By Lori Warden
Among snow-capped mountains, two ski areas, miles of cross-country ski trails, and picturesque skating ponds, my family and I found our favorite winter retreat and I rediscovered Kalispell — a charming city in the mountains.
I had made the trip to Northwest Montana in my college days and enjoyed it all (or so I thought) — from first chair to last run racing down bowls of fresh powder on Big Mountain (today’s Whitefish Mountain Resort), catching air at Blacktail Mountain, cross-country skiing in Glacier National Park, and capping the days with peanuts, pizza and local brews at Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell.
Last winter, nearly 20 years later, I returned. This time I made the trip with my family, my husband and two sons. Like the width of our skis, Kalispell had grown into a small city with a fun and easy vibe. My eyes were drawn to places they hadn’t noticed before — Main Street art galleries, boutique shops, and bistros. None of the city’s appeal or Western charm had worn off, only grown.
I was on a bit of a quest to retrace my college trip, knowing that I would have to make modifications for the family. We chose to stay in downtown Kalispell, so Whitefish Mountain Resort and Glacier to the north and Blacktail Mountain to the south were near. We got an affordable stay-and-ski package with a pool — a must for the boys. My husband was thrilled about the local coffee options and the Kalispell Brewing Company nearby. In the shops I got my own fix, finding some much-needed winter wardrobe additions — with the extra benefit of no state sales tax.
The sky was shimmering blue our first day, so we headed to Glacier Park with Bonillo’s Bistro Italian sandwiches packed for lunch. While Glacier quiets down in the winter, it offers amazing opportunities to experience winter in the wild. We signed up for a ranger-guided snowshoe hike and were awestruck by the serene beauty and abundant signs of wildlife.
We spent our next couple days on the slopes at Whitefish Mountain after fueling up on coffee and delicious sweet potato sticky buns at Ceres Bakery. The boys were amazed by the swiftness of the high-speed quads. My husband and I appreciated the short lift lines. We all had two magical days — from the awe-inspiring views of Glacier to the best game of “snow-ghost hide-and-seek” among the mountain’s infamous goblin-resembling, snow-covered trees.
On our final day Blacktail, a picturesque local ski area, didn’t disappoint either. We enjoyed getting to know local families and taking in views of Flathead Lake. While the boys spent the afternoon in the terrain park, I grabbed the Nordic skis I rented in town to try Blacktail’s impressive network of cross-country ski trails.
Back in Kalispell, each evening we delighted in a new culinary experience — from gourmet burgers made with local bison and yak at Hop’s Downtown Grill, to tapas at 406 Bar & Grill, and fish and chips at Brannigan’s Irish Pub. I introduced everyone to Moose’s; I couldn’t resist giving the boys the fun of throwing peanut shells on the floor as we indulged in delicious pizza. For our nightcap, we walked to Woodland Park for hot chocolate and free skating on the Norman Rockwellesque pond.
College days begone, I’m loving my most recent memory of winter in Kalispell.