So you’re interested in both Schweitzer and Whitefish, but you’re still looking for a more direct, head to head comparison between the two mountains?
Well, you’re in luck!
I’ve recently experienced ski trips to both mountains in back to back years. Mix that with my experience skiing tons of different resorts across the United States and Canada, and I’d like to think I can offer a helpful perspective here.
Read on for my detailed comparison between Schweitzer and Whitefish!
Mountain Stats Comparison: Whitefish vs. Schweitzer
Now, I might not be the best person to directly compare terrain, since my legendary whiteout visit to Whitefish meant I couldn’t fully explore the mountain like I hoped. (To get specific, Whitefish’s fog-storm kept me out of Hellroaring Basin, but I did ski all over the rest of the mountain.)
But here are the stats:
|1||Size||2,900 acres||3,000 acres|
|2||Vertical||2,400 ft.||2,353 ft.|
|3||Avg. Snowfall||300 inches||300 inches|
|4||Summit Elevation||6,400 ft.||6,817 ft.|
|5||Base Elevation||4,000 ft.||4,464 ft.|
Clearly, these are some similar mountains! So here’s my closer look…
In my opinion, Whitefish wins handedly for beginner terrain. It has two (shorter) frontside lifts that service almost entirely beginner terrain, plus a few different green runs that meander all over the mountain. For green skiers, it’s actually possible at Whitefish to ski down from the Summit, both to the frontside and the backside (North Bowl).
Schweitzer, in comparison, actually has some of the most limited green terrain I’ve ever seen. There’s really only one green run on the entire mountain, and it’s relegated to the very bottom Musical Chairs lift, which is even below the main village area. I suppose confident beginners at Schweitzer could take the The Great Divide and Cat Track to Village from the summit, but the cat track gets a little narrow and has several more advanced skiers zooming down it to race back to the village, so this might not be the most enjoyable experience.
If green terrain is a priority, Whitefish is definitely a better fit.
On another note, both mountains have great ski schools that cost just a fraction of the more popular ski resorts.
Both Schweitzer and Whitefish are wonderful intermediate playgrounds.
Schweitzer has tons of blue cruisers on both the North and South Bowl. The Stella lift in particular is an intermediate’s paradise, complete with blue groomers and even well-spaced blue trees. Similarly, the Cedar Park Express lift has tons of intermediate terrain, with a unique “backcountry” feel that’s still intermediate friendly.
Whitefish also has tons of fantastic intermediate terrain, most of it being the traditional groomer variety.
If I had to split hairs, I’d say Whitefish has better “zoomer groomers”… meaning if you’re looking for long fast groomers, you may prefer Whitefish. For example, Tony Matt and Big Ravine on the front side of Whitefish are both ~1.5 miles of fast, consistent fall line grooming. By comparison, blues of equal length at Schweitzer, like Vagabond and Gypsy, don’t have quite the speed or consistent pitch.
However, Schweitzer may have the edge in blue trees.
Advanced & Expert Terrain
Both spots have fantastic advanced terrain.
Whitefish has tons of advanced tree runs, while Schweitzer has acres upon acres of big, open bowl skiing, as well as a few groomers so steep that they have to be winch-cat groomed.
If I had to choose, I personally preferred the big open bowls of Schweitzer, although my foggy luck at Whitefish limited how much I could explore its advanced/expert terrain.
As far as true expert terrain, neither place is extremely steep, but I’m told both have a decent selection of chutes and challenges.
Location / Ease of Access
For Whitefish, you’ll probably fly into Glacier Park International airport (FCA) in Kalispell, Montana. This airport has the huge advantage of being just 15 minutes to the town of Whitefish and about 30 minutes to the ski resort. It’s really one of the most conveniently placed ski airports in the country.
However, your luck in scoring a direct flight to Kalispell may be hit or miss. At last count, only about a dozen cities flew directly into FCA.
