Exactly half of the 14 lifts at Whitefish Mountain Resort stand in a second location, with some even finding a third home in Northwestern Montana. By strategically re-engineering and relocating lifts from elsewhere on the mountain and beyond, Whitefish has been able to grow faster than many of its competitors and now encompasses 3,000 acres of glades, groomers and chutes. This year’s move of Chair 5 creates the East Rim lift and turns a machine that sat idle for years into a dedicated lift for some of the finest advanced terrain in the Inland Northwest.
For the first 50 years, every lift on Big Mountain was purchased new from a manufacturer. That changed in 1999 and 2000, when the the Bigfoot and Sunrise T-Bars joined the Whitefish fleet just as consolidation and new technology were making new lifts increasingly expensive. In 2002, the ski area acquired a Hall triple for a new beginner lift. Continuing the pattern, Big Mountain, as it was then still known, snagged Moab’s failed Skyway experiment for another new beginner pod. When the first-generation Glacier Chaser detachable needed to be replaced the following year, Whitefish had no choice but to go new for the flagship Big Mountain Express. But instead of scrapping the old Doppelmayr, it shifted west to become the Swift Creek Express. That summer’s lift shuffle also turned the old Easy Rider triple into Elk Highlands, a real estate egress lift. In 2011, the Bad Rock lift was brought in all the way from Pennsylvania and now runs out of the base lodge in both winter and summer. With a major lift renewal complete, Whitefish set its sights on expansion for winter 2014-15, opening the Flower Point lift and 200 additional acres. That machine came from across the border, the old Rosa triple from Kimberley (and the predecessor to the Whistler Village Gondola before that.) To summarize, Whitefish impressively built “new” lifts in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2014 and now 2017.
Whitefish Mountain Resort will make a big lift move this summer, relocating Chair 5 from Ptarmigan Bowl to become a new East Rim lift. Chair 5, also known as Glacier View and at times High Five, has not seen public operation since 2014/15 due to its redundancy with the Big Mountain Express and will better serve skiers in the North Bowl. The $1.2 million project will cost more than double what the ski area paid for the original CTEC installation in 1981. Whitefish Mountain Resort has contracted with Skytrac to make the move.
“We are pleased to continue what has been a decade of steady improvements at Whitefish Mountain Resort with the re-position of Chair 5 to better utilize our lift infrastructure and improve the guest experience as we celebrate our 70th anniversary,” Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO Dan Graves said in a press release. Although technically it does not open any new terrain, the East Rim lift will create a new pod between Chair 1 and T-Bar 2. The new lift will rise 814 feet with a slope length of 2,540 feet and capacity of 1,600 skiers per hour. It will sport a new electric motor, drive, brakes, hydraulic tensioning, rebuilt gearbox and added restraining bars in the new location.
Whitefish has been all in on lift shuffling lately, acquiring the former Moab Scenic Skyway lift in 2006 and installing it as Easy Rider. The original Glacier Chaser Express quad moved to become the Swift Creek Express in 2007, the same year old Easy Rider became Elk Highlands. In 2011, Whitefish installed the Bad Rock triple which was relocated from a resort in Pennsylvania. The 2014 addition of the Flower Point triple came from Kimberley, BC. The new East Rim triple is scheduled to open in December 2017. You can find out more about the history of Chair 5 and the new lift on the Whitefish Mountain Resort blog.