Grizzly Bears and Broken Curses

Superstition Vs. Snow in Whitefish, MT

With a fistful of cashews in one hand and an iPhone pressed to my ear in the other, I’m pacing around a hotel room at the Pine Lodge in Whitefish, MT. I’m ranting over the line to my brother.  Someone’s got to hear about this weather, and it’s hard to sit still with all this excitement. It’s a Wednesday in late February. Eighteen inches of fresh snow graced the slopes of Whitefish Mountain Resort on Sunday, and roughly a foot has fallen each day since. The forecast is calling for more. “Well, I think it’s safe to say you’ve broken the curse,” my brother says through the phone. I think he’s right.

Was it because I broke that mirror? For seven consecutive years, it seemed as if I’d never strike white with powder. I made countless trips from the east coast to go get it, forever drowning in the sorrows that follow the words, “Damn dude, you shoulda been here last week!” I’d traveled to New Zealand during what turned out to be their worst winter in a decade, then the next winter I suffered a season ending injury during my local hill’s best winter in recent memory. I then moved to the Pacific Northwest in time for its lowest snowpack in nearly a century.

Luck is an odd thing that can’t be measured. You can’t often see it, but you can definitely feel it, and know when it’s on your side. Right now I’m feeling it, and seeing its spoils through this abundance of soft, dry, crystallized flakes. Fortunately, these flurries can be measured. Whitefish Mountain Resort receives around 300 inches of snow each winter, and the resort’s seasonal average was surpassed as of this morning. I’ve still got two days left here. Superstitious thoughts are again mounting. I find the nearest piece of wood and give it a knock.

ABOVE Porch views of the resort from the Pine Lodge in Whitefish, MT. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

*Beep, beep, beep… Slam.* Quiet ensues. That’s better. It is day five onboard, and I am feeling it.

I look through my window and see that Thursday has brought more of the same. A fresh layer of white has erased last night’s footprints outside my door. Suddenly my legs feel a bit stronger, my head not so heavy. I look towards the mountain, hungry for its rocky chutes and narrow tree lines, fast groomers and pillows. “Good lookin’ out,” I think, nodding to the alarm clock. This Thursday would have been a bad one to sleep through.

Whitefish’s hibernating bears wouldn’t think so, though. They’ll snooze through powder days, even here at the mountain—right where we snowboard. After an early morning run through the resort’s Hellroaring Basin zone I’m on the lift up for another, riding with local skier and photographer Brian Schott, who’s just turned to tell me that.


ABOVE Cowabunga, or bearabunga? The author in Hellroaring Basin, a place for both powder hounds and hibernating grizzlies. Photo: Brian Schott.

“There are what? Where?” I say in dismay while scanning the ground below our hanging planks. “Yeah, it’s kind of crazy,” he laughs. “They close down this part of the mountain on March 31 because it’s actually a grizzly bear habitat. They’re denned up throughout here, sleeping through the storms.”

Indeed, northwest Montana’s residents—be they four-legged or two—are a wild bunch. Now I’m really hoping my luck doesn’t run out. Forget tree wells, I just don’t want to end up falling face to face with a fuzzy muzzle. With no obvious bits of wood in reach, I lean down toward my board—*knock, knock.*


ABOVE While filming for their new movie, “March,” the Airblaster crew was taking full advantage of the epic storm cycle hitting Whitefish Mountain Resort. Jesse Grandkoski leads the way with Bryden Bowley following suit. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

After another run Brian takes off for work, and I take a lift up to the summit of Whitefish Mountain Resort. Fog makes it hard to see, and the trees seem a viable option.  I take to the snow ghosted thickets, pushing through half-buried, knee deep paths with ease. Upon exiting the woods I see it’s still coming down—heavy amounts of that light, fluffy snow. “Keep it comin’,” I say to the sky. My good fortune seems to be running parallel with the weather; as the storm rolls on my luck does too.

ABOVE Whitefish Mountain Resort is Travis Parker’s hometown hill, and through his intimate knowledge of the mountain’s nooks and crannies it shows. Here he blasts through some fresh snow and side hits on a run called The Big Ravine. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon.

Was it time that wore it out, or was it that salt over the shoulder? I guess I’ll never know for sure. But one thing is certain: The curse has been lifted. I think that much is safe to say. Or, does that jinx it? Oh man, I sure hope not. Well, just in case…*knock, knock.*

ABOVE The author throws some snow over his shoulder and waves sayonara to seven years of bad luck. Photo: Brian Schott.

Huge thanks to the Whitefish Mountain Resort staff and ski patrol for the awesomely deep week. Special thanks also to Brian Schott & Explore Whitefish for helping facilitate the trip and to the Pine Lodge & Morning Eagle at Whitefish Mountain Resort for downtown and slopeside accommodation, respectively. There’s been over 387 inches of snow at Whitefish to date—get up there and score some of those turns for yourself.


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