For Schweitzer, you may be looking at a little more travel time. The best way to get to Schweitzer is almost always a flight into Spokane International (GEG), which is 1.5 hours from the town of Sandpoint and a little less than 2 hours to the Schweitzer Mountain village.
That said, Spokane does have slightly more direction options than Kalispell, with over 20 different cities flying directly.
Don’t miss my complete guides:
Ski Town Comparison
This is another very close category.
If you prefer to stay on the mountain, both Schweitzer and Whitefish have a couple of lodging options at the base. It’s worth remembering that neither of spot is Vail or Aspen – these are modestly developed mountain villages that are noticeably sleepier than many of the country’s more popular destination resorts.
If you prefer to check out the nearby town, the similarities continue. Both Whitefish and Sandpoint are real, charming small towns with characters of their own.
Whitefish has one of the cutest main streets you’ll ever see, and the mountain looms over the numerous shops, restaurants, and bars as a friendly reminder about where you are. Whitefish is also the gateway to Glacier National Park, which means that interestingly, the winter season is actually the town’s slower season.
Similarly, Sandpoint is a historic small town. It has less focus on a single main street and seems more of a checkerboard layout of old brick buildings. Similar to Whitefish, winter is actually one of the slower seasons here; the locals tell me Sandpoint is busiest in the summer months, when visitors flock to the beach shores of Lake Pend Oreille.
Both are interesting in their own ways and definitely worth checking out.
Another category that may be too close to call.
If you’re a local, you may be frustrated with each spot’s rise in popularity, which has brought more and more visitors, and… for the first time ever at these places, actual lift lines. But if you’re used to skiing in Colorado, California, or Utah, you’ll probably be blown away by how short those lift lines actually are, not to mention the relatively empty slopes at both spots.
Snow Amount and Quality
Both Schweitzer and Whitefish are in the Northern Rockies. As the crow flies, they’re only 100 miles apart, which means they’re subject to similar weather patterns. With some slight nuances…
Officially, the two mountains both claim average snowfall of 300 inches per year, but this might be a little misleading.
According to Tony Crocker, arguably the most detailed snow tracker on the planet, Whitefish has received average snowfall of about 325 inches per year for the past 30 years. Schweitzer’s snowfall totals are slightly less, at about 280 inches annually.
Schweitzer’s location, about 100 miles east of Whitefish, is also a slight disadvantage. This places Schweitzer a little closer to the Pacific Northwest, which tends to experience slightly wetter (and therefore, less desirable) powder conditions.
So overall, both places receive respectable, but maybe not elite, snow totals. Likewise, the quality usually isn’t as good as the ultra-dry powder found in Colorado or Utah.
BUT, anecdotally, the smaller crowds at both resorts mean that when they do get powder, it tends to stick around more than other places. (My recent visit to Schweitzer resulted in one of my best powder days ever.)
No discussion about Schweitzer and Whitefish would be complete without some talk about fog!
Both places have a reputation for being foggy, and in my experience, it’s well deserved.
At Whitefish, locals usually measure fogginess in chair lengths. (A “1-chair day” means you can only see one chair ahead of you on the lift) At Schweitzer, many visitors never get a chance to see the beautiful Lake Pend Oreille views, thanks to fog that likes to stick on the mountain and wear out its welcome.
To be honest, I’m not sure which place is foggier, or how you’d even measure that. But safe to say, it’s a serious issue at both places, so we’ll call both spots losers here. Whichever mountain you’re going to, make sure to pack your flat-light goggles!
Final Thoughts on Whitefish vs. Schweitzer
Overall, these two mountains are extremely similar in size, terrain, conditions, and crowds.
Usually, my comparisons have a clear answer depending on what you’re looking for. Aside from Whitefish’s more extensive beginner terrain, Schweitzer and Whitefish are possibly the most similar mountains I’ve ever experienced!
I’ve had fantastic times at both resorts, and I don’t think you can go wrong either way.
If I didn’t have a coin handy for flipping, I’d probably just go based on whichever airport has better flights for you.