Mother Nature gave Whitefish Mountain Resort’s 71st season a snowy send off.
On the resort’s final day Sunday, snow began falling on the mountain at 5:30 a.m. adding a few inches of powder to close out the season
In total, the resort recorded 253 inches of snow on the summit, with a settled base of 79 inches. It was a down compared to the past two 400-plus-inch seasons, but looking at total skier visit numbers it was another record year for the resort.
The season total for skier visits came in at 384,800. This set a new record for the third consecutive year with an increase of 3,000 total skier visits over the previous high set in 2017-18.
“We did break our total skier visit record this year, by not a very wide margin, but nevertheless it’s another year of breaking records so that’s exciting,” WMR spokesperson Riley Polumbus told the Pilot on Monday. “There were a few days where we couldn’t open the mountain and that certainly hurt our numbers, but overall we’re pretty satisfied with another great season.”
Along with total visits, Polumbus said the season was record-breaking in other ways.
Before skiers even hit the slopes, the mountain had already set a new record in early October for winter season pass sales, breaking the 10,000 mark and adding a third straight year of record season pass sales. This year’s 10,000-plus total is 11 percent ahead of last winter’s sales.
A total of 1,658 skiers flocked to the mountain on opening day on Dec. 6.
Season pass holders got in more turns than ever in the 2018-19 season, setting a new record of 2,138,100,034 vertical feet skied. This marks only the second time reaching the milestone of 2 billion vertical feet in a season.
“I think it’s safe to say we surpassed our total vertical record with all of those passholders,” she said. “So we skied more than ever before, which is awesome,” Polumbus said.
Regarding new skiers, Polumbus said the resort also hit record numbers in its ski school programs, both for children and adults.
“I think that’s an exciting trend to see, that adults are taking up the sport as well as kids,” she said.
This season had plenty of headlines.
Prior to the season start, WMR announced a significant expansion project in Hellroaring Basin, which could change chairlift locations, provide more access to the basin, add groomed runs and reverse some negative grades on the Hellfire Run. The proposed project is within the resort’s permit boundary. Chair 8 would be moved to run up to the Toni Matt/Big Ravine Intersection, and an additional lift would run from the Grand Junction to the top of Hellroaring Peak.
If approved by the Forest Service, the project would extend through a minimum of two years, completed in phases, according to the resort, which says no timeline will be set until a decision is made by the Flathead National Forest Tally Lake District.
The resort saw big traffic numbers during the holidays, but had a scary incident over New Year’s weekend, when about 140 skiers needed to be rescued from a chairlift in the East Rim area after Chair 5 stopped due to a mechanical issues.
The evacuation took two hours, on a day that saw temperatures in the teens and a slight wind.
From there on, it got cold.
By the time an icy February had passed, the resort had been forced to close the upper mountain five times for extreme temperatures and wind conditions, with temperatures at time hovering around minus 40 at the summit. The resort also closed the upper mountain on March 2 for a total of six closures this season. Polumbus said this was the coldest February for the ski resort since it opened in 1947.
For a season with six closures, however, Polumbus said she’s happy with how the winter went on Big Mountain.
“It’s interesting to imagine what would’ve helped. But Christmas week was great for us. This year the Martin Luther King weekend in January was one of the best we’ve ever seen and that President’s Day weekend was still pretty strong for us. It’s always exciting to be able to get people here on those key weekends,” she said. “Overall, we did really well and I think it’s exciting that we continue to be on a growing trend.”
Season passes for the 2019-2020 season went on sale last week, with discounted prices running through Sept. 30.
The price of an adult season pass increase $15 to $675, and the super senior pass for those aged 70 and older will now cost $135.
Previously those skiers skied for free, but now those passholders will be eligible for additional perks, according to the resort.
Polumbus said the price increase was necessary as the super senior demographic continues to grow.
“It’s something that was discussed every year and looking at the total number of super seniors who skied for free this year and just the increase year after year of that age category, it was something we needed to do,” she said.
Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves explained the change.
“Whitefish Mountain Resort is home to an extremely active population, and this particular age demographic is healthier and more active than ever and currently represents a growing segment of our skiing population,” Graves said in a release. “We are very much in awe of these dedicated skiers, however each year of growth has added to the demands of our facilities. We are happy to continue to offer a deeply discounted product for this group, we just need to ensure our business remains sustainable into the future.”
Senior passes for ages 65 to 69 and college student passes are $575. Teen passes are $370 and junior passes are $195. Children 6 and under ski free. These sale prices are available through Sept. 30.
The resort has seen its Ski & Ride School programs and teams enrollment grow incrementally for several seasons. The price for those programs and teams is reduced now through Sept. 30.
The ski area is scheduled to be open for the winter season on Dec. 6, 2019 through April 5, 2020.
Once the snow starts melting, the summer season on the resort will get started.
The resort is set to open early for Memorial Day for the second straight year, opening May 25 through 27. The following three weeks will see the resort open on weekends only before opening daily on June 15. Those weekends will be passholder appreciation weekends, with a 50 percent discount on activities and 20 percent discount on food for winter season passholders.
One of the resort’s hottest summer item will get a facelift as well.
“We’re adding a second alpine slide plus we’re redesigning the current slide,” Polumbus said. “So we’ll have basically two new alpine slide experiences for the summer, so as soon as we can get started on that this spring, we will.”