Whitefish locals are never at a loss for words in describing what Big Mountain is not. It is not an Aspen. It is not a Sun Valley. It is not brimming with aromatherapy salons, Swiss restaurants and fur boutiques. OK, got it. So what is it, then? Well, it's an unpretentious place where families come to let their kids roam as free as buffalo, smear huckleberry ice cream on their cheeks and cavort on 3,000 acres of deep Montana powder. It's a meat-and-potatoes, mud-on-your-boots, down-to-earth kind of ski area. For now, anyway. Like folks in many other resort communities, Whitefish residents are obsessing over the problems that attend rapid growth-including a potential lack of affordable housing. Summers are always a beehive, as visitors flock to Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, and winters are, well, considerably more subdued, even with 275,000 skier visits. While land values in the region are moving steadily higher, the billionaires haven't kicked out the millionaires yet. And by comparison with other ski areas, much of the real estate around Big Mountain is a relative bargain. Median values in greater Whitefish hover around $298,000. Despite the departure last summer of development partner Hines Resorts, the Big Mountain Village base area will continue to expand, with an emphasis on mid-priced, family-oriented condos in the $200,000-$500,000 range. The ski area has been consolidating its land holdings and has plenty of acreage left for development. Here's a look at the local picture:
Mountain Luxury townhomes in a new residential neighborhood called Slopeside offer ski-in/ski-out access, with three-bedroom units going for slightly north of $1 million. Elk Highlands, on the south slope, is offering homesites of up to 3.7 acres at prices from $375,000-$900,000. The Glades, another residential project, has ski-trail frontage and pricing that tops out at $450,000. Want a fixer-upper? You can often find 20-year-old condos in the base village for $300,000-$400,000.
Foothills Two miles down the road from the ski area is Ptarmigan Village, a 52-acre forested complex where small, two-bedroom condos go for $150,000-$200,000. Next door, a 130-acre parcel is headed for subdivision, and either condos or lots will go on sale within the next two years. One advantage of the site is that a possible realignment of the Big Mountain access road would swing right past the property.
Whitefish Lake A hot market in recent years. Older condos are going for $300,000-$400,000, with newer ones selling for twice as much. Homes with lake frontage and hundred-foot lots are valued at $1 million and up. Hillside units with views of the lake at Bay Point Condominiums are considered a good value at $150,000-$200,000 for two-bedroom/ two-bath layouts.
Around Town You can probably find a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow for $150,000-$200,000 in Whitefish proper or, if you drive a few miles out of town, there are larger two- and three-bedroom homes on the market-most with ample acreage-for $300,000-$600,000.
Median home price (2003) $297,713
Annual taxes on median-priced home $1,900
Number of properties sold in 2003 283
Listings at press time 200
Access Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, 19 miles from ski area
Information Northern Montana Association of Realtors, 406-752-4197, nmar.com; Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, 877-862-3548, whitefishchamber.org