Field Notes

Quarantine Me Forever

Mountain diehard Phil Grove reflects on a ski season that went on long after the lifts shut down.

 

PHIL GROVE

S kiing in Whitefish isn’t exactly known for its early season conditions. Sure, great days can happen, but most of the December skiing leaves much to be desired. Like clockwork though, Christmas week somehow transitions our town and mountain from late fall to full-on winter basically overnight. The decorations pop up all over town, the snow arrives on cue, and Whitefish magically transforms into the joyful ski town that everyone pictures when flipping through the pages of the latest Ski Magazine.

Most things tend to show up late to Montana, like fashions and food trends, and the coronavirus was no different. When the first U.S. case reached Washington state around the third week of January, we were barely in the “memes and jokes’’ phase of this global pandemic.

Coronavirus? No, we have the Mad Pow disease in Whitefish, my friends and I joked.


Coronavirus? No, we have the Mad Pow disease in Whitefish, my friends and I joked. Though the pandemic was getting very serious in other parts of the country and world, it still seemed far from our everyday lives. Hey, at least the mountain is open; we can just keep skiing every day. Montanans have always been 6 feet apart; this thing can’t affect us, right?

But, like dominos, similar ski towns such as Park City and Sun Valley started to fall as Americans fled from the cities to the mountains, bringing the virus with them. On the third weekend of March, Whitefish Mountain Resort made the call that they too would be shutting down and we all bombed up to the mountain for the impromptu closing weekend. The Bierstube deck was so packed for the boardercross awards ceremony that one sick person could have taken down half the locals.

With schools, businesses, restaurants, and bars closed, and the fear of getting sick at very real levels, exercise helped many of us maintain some sort of sanity. Though the chairlifts weren’t spinning, we did have well over a hundred-inch base right at our doorstep (not to mention a ban on short-term lodging). Whitefish Mountain Resort became a private ski paradise for those willing to walk uphill.

Little by little, anyone who could get their hands on the right gear came to embrace this form of travel, hiking up to ski down. So much so that the uphill parking lot was actually getting full at certain times of the day. Despite the stress and uncertainty, many of us felt we’d won the quarantine lottery as the ski season, at least for those willing to work for it, soldiered on well into late April.

As the patches of beargrass started to finally make their way to the surface in early May, skiing down became a bit of a game of hopscotch to stay on snow. The hundreds of uphillers turned into dozens, and then only a handful of us diehards who just wouldn’t throw in the towel. Eventually, though, even we had to give it up. The end of my season was a rainy day in mid-May that found me hiking down the lower section of Toni Matt carrying my skis. A text dinged from my buddy Dave who was also struggling to move on from this ski season to remember: “You done?”

“Yeah, I’m done.”

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