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Whitefish, Montana

Tiny montana town puts everything at your fingertips — including sushi...

Getting There Whitefish is served by several major airlines (at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell), including Delta, Northwest and Horizon. Amtrak’s Empire Builder train stops in Whitefish twice daily on its Chicago-Seattle route. The next biggest city, Missoula, is a two-hour drive south on Highway 93.


1. Mountain biking Reid Divide Trail, a 22-mile loop west of town that includes singletrack, switchbacks and technical descents. On hot days, take a swim in Tally Lake near the trailhead.

2. Trail running Dawson Pass and Pitamakan Pass trails in Glacier National Park. The two singletrack trails can be linked to form a 17-mile loop around 9,513-foot Rising Wolf Mountain. There’s 2,400 feet of vertical gain and descent, but the views of the park are riveting.

3. Flat-water paddling on Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Fed by crystal-clear mountain streams, the glacier-carved lake is 28 miles long and between five and 15 miles wide with 128 miles of shoreline. (Whitefish Lake, just north of town, is smaller and usually less congested in the summer.)

4. Road biking up Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, an extraordinary 52-mile, 3440-foot climb reminiscent of the Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France. Heavy snows close the road 10 months out of the year, but when it’s open you can see herds of bighorn sheep, views of the park’s 10,000-foot peaks and waterfalls spilling onto the road.
5Telemark and alpine skiing at Big Mountain Resort (pictured above), which boasts 3,000 skiable acres, a 2,500-foot vertical drop and 330 inches of annual snowfall.

The Town
Located 75 miles south of the Canadian border, Whitefish is a 101-year-old town in transition. Once a bustling railroad and logging community known as Stumptown, the fast-growing town now relies heavily on tourism and recreational sports like skiing, golf and cycling. Although it has only 6,500 people (Flathead County’s population is about 75,000), Whitefish has grown rapidly in recent years and has seen not-so-subtle changes like new subdivisions, strip malls and fancy restaurants. Still, it’s a quaint town that retains a down-to-earth feel and rugged Western charm. Moose still wander into town every now and then.

Good Eats
Tupelo Grill (17 Central Avenue, 406-862-6136) is a local’s favorite for Canjun food, pasta and seafood. MacKenzie River Pizza (9 Central Avenue, 406-862-3167) is a brewpub with an eclectic choice of woodfired pizzas. Try Serrano’s (10 Central Avenue, 406-862-5600) for fresh Mexican food and killer margaritas. Sushi in Montana?! You bet. Wasabi Sushi Bar (419 E. 2nd. Street, 406-863-9283) has fresh fish flown in daily from Seattle.

Whitefish and nearby Kalispell offer a wide gamut of lodging options. Camping is available at several U.S. Forest Service sites (406-863-5400), KOA campgrounds (406-862-4242) and RV parks not far from either town. Grouse Mountain Lodge (2 Fairway Drive, 800-321-8822) is a moderately priced resort just blocks from downtown, Big Mountain Resort and numerous trailheads. There’s also several B&Bs
and major motel chains, including Holiday Inn Express. Contact the Whitefish Chamber (877-862-3548; www.whitefishchamber.com) for more options.

Top Shop
A fixture in the Whitefish adventure sports community, Glacier Cyclery (326 East Second Street, 406-862-0056) is a one-stop shop for mountain biking, cycling and a whole lot more. It’s the place to get trail maps, energy gels and local knowledge of the trail system. Owners Ron and Jan Brunk work the floor just as hard now as when they started the store 22 years ago, even if they do sneak away for long tandem rides every now and then. For winter sports, visit the Sportsman & Ski Haus (406-862-3111) in the Mountain Mall.

Inside Scoop

* Visit the tasting room of the Great Northern Brewing Company for four 6-ounce beers (per person) Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m.
* Reid Sabin, a two-time World Cup telemark skiing champion is one of a growing number of adventure athletes who call Whitefish home.
* A Skijoring race (in which skiers are pulled by horseback riders) will be one of the highlights of the February 6-8 Whitefish Winter Carnival.
* Temperatures range between 16 and 28 degrees in the dead of winter to 48 and 78 in mid-summer.
* Whitefish has a base elevation of 3,033 feet, but nearby mountains range between 6,500 and 10,500 feet.

Main Event
The inaugural Glacier Challenge Relay, a 70-mile multi-sport event for teams and individuals, was held last July between Glacier and Whitefish. The seven-stage race included mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and two sections each of road biking and running. The top team finished in just over four hours, while Eric Young was the first soloist in 4:59. Visit www.glacierchallenge.com for details.

From mid-May to late September, Glacier National Park in northwest Montana is crawling with tourists. But the park is so large that even during the peak period, there’s a good chance you’ll spot more wildlife than people. (Glacier gets about 1.2 million fewer visitors than Yellowstone National Park.) And the rest of the year, it’s your own private training ground.

One of the biggest parks in the U.S., Glacier encompasses a spacious 1.4 million acres of diverse wilderness and has more than 50 glaciers, 200 lakes and streams and 730 miles of trails within its boundaries. Big horn sheep, mountain goats, elk, black and Grizzly bears, moose and wolves all inhabit the park.
Although mountain bikes are off-limits (as in virtually all National Park properties), GNP offers up extraordinary options for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter, and paddling, trail running, hiking and navigation training when the snow melts. The combination of eye-popping vistas, a wide range of wildlife, trees, wildflowers and relative isolation from major cities make Glacier National Park the center of one of the largest and most vibrant ecosystems in North America. For more info, go to www.nps.gov/glac/whatsnew.htm.

Local Hero
Like most people in Whitefish, Andrew Matulinois works hard and plays harder. A full-time pharmacist, he’s also an accomplished ultrarunner and multi-sport adventure athlete. He won the inaugural Yukon Arctic Ultra 100-mile race in 2003, a race staged in the remote Yukon outpost of Whitehorse.

Since moving from Wisconsin to Whitefish 10 years ago, he’s competed in dozens of ultra-distance races, including several 100-mile trail runs and the first four Eco-Challenges.
“You know, I still have yet to run a marathon,” he says. “I like solo events where there is a little more adventure involved and route-finding. I kind of phased out of the team events because of time and money and the commercialism of all of it.”

Matulionis, 38, does many of his training runs on trails near his home not far from downtown, but on weekends in the summer he often gathers a group of hearty runners for 20- to 30-mile trail runs in Glacier National Park. He also does a lot of mountain biking in the summer and skis several times a week in the winter.

What’s next? Matulionis has his sights set on the Yukon Arctic Ultra 300-mile race in February and the Hardrock Hundred trail run in Colorado in July. “This is still a hidden Mecca for outdoor sports,” he says. “You’ve got water, mountains, hundreds and hundreds of miles of trail running and phenomenal mountain biking. In any direction, you’ve got miles and miles of Forest Service land. It makes training pretty easy, because I really don’t have to drive anywhere to start a workout if I don’t want to.”

— Brian Metzler

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