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TALE: First chair to last call

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A closer look at Whitefish Mountain Resort and it’s famed pub, the Bierstube

By Rick Bass

We all know and seek, again and again, moments that form foundations for the things we love. From first chair to last call, I discover these moments at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Powder spray over the knees and the sky so blue it approaches and then enters the spectrum of indigo. The subconscious body-and-mountain rhythm of cutting curves into a groomed slope on a perfectly cold day when for whatever reason – maybe simply the freak vagaries of mathematics – there’s nobody else out, and the mountain is all yours.

Not every day sees blue sky with new powder, however. There are the cold-ass days where you give yourself over to the misery of frozen feet, frozen fingers, snot-cicles. And the gnarly, foggy days of combat skiing, narrowly missing snowghosts, those eerie, wind-sculpted trees inanimate in their frozen agony. On these days, you just want to get down unharmed.

So often time disappears over the course of a day, until – has a week passed? A month? You glance at your watch. It’s 3:50 p.m., and time for one more run. You inhabit it fully – the most engaged run of the day – but there is also, at Whitefish Mountain, far in the back of your mind, the knowledge that you’re headed to the Bierstube.

Even from outside, you can hear the rumble of happiness bouncing around inside the bar. Neon lights from within spill onto the snow like an electrolysis of happiness, energy, fullness: vitality in a time when the frozen world sleeps. Jukebox music jiggles the roof’s icicles. You push open the heavy wooden door and see 100 people, 200 – the very folks you did not want to see on the slopes, and now you do.

Barkeeps sling Montana beer, while cold bodies warm up, conversing, visiting, catching up, and not just about the day’s skiing, but about life – a great network at an intensely local hill that’s still kind to strangers. You feel the spirits and ghosts of goodwill housed in the old timbers.

TVs bathe patrons in football games, their big screens so large that a single player’s shoe seems to fill a quarter of the bar, capable of coming down on our heads from any direction. But it’s no place to watch a game, it’s too loud, and everyone’s talking instead about things that really matter.

Or they’re ringing the bell behind the bar for newcomers, first-time attendees to the Bierstube. Or they’re skiing off of the roof, or giving out goofy individual weekly awards to their topnotch ski patrol, always keeping the morale up, always keeping the joy up. This is where you find the very cool backcountry, backwoods, small and local ski hill vibe that has always been Whitefish.

Rick Bass is the author of thirty books of fiction and nonfiction and is a board member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council in Troy, Montana.

This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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