12 Hours In: Whitefish, Montana

Our friends at Two Sticks and a Board show us how to live like a local in this small town skiers' mecca
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Jan 30, 2015 | By Mollie Busby

he moment my husband and I set foot in Whitefish, we felt at home — like we had truly found the “Last Best Place” on Earth. Living up to Montana’s tagline year-round, Whitefish is a surprisingly low-profile location during the winter months. You could call summer the “busy” season in Northwest Montana, with Glacier National Park only 20 minutes down the road.

Book a trip in winter to this mountain town, and you’ll be met with world-class dining and drinking, an abundance of outdoor activities, lift tickets for just 70 bucks, and a clan of down-to-earth (and heavily bearded) locals. Whether by road, Amtrak, or flying into Glacier Park International Airport, it’s a commitment to get here — but staying here might just be the easiest decision you’ll ever make. Here's a neighborly list of the best faces and places to check out, along with the winter gear you'll need to make it happen. 

Essentials for a Day in Whitefish

A good pair of powder skis. Assuming you’re of the “two sticks” variety, leave those carving skis at home. You’ll want something a bit fatter to get through a blower day at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

A camera and a clip to keep it at the ready. Montana is one of the most dynamic places on the planet. (But we admit it, we’re slightly biased.) Always keep your camera at hand.

A pair of burly boots. They should allow for tromping through variable terrain, but more importantly, keep you warm on snow-covered walks on the town.  

Pre-game preparations. Moscow Mules are for yuppies. Out here, we drink Montana Mules — all you've got to do is sub Glacier Distilling’s North Fork Whiskey for the vodka. Mix in local ginger beer from Glacier Ginger Brew and some lime juice to taste. Do it right with Huckberry’s copper mugs

Goggles with interchangeable lenses. You never know what to expect for ski weather in Whitefish. Although the blue bird days will make for memorable photos, the cloudy days are special in their own right — insulating the snow on the mountain for softer descents through the trees. Make sure you have goggle lenses for both occasions.

A sturdy growler. According to the Brewer's Association, Montana is ranked third in the nation for microbreweries per capita. Don’t pay a visit without a vessel to tote your most memorable libations from either of the local breweries: Bonsai Brewing Company or The Great Northern Brewing Company. 

Best Place to Beat a Hangover

If you intend to ski after a long night out, you’re probably running late. You’re going to need coffee and a well balanced meal — ASAP. Look no further than Amazing Crepes, and ask for the Skier Special. Anytime before 10am, order a crepe (we like the “Darth Bacon” with egg, cheese and jalapeño-infused bacon) and a cup of coffee for $5. Running super late? Call in your order, get the special, and pick up breakfast to go on your way up the mountain.

Best Spot for a Brew (or Two)

Kickstarter has given birth to some incredible projects, and Whitefish’s own Bonsai Brewing Project is no exception. Crafted by Whitefish native Graham Hart, Bonsai is a nano brewery — in fact, one of the smallest in Montana — dedicated to keeping business small, sustainable, and focused on creating community. Hart surpassed his $15K fundraising goal in 2013, and soon thereafter opened the brewery’s first location on the outskirts of town. Lucky for downtown, Bonsai has moved to a new location on Wisconsin Ave. and is set to re-open this month. Try a glass of their infamous Lil Blonde Honey — a real Montana treat.

Best Way to Burn Off Breakfast

If it’s not immediately obvious why you’ve come to Whitefish in the winter, let's be perfectly clear: get your ass to the Big Mountain. Whitefish Mountain Resort is a local's mountain, where visitors are always welcome and there’s enough room for everybody. With over 3,000 acres to choose from and over 2,600 vertical feet to blast down through trees and powder or corduroy groomers, you’re sure to live out your wildest skiing fantasies here — without lift lines. 

Watch out for our quintessential snow ghosts near the summit — the snow and rhyme-covered trees look big and fluffy, but a run-in with one of these bad boys will leave you bruised and battered for the remainder of your ski vacation. After tearing through powder all day, stop into the Bierstube for an apres ski pint before heading down the mountain.

Best Place to Up Your Insta-Game

Just off Chair 2 and down skiers right you'll find Jesus — or rather, a statue of him, that is. Jesus has occupied the same spot for more than six decades, originally installed to honor the 10th Mountain Division’s efforts in World War II. Visitors and locals alike stop by this twelve-foot statue throughout the day and snap selfies as more of a gimmick than a religious pilgrimage. Although controversies have threatened to remove Jesus from the mountain, there the statue remains, eternally praying for snow in our little mountain town.

Where to Impress a Date

With more than two million visitors to Glacier National Park each summer at just 20 minutes from Whitefish, our town offers world-class dining establishments for every palate and budget. For the quintessential Whitefish night out, hit up Tupelo Grille for their famed shrimp and grits. If sushi is more your speed, make a reservation at Wasabi Sushi Bar & Ginger Grill for Asian cuisine with a contemporary flair. My favorite roll? The Hot Beach. [H]

Mollie Busby is a skier girl married to a splitboarding beardsman, who lives in a remote yurt in Whitefish, Montana. She gets stoked on powder turns, international travel, & yoga.
Follow her adventures on Instagram and find more of her stories on TwoSticksAndABoard.com.

Images ©: 1. Downtown Whitefish by Dave Hampton - Montana Light; 2, 3, 6. Mollie Busby; 4. Courtesy of Bonsai Brewing Project; 7. Chuck Haney - Chuck Haney Photography