Whitefish Mountain Resort
went big into summer use
You want a thrill? Whitefish has two zipline tours, one of them with 5 zip segments and the other a 7-zip tour.
In these sequences, you can get as high as 300 feet off the ground. One segment is for 1,900 feet. The resort boasts of having the longest tour of any in Montana. “We may just be one of the longest anywhere,” says the resort’s website.
Christina “Riley” Polumbus, spokeswoman for Whitefish, says that the first summer activities, bike trails, were put into place in the late 1990s, with more in 2001-2002.
Efforts got more aggressive after the resort’s ownership became private in 2006-2007. The new owners have invested heavily in both the winter and summer products. As the lower 20 percent third of the ski mountain is on private land, no federal permission was required.
With the close proximity to Glacier National Park, there is a great deal of drive-by traffic. Missoula is two hours away, and Calgary is five hours. Like Jackson Hole, summer is busier than winter. “That’s why we added so many summer activities,” says Polumbus. Participating in the full activities can take up to two days.
In addition to the zip-line tours, Whitefish also has an alpine slide, hiking and so forth. But in other activities (located on private lands), it was far ahead of other ski areas. They include:
• Aerial Adventure Park is an activity in which participants are fitted with double-carabineer locking mechanisms on full-body harnesses. There are five courses, and they vary from 10 feet above ground to 50 feet above ground. Courses are color coded by difficulty. Participants are challenged to cross suspended bridges and cable walkways, climb on nets, and swing on trapezes, go through barrels and so forth.
“It’s like a big playground, only it’s in the air,” says Polumbus. “Imagine being like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine.”
They have been popular in Europe, but only recently began showing up in North America.
• Walk in the Treetops. An elevated boardwalk that is 700 feet long and up to 70 feet off the ground offers “a unique view of the forest,” and insights are shared by a guide. The tour takes 2.5 hours and costs $51. It is the first of its kind in North America, says Whitefish.
• Spider Monkey Mountain. is an activity for children with a maximum weight of 150 pounds and height of 34 inches.
Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole
This smallish ski hill in Jackson, Wyo., has been struggling for years to remain financially viable based on skiing and just a few summer activities. It’s just six blocks from downtown Jackson and, in most of the universe, would be a gem.
But it competes with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, located 10 miles away, and Jackson is five hours from the closest metropolitan area. Former owners—and new owners—see summer as crucial to stanch the flow of red ink.
But then, Jackson is blessed during summer with raw numbers. Teton County’s population swells from 21,2911 by an additional 52,000, owing in large part to the proximity of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.
The lowest one-third of the ski mountain is on private land, and it has an alpine slide.
A proposal submitted to the U.S. Forest Service calls for:
• Seven new ziplines, two on public lands, and one zipline would be from top to bottom of the 1,500-foot mountain.
• An alpine coaster on private land.
• Aerial adventure course, consisting of five elements on 5 acres.
Ryan Stanley, the general manager of Snow King, tells the Jackson Hole News&Guide that building these attractions, along with substantial ski area upgrades, will cost $30 million of investment from private and public sources. But he also says the attractions could resuscitate the resort, which has been losing $500,000 annually.
Be wary of nibbling at edges, warns Jackson Hole paper
Although not specifying summer use, the most clearly stated anxiety comes from Jackson Hole.
“Jackson Hole has a long history of tourism, but it has almost always been based on appreciation and conservation of the environment,” writes the Jackson Hole News&Guide, responding to the proposal for Snow King Mountain.
“While that legacy may show some signs of being nibbled at its edges, valley residents remain rightfully proud of the forward-thinking men and women who helped make the area the largest mostly intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states and those who today continue to resist actions that would incrementally erode this haven.”
The newspaper cites the plan several decades ago for a water slide on a local butte. The idea was killed, and instead it it became location of the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
The newspaper conceded a good argument for snowmaking at Snow King, but insisted that it’s proper to expect “other plans are equally respectful of the heritage of Jackson Hole and of the mountain.”
Aspen Skiing Co. last year hired somebody with specific responsibilities for summer. Contacted for this story, spokesman Jeff Hanle reported a near-term focus on growing lift-serviced mountain biking at Snowmass and enhancing sightseeing experiences on both Aspen Mountain and Snowmass while also working on a comprehensive long-term growth plan that is consistent with the company’s brand and the new Forest Services rules.
Soon after the new law was signed two years ago, however, David Perry, senior vice president for the company, was more expansive. He then told the Aspen Times that such things as ziplines “would be a really wonderful addition.”
He also told the Times that the company will consider an alpine slide. Although environmentalists have been wary of such amusements, Perry points out that it uses gravity. “It’s not a motorized activity, and it’s people enjoying the outdoors in a family environment. So we think that’s probably OK.”