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(2021 - Winter Issue)

Writer: TIA TROY

Nestled among the mountains of northwest Montana is the town of Kalispell. Best described as unassuming, with the perfect amount of friendly hospitality that’s come to be associated with the American West, Kalispell is a place that knows how to winter. And with 1.4 annual metres of snowfall that cover the surrounding mountains—including Glacier National Park—they better.

In the West, winter is firmly associated with downhill skiing, and for good reason. Here, snow comes early and regularly as storms dump fresh powder on the Whitefish, Salish and Swan mountains.

As the hub of northwest Montana, Kalispell is within easy reach of two downhill ski areas—Blacktail Mountain Ski Area and Whitefish Mountain Resort. A world-class destination, Whitefish Mountain Resort is 35 kilometres from Kalispell and boasts 360-degree views of Glacier National Park, the Flathead Valley and Flathead Lake. It also has 1,200+ hectares of terrain, 111 marked trails, massive amounts of bowl and tree skiing and four terrain parks. Meanwhile, 44 kilometres to the south of Kalispell is Blacktail Mountain Ski Area. With panoramic views of Flathead Lake, Blacktail Mountain is an upside-down ski resort (the lodge and parking are at the top of the mountain) that encompasses 400 hectares and has 25 trails for mixed experience levels.

While downhill skiing is high on the list of things to do for many visitors, there’s so much more to do off the slopes in this unfiltered mountain town.

Visit Glacier National Park

A short 51 kilometres from downtown Kalispell is Glacier National Park. Fondly referred to as the “Crown of the Continent,” the park is open year-round and is most accessible through the park’s west entrance in West Glacier. During winter, visitors can cross-country ski or snowshoe along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and soak up the park in a time of year that not many visitors experience. Apgar Village, located just inside the park’s entrance, is open and is a great spot to take in the winter view of Lake McDonald and the snowy Livingston Range.

Explore Flathead Lake

Sculpted by the same ancient glaciers that carved the peaks and ridgelines of Glacier National Park, Montana’s Flathead Lake—which sits 10 minutes south of downtown Kalispell—is the largest natural freshwater lake in the West. Encompassing 518 square kilometres, Flathead Lake is something you need to see to believe. During winter, you can take a day trip and make a loop around the entire lake. Along the way, you’ll cruise through the small towns of Lakeside, Polson and Bigfork before ending your drive back in Kalispell.

For a more adventurous way to see the lake, hit the water in a kayak. With its milder climate, Flathead Lake rarely freezes in its entirety and paddling through Somers Bay (a short drive just minutes from Kalispell) and its chain of Juniper Islands is the perfect way to play on the lake even in the heart of winter. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles and osprey.

Off-the-slope Adventures

While Montana’s mountains are a perfect playground for skiers and snowboarders, they’re even a more epic destination for snowmobiling and dog sledding. More than 320 kilometres of groomed trails and powder play areas abound throughout the mountains, with many leading to incredible views. One of the best things about snowmobiling in Montana is that you don’t have to be a pro to hit the trails. Both Swan Mountain Snowmobiling and Northwest Montana Adventures offer guided tours. Plus, going with a local guide means they’ll share their favourite trails, snowmobiling tips and things to do off the trail.

Also located among the mountains of Montana are dog sled teams—and their beloved mushers—who help visitors travel at the speed of dog. Both Dog Sled Adventures and Base Camp Bigfork have well-trained teams of dogs made up of Alaskan huskies, Inuit sled dogs and rescue pups that pull winter lovers across frozen lakes and through the state’s snow-covered terrain.

If you want to play in the snow on your own two feet, head to a groomed cross-country skiing or skate destination. A few to note: Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Blacktail Mountain X-Country Ski Area in Lakeside, Glacier Nordic Center in Whitefish and the North Shore Nordic Center in Bigfork. And if skis aren’t your style, head out on snowshoes and hit the trails at Lone Pine State Park, or Herron Park and its Foy’s to Blacktail Trails.

Get to Know Downtown

These days, Kalispell’s downtown almost takes you by surprise. Its Main Street—and nearby avenues—are wide and lined with trees and historic buildings that house local businesses, boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, breweries and watering holes. And while there is a storybook-like charm to downtown, it also emulates the spirit of the West, with a long history of ranching, farming and real life in Montana’s rugged outdoors.

After strolling Main Street, soak up Kalispell’s past and present at the Conrad Mansion Museum, Hockaday Museum of Art—which has an impressive collection of murals from Glacier National Park—and the Northwest Montana History Museum. End the day with dinner at a locally owned restaurant, like the new Mercantile Steak, Hop’s Downtown Grill or DeSoto Grill, before checking into one of Kalispell’s flagship hotels, boutique properties or lodges.

No matter your winter vacation style, there are a few things you can always count on in Kalispell: the snow being deep and light, the people being friendly and the accommodations being welcoming and cosy. And while outdoor adventures may be at the heart of Montana, Kalispell’s cultured big-city offerings provide the perfect balance to a vacation in the West.

Getting There

Canadian visitors can fly into Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) or drive across the border, with the closest ports of entry in Eureka and Carway. Be sure to verify ports of entry and access.

Travel Planner

For more travel information: discoverkalispell.com

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