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Express lane: New chairlift draws praise from local skiers

by ADRIAN KNOWLER
Daily Inter Lake | January 5, 2023 12:00 AM

Impatient chants started to break out among the small crowd that had gathered in front of the Base Lodge at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Friday. Word had gotten around — the new chairlift was due to open that morning.

Some skiers ducked under the rope and left, the wait too much to handle. The dedicated ones, however, waited patiently as a ribbon signifying the chairlift’s first official conveyance was cut with oversized scissors — in this case shears that resort president Nick Polumbus said were sourced from Nelson’s Ace Hardware. The local store is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, which makes it the same age as the resort itself.

A few cheers broke out with the clicking of ski poles punctuating the crisp, snowy air. The new Snow Ghost Express was finally open.

THE LIFT promises to change the skier experience in a major way, with resort officials expecting the bottom shack’s proximity to the base area to dislodge the bottleneck that has formed in recent years at the slow, older Chair 6.

Until Friday, Chair 6 was the only way to get from the lodge to Chairs 1 and 2, the major highways up the resort’s front-side.

The Snow Ghost Express, also known as Chair 4, dwarfs Chair 6, and whisks skiers up to Inspiration Ridge at an impressive clip. With chairs wide enough to hold six skiers at a time, the resort estimates that the new lift will be able to serve over 2,000 skiers per hour.

Just in time as well, with Polumbus saying in an interview Friday that the ski area had just set a new daily record attendance – with over 9,000 skiers carving up the slopes the day prior.

LOCAL MARCUS Dahlquist had gotten word the lift was opening and was the first in line — arriving before 8 a.m. for the privilege of “first chair.” Dahlquist said he’d been skiing Big Mountain since he was 2 years old, so for him the opening of a new lift was very exciting.

Dahlquist was the first to ski down under the lift line as well — scraping the ice and warning those above him the terrain was best left for a powder day.

“It’s not worth it,” Dahlquist screamed to onlookers.

Longtime resort-goer Melissa Hardman has spent 25 years skiing Big Mountain, but tended to avoid the areas off of Inspiration Ridge, although she thinks there are lots of gems to be found over on that side of the mountain. Because there was no quick and reliable way back up, she often found herself taking the Russ’s Street cat track back to Chair 1, with its long ride and longer lines up to the summit.

“For more expert skiers, there’s a lot of tree skiing that you’ll be able to do and get back up faster,” Hardman said during the ride up to the ridge.

Birthday-boy Mike Levin thought of the new lift as a bonus gift. The Whitefish resident and four-year passholder expected to take advantage of the new lift all season.

“We usually just stay on the back side, and ski down Inspiration Ridge for the last run of the day,” Levin said. “There’s terrain over here that we would never ski because it would mean having to go back to [Chair] 6. Now this will be more accessible.”

For skier Nicholas Schindeler, the new beginning marked a return to an old favorite.

“The old Chair 4 was my favorite chair, and Three Stooges was my favorite run,” said Schindeler.

When asked about the bigger chairs, Whitefish resident Amy Cobbs said she isn’t afraid of “Covid cooties” on the new six-person lift.

“It’s exciting to see six people get on a chair,” she said.

Schindeler also doesn’t mind that he may be sharing the chair with more strangers from now on.

“I always like talking to people on the chairlift, and now there's more people to talk to,” he said. “More stories to hear.”

Reporter Adrian Knowler can be reached at 758-4407 or aknowler@dailyinterlake.com