I always am surprised by the ardent reader reaction whenever I write about life in the Flathead Valley of NW Montana. This reminds me of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who in 1930 moved to Cross Creek, Florida – not far from my home outside Orlando. Rawlings aspired to write Edwardian novels but her letters describing life in rural Florida won her acclaim and led to The Yearling, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. I entertain no such Pulitzer pretensions; but after writing thousands of pages of pithy analysis and commentary, it is Montana Moments that endears itself to my readers.
I’ll share more Montana Moments with you during this, our twelfth summer here. I begin with what makes Whitefish such a special place. It is the western gateway to Glacier National Park (“GNP”), the best such park in the USA. NW Montana is remote with little lodging capacity; hence, the park is not a mob scene even during summers. The range of activities in GNP is mind boggling. It contains the only US tri-continental divide, where waters flow into three oceans – Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic. Its main artery, Going-to-the-Sun Road, has to be one of America’s most stunning drives.
While GNP is 30 miles east of Whitefish, Big Mountain ski basin lies but 7 miles north. Ski Magazine has rated it the eleventh best ski resort in the world – yes, the world. Due again to limited lodging capacity, the slopes are uncrowded, lift lines unknown and the cost a fraction of other top resorts. During summers Big Mountain is alive with mountain biking, hiking, zip lines and huckleberry picking. Whitefish Lake, a pristine 7 mile long glaciated lake, is right in town and offers all water activities. Just 30 miles south lies Flathead Lake, the largest lake west of the Mississippi.
Whitefish is at 3,000 feet altitude, making it cool in summer but without the difficulties associated with high elevations. Summers are arid with temperatures most days hovering in the 70s and 80s. There are 3 scenic rivers nearby, the north, middle and south forks of the Flathead River. The plethora of year-round activities is breathtaking; every conceivable outdoor sport or activity is readily available.
Segueing from the natural to the man-made environment, Whitefish’s population is 6,400 souls and it has the look and feel of middle America decades ago. Despite its low population, it has a year-round full symphony orchestra. Its theatre and entertainment would be excellent for a town 25 times bigger. It is endowed with abundant fine dining. There are non-stop events and festivals to tempt locals and visitors alike. Within a short drive there are several excellent golf courses, including the best course in Montana. There are times it is possible to golf and ski during the same day.
Even with its veritable cornucopia of attractions, Whitefish remains welcoming to visitors, although it took me awhile to understand “drunken Canadian” was not all one word. It is surprisingly affordable. Last year a group of us went to a local watering hole for drinks; the tab for 27 drinks was $33. Even at happy hour prices, that is incredible. For some balance, I tried to find something negative to write. All I could come up with is the occasional forest fire that wafts smoke into town, sometimes for weeks.