never miss skiing. It’s always fun, it’s always a good time,” Foster said.
Adding to the fun this year is the relocation of Chair 5 to the East Rim area, which will service intermediate and advanced runs such as Moe Mentum, East Rim Face, Whitey’s and N.B.C.
Foster said the new lift will mean that more experienced skiers will have a direct route to east side terrain and can avoid the crowds at the base of the mountain.
“It’ll be a good improvement to the mountain,” he said. “It’s going to break up a lot of the pressure on [Chair 1].”
Resort CEO Dan Graves said the mountain got the OK to relocate Chair 5 in 2010, but focused on other improvements first, such as putting in runs and a chairlift on Flower Point.
Chair 5 was originally located near Ptarmigan Bowl and opened for service in 1981. But between 1981 and ‘89, usage of the chair saw a downturn as other areas of the mountain expanded. The lack of service on the east side presented an opportunity to use Chair 5 once more.
Just before 10 a.m. Thursday, the lift saw its first riders, including Don Wood, of Lakeside, who was one of two skiers on the chair’s inaugural ride in 1981.
Polumbus said this year’s opening day featured less snow than the resort has seen in recent years, but “surely not the least amount of snow.”
The 2016 season opened after a series of storms hit the area, dumping fresh powder on the mountain. This year, Polumbus said the resort is simply happy to be able to provide some skiing and riding to the public and hopes to have more beginner terrain open in time for the weekend. Unfortunately, snow isn’t in the forecast anytime soon.
“Every year is different,” Polumbus said. “We’re at the mercy of the weather.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.