The longest day of the year doesn’t happen on the summer solstice in Whitefish, Montana; it happens the first weekend in February.
That first weekend in February is the height of the Whitefish Winter Carnival festivities. The morning kicks off with a frigid Penguin Plunge in Whitefish Lake and then moves downtown for a raucous parade. The day most likely ends at the Great Northern Bar, where you won’t just see ski bums who’ve been deep in festivities all day. You’ll rub elbows with the Mayor, who probably enjoyed the carnival just as much as the flask-toting lifty next to him.
What is this place? Whitefish is America’s greatest ski town because of wild, creative events like the Winter Carnival.
But it holds the title year-round with a unique local character that no other ski town can claim.
Here's why it's America's greatest ski town:
- Dive Bars that Rock: When other ski towns were demolishing their dive bars to put in village shops, Whitefish locals were planning the next fun event at the The Great Northern Bar or renovating the Old West-style Remington to host more live bands. Whitefish never lost the classic character that made it what it is – a hip ski town that stayed true to its roots.
- Better than Brewfest - Distillers' Fest! Brewfests are fun, and they happen here too. But the Chamber of Commerce mixed it up with a Distillers' Fest every spring at Grouse Mountain Lodge that brings in Montana distillers and local revelers to vote on cocktails and appetizers. Don’t plan to drive after this event – they give out plenty of cocktails here. Stay at the lodge to round out a great party.
- Closing Weekend Shenanigans: At the end of the ski season, Whitefish goes out in style. Usually the first or second week in April, closing weekend means full days of spring skiing (and sometimes powder!) on the hill, maybe a hidden keg or two around the mountain, and a boisterous gathering on the summit where everyone waits for the last chairlift of the season and cheers when it arrives. Stick around town for the Sunday night Ski Patrol Party with a different theme every year and watch mountain employees and longtime locals let loose to celebrate another great year on Big Mountain.
- Yetis and Viking Divas - A Beginner’s Guide: Just as essential to the quirky Winter Carnival as King Ullr and Queen of the Snows are Yetis and Viking Divas. Don’t get creeped out by the Yetis chasing kids and the Viking Divas planting red-lipstick kisses on the crowd at the parade; snap a selfie with them instead. Viking Divas and Yetis are both characters from the Whitefish Winter Carnival legend – that is historically inaccurate (it was started in the 1950s to beat winter boredom) – but more fun than you can imagine. Any town that goes all out for a funky winter festival wins in our book.
- Classed Up but Casual: In addition to all this "out of the ordinary" fun, you can still have a cocktail at the classy Red Room Lounge, enjoy dressed-up Cajun at Tupelo restaurant and stay in the cozy yet still swanky Grouse Mountain Lodge. Whitefish is not just about the parties. We dress up well here, too.
- See You on the Ski Hill: Don’t forget, Whitefish also boasts the most important asset of all: a ski hill with 300+ inches of snow every year, fantastic off-piste skiing and unbelievable views into Glacier National Park.
Time to book a trip to check it out? You bet.