"Elk!" proclaims my co-pilot loud enough for me to immediately pump the brakes, swerve and narrowly avoid the majestic beast in the darkness and pounding snow. My immediate thought being that perhaps the next time I head from my home in Sandpoint and travel to Whitefish, Montana, I might just want to leave in daylight and not during a late evening snowstorm.
A couple hours and another dozen or so close calls with other deer and elk, we roll into Kalispell hoping to find something to eat at this late hour. A short conversation and a couple of quick turns later, we pull up to Moose's Saloon. As we pass through the door, it is quickly apparent that the place is an institution.
The first thing I notice is the smell of freshly cut wood emanating from the sawdust-covered floor. Rough-hewn timber lines the walls, and the worn wooden tables look like they may have been here since the place first opened in 1957. Every inch of the walls and tables are covered in carvings that tell the story of the many weary travellers and hungry locals who have stopped by to refuel through the years. A cold pint and tasty Rueben later and it was back on the road to finish up our short jaunt north to our destination of Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Tired from the day, we check in and head for bed eagerly awaiting a morning of exploring the slopes. We wake to the rumbling sound of snow grooming machines and know immediately it's going to be a great day. Our slope side location makes it possible for us to roll out the door, clip into our skis and head straight for the lifts.
Boarding the Big Mountain express, we feel the wind on our faces as we are whisked to the top of the mountain at 6,817 feet. From here it's impossible not to stop and enjoy the awe-inspiring views, which come into focus in every direction. Looking one way we are staring into Glacier National Park; a different direction and we are staring into rugged Canadian peaks; back toward the base of the mountain and we see the gleam of the sun bouncing off Whitefish Lake; and finally to the west where our journey began lay the snow-covered peaks of Idaho.
We begin the skiing part of our adventure by seeking out what fresh snow is left among the tight trees of the upper portion of the mountain and find ourselves bouncing in and out of the soft pillows of snow hiding amongst the tall larch, pine and fir. Moving farther down the mountain we choose to explore the views afforded by high-speed cruising the seemingly endless miles of smoothly groomed corduroy.
A particularly fun adventure run led us through the many beautiful homes lining the slopes. Sliding past giant plate glass windows reflecting the sunny slopes, hot tubs snuggled in huge piles of snow and stone chimneys as tall as the surrounding trees led us to daydream about a life in which we might inhabit one of these wonderful mountain castles.
As our day came to an end, we headed back to the top of the hill and turned to the trail map to locate a long run that would take us from the highest point on the mountain, back down to the base. As we progress down the slope, the incredible quality of the snow beneath our skis, warm sun on our faces and a view to take your breath away made us stop in the tree-filtered light and take a moment to reflect upon why this particular run earned the name "Inspiration."
When we reached the chairlift again it was with only a few words spoken that we knew we had no choice but to return to the top, ski that same run again and continue to find inspiration high on this northwestern Montana peak. ♦