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Montana Skiing Guide
Whitefish Mountain Ski Area

Skiing at Whitefish Mountain

Back Side of Big Mountain

The back side of Big Mountain always has the best skiing conditions. The reason for this is because it tends to receive more snow than the front side (higher elevation) and also because it faces north. Since the back side faces north, snow doesn’t melt nearly as fast as it does on the front side. And since the snow usually doesn’t melt and then re-freeze, the ski trails on the back side of Big Mountain generally have very little in the way of icy spots.

Hellroaring Peak in the Hellroaring Basin

The vertical rise on the back side of Big Mountain is not the greatest, with only about 1000 true vertical feet. However, the trails on the backside are enjoyable to ski – especially if you like to ski groomed intermediate trails. Goat Haunt, Whitetail and Silvertip are all excellent groomed intermediate level trails on the back side of the mountain.

Expert skiers will also find many good trails on the backside. These expert level trails have one defining characteristic for the most part – they start out VERY steep right below the summit and then flatten out as they merge into the intermediate trails below. While these expert level trails tend to be short, they are steep, usually bumpy and true expert level trails in every sense of the word. Both Marmot and Black Bear are good expert level trails on the back side.

A double diamond expert run is also found on the back side of the mountain. This trail is very short but is also very, very steep at the top. This ski trail is called Bighorn. Unless you are an advanced skier, stay off this trail because if you fall you will have a very nasty tumble all the way down to the bottom of the steep part – probably hitting some trees and rocks along the way.

There is only one chairlift on the backside of Big Mountain. The chair, though, is a high-speed quad with a ride time of around 8 minutes. During the weekdays, there is never any sort of line on this quad. During the weekends, some short lines can exist from time to time – but the lines length doesn’t even come close to what is found on the front side of the mountain.

Hellroaring Basin

The Hellroaring Basin area of Big Mountain is, at least to me, the “crown jewel” of the ski area. It is unspoiled, undeveloped, not heavily used and provides extensive off-trail skiing among a wide variety of advanced terrain.

The Upper Reaches of Hellroaring Basin

Hellroaring Basin is not for beginners or intermediate skiers. Only one intermediate trail exists in the Hellroaring Basin – and this trail is nothing special. While enjoyable to ski in a way – the snow conditions usually aren’t the greatest and the many flat spots can make a trip down Hellfire less than exciting.

Instead of having a multitude of groomed trails, Hellroaring Basin consists entirely of ungroomed trails of the diamond and double-diamond variety. Skiing ranges from open bowl type skiing to thick tree skiing – and pretty much everything else in between including chutes, the steeps and bumps. The only thing you won’t find back in Hellroaring Basin is anything groomed (other than the Hellfire Trail which forms the boundary of the basin).

During good snow conditions, Hellroaring Basin provides challenging skiing on more than 1000 acres. Additional acreage can be found by sneaking out of bounds and doing a hike up to the top of Hellroaring Peak. Once there, a huge expanse of powder skiing awaits you – with a skiable vertical approaching 2000 feet.

There are several marked “trails” in the Hellroaring Basin. But these aren’t trails in the true sense of the word. Instead, they are better called “routes”, really. You access these “routes” at the signs – but once below the signs, where you go is entirely up to you as no designated trail exists.

Skiing in the Hellroaring Basin isn’t for wimps. The skiing, even during good snow conditions, is challenging. During bad snow conditions it can be darn right dangerous. As all the snow is of the natural kind, all sorts of hidden obstacles await the unsuspecting skier. As the area has many trees and some rocky spots as well, a fall the wrong way can lead to a nasty injury. And since there are no designated trails, if you are skiing alone and knock yourself out cold while skiing in the Hellroaring Basin, it may be a long time before anyone finds you.

Of course, I ski back in Hellroaring Basin alone all the time and so far have survived the tale – haven’t really had any close calls, in fact. The reason for this is that skiing back in the Hellroaring Basin requires some common sense. Once you commit to the basin there is NO TURNING BACK. Thus, if a trail looks above your ability from above, exercise some common sense and don’t go on it. Additionally, always be alert for trees, stumps and hidden rocks. Also make sure you know how to fall properly – if you start losing your balance it is always best to just fall back up the mountain than risk a head first tumble down the steeper parts of the basin. Skiing slow is also generally a good idea as well.

Also, be prepared for some thick tree skiing in spots. The upper part of Hellroaring Basin is only partially or lightly wooded. However, the lower half of the basin is very heavily wooded. While there are a few ways to avoid the thick trees, sooner or later most people find themselves lost in the thick trees from time to time. If you are unable to make fairly tight turns in thick foliage in deep snow – skiing in the basin may not necessarily be for you.

Accessing the Hellroaring Basin at Big Mountain is easy. Just hop on the boring Hellfire Trail which begins at the summit of Big Mountain and follow it into the basin. From there, just keep following Hellfire until you see some interesting terrain to jump off into.

Only one chair lift serves Hellroaring Basin – and that chair doesn’t take you back up to the summit of Big Mountain. Instead, the chair lift deposits you on the ridge above the village area – right behind the double chairlift which is on the front side of the mountain. Thus, once you ski down Hellroaring Basin, you need to take a chairlift back up to the ridge, then ski back down to the village area to hop on the Glacier Chaser High Speed Quad for a ride back to the summit. This slight “hassle” in skiing Hellroaring Basin probably helps keep skier use down a bit, though, so I have no complaints.

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Whitefish Mountain Ski Area

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