Blacktail Mountain Ski Area opened for the season Saturday, under a fresh blanket of powder and single-digit temperatures.
After the warm, dry weeks of early December, the conditions were welcomed by general manager Steve Spencer. “I’d say we dodged the bullet,” he told the Daily Inter Lake. “We need to open for Christmas, and it wasn’t looking good a week ago.”
But this week’s storm left Blacktail with 38 inches — enough snow for full operations. As the first skiers and snowboarders lined up for tickets, the mountain’s staff voiced high hopes for the upcoming season.
“Today was a good start,” said Jessi Wood, the mountain’s Snow Sports School Director. “I’ve got a bunch of staff out training and a bunch of lessons out [there] happening.” Some of the season’s first students were local, she continued, but others were from Canada, Oregon, “all over the place.”
Wood, 37, has been teaching snow sports at Blacktail since it opened in 1998. In the 20 years since, she said that she and her colleagues had “really seen a return to the sport by a lot of folks who had left the sport because it was becoming cost-prohibitive.
“We’ve seen a lot of locals getting back into it, a lot of big families.”
An adult day ticket at Blacktail costs $42, compared to $79 at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The former resort’s about one-third as large, and lacks the snow-making guns that guarantee an opening date.
But in two decades, its staff of about 100 has forged a loyal following, said Spencer. As he helped with opening-day operations, the 68-year-old co-founder estimated that annual visits have grown from about 20,000 to 40,000.
“We’ve just had a steady growth. It’s all been word-of-mouth; we don’t do a lot of marketing.”
Perhaps that explains the tight-knit clientele described by marketing and public relations director Arin Lever. “There’s a lot of high-fives and a lot of hugging out here, kind of like a big family reunion.”
“It was well worth the time we spent to get it perfect,” she concluded, standing by the lift ticket window’s growing line. “We didn’t want to do a half opening ... we wanted to open 100 percent terrain, and that’s what’s going on today.”
Seventeen of the resort’s 24 trails were groomed by Saturday morning. The “corduroy” on these slopes was crisp and densely packed, but early skiers and snowboarders had to watch for a few sticks poking through the snow like stubble.
The snow was deeper and looser on the glades and ungroomed trails, where skiers made deep tracks between the icy evergreens known as “snow ghosts.”
This kind of terrain was missed by resort guest Jacob Weilacher, in line for his ticket Saturday morning. After spending the past two winters in Spokane, the 26-year-old Bigfork native was glad to be back.
“Over here, it’s a lot nicer, just because they’ve got a lot more powder.” He said he sometimes skis at Whitefish, but “I prefer coming over here, because they don’t groom as many of the runs, so it’s a lot more powder...I like to be able to go through the powder when I want to, and just float around.”
Outside, even the most bundled-up skiers and riders could expect a numb face in minutes. But with the sky clear, winds low, and snow deep, Weilacher said, “I like what I see out there.”
For information about Blacktail Mountain, visit www.blacktailmountain.com.
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at email@example.com, or at 758-4407.