WHITEFISH MOUNTAIN RESORT — Syd Ryerson issues the alpine slide commands like a motherly drill sergeant.
“Watch your hat. If it comes off, don’t stop. Don’t lean into the corners. Push the handle forward to make you go faster. Fast is fun!”
That said, she looks down at the 10-year-old rider on her right. On his sled one statement is written three times — No Bumping — but as his brother takes off down the course he’s itching to catch up.
“Can I go yet?” he asks.
“No,” Ryerson replies.
“Can I go now?”
“Can I go now?”
“I’m going to give you room so you can go fast,” Ryerson replies, looking at him slyly, knowing what he’d like to do. “OK, go for it!”
With a whoosh the boy flies down the newest improvement for summer fun at the ski resort. Whitefish opened Montana’s only alpine slide in 2009 and this year not only completely redesigned it but also added a second slide and 40 more sleds to lessen the wait lines.
Today, the Forest Slide is 1,724 feet with a 283-foot vertical drop. The neighboring Meadow Slide is 1,587 feet with a similar vertical drop.
“It’s a fun summer activity that anyone can do,” said Riley Polumbus, the resort’s public relations manager. “Business is getting better every summer, and we were getting longer lines so we decided to do a second one and moved them both uphill.”
The initial drop on the alpine slide is a bit unnerving as the luge-like track swings around a corner and the sled banks off the high side. It’s tempting to hold back a little, but Ryerson said fast is fun. Pushing forward on the joy stick increases the speed through more curves and a few unexpected dips or bumps, and in no time a sign warns that the track ends in 100 feet.
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The improvements to the alpine slide experience are all part of the longtime push by many ski areas to promote summer activities. In 1996, Whitefish Mountain Resort started putting bikes on chairlifts in the summer for downhill mountain bikers. Last year more than 8,800 bikers flocked to the slopes for some 25 miles of trails.
“The bike park visits are breaking the record every year,” Polumbus said. “This year we added a green trail — that’s easiest — and are trying to get more beginner bikers into the sport. With the lodging and other amenities we’re becoming a destination biking area.”
Across from the top of the alpine slide visitors are getting on the Chair 1 chairlift, with an occasional enclosed gondola, to enjoy the scenery, lunch at the mountaintop restaurant, then either ride their bikes, the chairlifts or hike back to the base.
Midway below the top of the alpine slide a young boy soars down the zipline. Nearby a family plays on the cross-cable bridges, rope ladders and trapezes in the aerial adventure park. Near the base of a slide is the “Strider” bike park where children age 2-6 practice their balance and riding skills on pedal-free small bikes. That’s by the Spider Monkey Mountain, where youngsters climb up through crisscrossed webbing, then glide down the inflatable slide. Farther south, parents and toddlers ride inner tubes up the Big Easy Carpet — which carries beginner skiers in the winter — and slide back to the bottom.
Back at the alpine slide, Michelle and Henry Miller from Durant, Oklahoma, are stepping into bright yellow sleds, a little nervous but a lot excited.
“We came here to see the glaciers, but bought a package deal so we can try everything here,” Michelle Miller said. “We’ve been up to Waterton Lake, went through Glacier (National Park) and are here for a couple of days. I’m going to go as fast as I can.”
Henry Miller added that he’s “just going to hope I don’t fall off.”
After the ride down they’ll be able to hop on a chairlift for another ride down the slide.
Polumbus said that after the Labor Day weekend the mountain activities will only take place on Fridays through Sundays until the summer season wraps up on Sept. 22. The activities typically start at 10 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m.
“This is great for families and preschoolers, but also for single people who are looking to do something fun and get away for a weekend,” Polumbus said.
Once the season ends most of the alpine slide will remain in place, be filled with straw, then covered with a tarp, before being buried under snow and, finally, novice skiers.
“We’ll take out some sections on the top and bottom of the slide, but most will be left in place,” Polumbus said. “When you ski over it, you won’t even know you’re going over the alpine slide. We also invested in new snowmaking here that will be installed this fall.”