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2024 Montana Primary elections

Pond Skip Helps Flathead Valley Weather The Shoulder Season

Corin Cates-Carney
A man in a chicken suit surfs across the pond at Whitefish Mountain Resort

I’m Corin Cates-Carney at the tenth annual pond skip at the Whitefish Mountain Resort.

A large pool waits for skiers and snowboards at the bottom of the mountainside runway. The goal is to skip across the icy water, dressed in costume, with prizes awarded to those who make it, and those who don’t, but fail in style.

Close to a thousand people watched the event last Saturday, most of them locals celebrating the end of the winter tourism season.

Diane Medler, Director of the Convention and Visitor Bureau in Kalispell says Northwest Montana’s economy is entering a slow period.

"There’s these shoulder seasons. April and November, those are your two toughest months because you’re out of the warm season sports and not quite into winter sports."

Winter tourism pumps about $436 million into Montana’s economy, according to the University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research. The summer tourist season brings in more than four times that.

But the summer money hasn’t started arriving yet.

"Yeah, we’re in a dip, but there is still so much to do here like I say… so we need to educate them and let them all there is to do," says Medler. "Because its not as easy as in the summer and the winter. Its easier for them to figure out, okay we’re going to go to Glacier Park, and hike here, or Jewel Basin or go to Flathead lake to rent a boat.”

Montana experienced a slight dip in visitors in 2014, dropping 1.2 percent. That’s the first time the number of tourists has declined since 2009. Visitation to Glacier National Park, though, has been steadily growing since 2011. And statewide, visits to ski resorts have been up the last three years.

Skiing and snowboarding are Montana’s top tourist attraction in winter. Year-round, Medler says tourists spend around five hundred million in Flathead county.

“It is very significant. And for the Flathead Valley and Northwest Montana it is crucial. That is our number one industry in this area. And because were seasonal, people historically came here in the summer to see Glacier Park and primarily Going to the Sun Road. So when the Sun Road opened the faucet turned on and the hotels busy and when the Sun Road closed, everything shut down. And that is changing and we are working really hard to change that and smooth things out."

Medler expects tourism number to pick up again around mid May. But, at the moment, the tourism faucet is dripping.

Back on Big Mountain a man with a chicken suit crashes into the pond.

Although the next month will lack tourism revenue, some, like Riley Polumbus of Whitefish Mountain Resort, enjoy the break from out-of-state travelers.

"And a lot of people look forward to that quieter time because it give us a chance to rest for those of us who work in the tourism and hospitality industry. We get to take a little break ourselves from the long season. And rest and refresh ourselves so we can come back for summer and be ready to go."

UM’s Bureau of Business & Economic Research is projecting two to five percent growth in visitor spending in Montana in 2015. That growth would represent an economic impact of around four and a half billion dollars.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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