It’s not often you find a place as perfect for a mountain bike trip as Whitefish, Montana. It’s not unlike something a group of riders would dream up around a campfire after a long ride. There would be trails from the high alpine all the way down to the lake, with every type of trail possible. Steep descents from rocky peaks, jump trails through tall trees, and meandering trails through wildflowers. To top it off, there would be a town at the trailhead, with like-minded individuals and a place to kick back, enjoy some cold beverages, and laugh about the dirty sock line on your legs. Well, all of those things are in one place, and that magnificent place exists only a few hours northeast of Spokane.
Last autumn, I ventured east to experience Whitefish for myself. The leaves had all turned yellow, and the bike park lifts were making their last rounds for the season. Despite the chilling wind, Whitefish was all time. I quickly made my way through town and headed up to the Hibernation House, located at the Whitefish Mountain Resort.
I had heard about the riding in Whitefish from many different sources, and all the accounts kept mentioning one word: flow. In mountain bike culture, that word has become somewhat polarized, so I was unsure what to expect as I loaded up my bike and began the ascent on the chairlift. Building trails with flow was a revolution kicked off by mountain bikers building trails specifically for bikes, and more specifically, for the current array of beautifully engineered bikes available today.
This meant some trails were being constructed or modified to allow more speed, which required adding width, which lead to the removal of some of the slower speed, technical features that may have previously existed. This progression of trail design allowed a rider to maintain speed for the entirety of the descent, and added new features such as jumps, berms, rollers and drops. This type of trail is also highly favorable for newer riders, who are looking for terrain to ride as they work on their skills. However, this was unfavorable by many riders who prefer the technical features, which caused the vilification of the word ‘flow.’ While it’s impossible to make a trail that pleases everyone, there is certainly a balance to be found in this spectrum of trail design, and I was itching to unload the chair and experience the Whitefish flow for myself.
From the chairlift, it is overwhelmingly apparent the amount of work and vision that went into the trails on the mountain. I spotted open singletrack on ridgelines; large, sweeping bermed corners; tabletops; and trails leading into steep rock sections that almost looked better suited for a climber. As my feet touched the unloading deck, I was kindly met with my bike that rode up on the lift in front of me. I quickly threw a leg over and pedaled off the windy mountaintop. One flat tire, two watering eyes, over 25 miles, and countless chair lift rides later, I had ridden nearly everything the resort had to offer. From the jump trails such as Kashmir and Overflow, to the long technical descent of Runaway Train, this park is a blast. I had ridden the Whitefish flow, and it’s good — really good. Despite the varying skill difficulty and intended style of each trail on the mountain, they all perfectly intertwined with the landscape, finding a balance of speed and difficulty that meshed with the terrain. This leads to a riding experience with less harsh braking, allowing you to open up, relax, and navigate the trail ahead of you. If the trail turned steeply downhill and your speed increased, the route would naturally absorb the excess speed to guide you over the next rise or into a large berm before entering the next section. From the smoother green circle trails to the rough black diamond trails, although the balance is tough to find in trail building, the Whitefish Mountain Resort built a masterpiece.
The next morning, I met with the first taste of winter as flakes of snow dusted the hillside above the lodge. This prevented a few more runs, but I don’t feel as though I missed out. Whitefish is a rare gem of a place, and any amount of time spent there is memorable. No doubt riders somewhere are daydreaming of the perfect riding town. Thankfully, Whitefish is already there, waiting for you to experience it. //
Best place to stay: For $80/night, the Hibernation House offers a place to stay along with a lift ticket and breakfast. Can’t beat that! Camping is available nearby at the Whitefish State Park or Whitefish Bike Retreat if that suits you better.
Best place to eat/drink: Bonsai Brewing Project. This place features outstanding beer and food, a relaxed outdoor seating area that is pet/dirty mountain biker friendly, with upbeat music happening inside.
Other trails nearby:
The Whitefish Trail: This is a multi-user trail system near Whitefish Lake. Spencer Mountain: Mountain bike specific bike park with a variety of trails. No lift access.//
Skye Schillhammer explores the Northwest by foot and by tire. He wrote about backcountry skiing and snowshoeing on Mount Spokane last winter.