Skiers and snowboarders think of summer as the off-season. But at this resort town, when the snow melts, the fun heats up.
With an owl's-eye view, you can see the forest and the trees.
Anyone who has ever spent a childhood afternoon in a tree house knows the thrills of a mid-branch perspective. High above the ground, you are the ruler of your creaking wooden castle, an escapee from earthly existence. You are a few steps closer to the sun.
Longing to recapture these aerial joys, I've come to Montana's Big Mountain Resort to experience the Walk in the Treetops—a half-day adventure culminating in a stroll through fresh-scented evergreens 70 feet up. My fellow arboreal explorers and I begin with a one-mile bike ride past horse stables and stands of cottonwood. Before long we dismount, shrug into climbing harnesses, and set off into the old-growth forest. Versed in the subalpine ecosystem, our guides point out fallen nurse logs and tangles of horsehair lichen.
Soon I spy the first wooden boardwalk sloping up into the trees. As instructed, I clip onto the safety line with a hearty "On belay green!"
"Green belay on," my partner confirms, and I step up onto the suspended ramp, leaving terra firma behind. Planks creak and the ferny ground recedes as I gradually ascend to the lofty domain of woodpeckers and brown squirrels, swaying my way along the 800-foot boardwalk that stretches from fir to tamarack like a sidewalk built for Tarzan. Eventually our group reaches a wide platform with sweeping views across the Flathead Valley. Here we munch granola bars and swap adventure tales with the easy camaraderie of recaptured youth.
It's hard coming down from the heights, but the day is young and the resort's Glacier Chaser gondola is still gliding up to Big Mountain's 7,000-foot summit, carrying hikers and mountain bikers eager to descend through fields of blooming bear grass. Just down the mountain, the town of Whitefish offers its own delights: spicy Cajun gumbo at the Tupelo Grille, frothy pints of huckleberry lager at the Great Northern Brewing Company, and a dose of local history at the Whitefish Museum, home of the mysterious Hicken Fur-Bearing Fish. Yes, perhaps the fur is glued on, but maybe it's real. Now that I'm a child at heart again, it doesn't hurt to believe.
Whitefish easily serves as a jumping-off point for trips to Glacier National Park, 25 miles away. A drive on the park's famous Going-to-the-Sun Road (open summer only) can occupy a full day. To spend more time at Glacier, you can arrange lodging inside the park: (406) 888-7800 or www.nps.gov/glac .
Photography courtesy of Big Mountain Resort
This article was first published in May 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Walk in the Treetops welcomes climbers 10 and older and 54 inches and taller, mid-June to mid-September. For tickets ($48), other activities, and lodging, call (800) 858-4152 or visit www.bigmtn.com .