Documentary project explores Montana ski areas:
By MATT BALDWIN Whitefish Pilot
Bozeman-based photographer Craig Hergert has spent the past eight years traveling in his truck and camper to every lift-serviced ski area in Montana. From the “biggest skiing in America” of Big Sky to the dozen or so mom and pop areas scattered throughout the state, Hergert has photographed and skied them all. He’s complied the best images from his journey into a 226-page coffee table-style book “Montana: Skiing The Last Best Place.” The book follows in the spirit of a true documentary project and attempts to capture each ski area in its naked truth — as they actually are. “The goal was to tell the story of what is there right now,” he said. “There is enough ski porn out there.” The book’s afterword says it best.
“I did not want to stage professional skiers ripping down the steepest slopes and cliffs depicting a world of what skiing should look like, but rather what it does look like.”
He references one photo in the book of a snowy, foggy view at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
“It is like that there a lot of the time,” he said about the raw image. “I didn’t want to paint a glossy picture.” Hergert’s travels took him to 18 ski areas in Montana as far east as Bear Paw Ski Bowl near Havre, and as far west as Lookout Pass on the Montana / Idaho border. It’s the contrast of skiing in Montana that intrigued him most on his journey. High-speed quad lifts and $14 cheese burgers on one end of the spectrum, a lonely T-bar on the other.
“Having places like Big Sky and Whitefish contrast with ski areas only open on the weekends — they’re similar in ways, but also completely different,” he explained. Hergert started the book in the real-estate development boom years around 2005 when slopeside condos were going up at an unprecedented rate. “I was concerned some of the mom and pop ski areas would get bought up and I wanted to document these places as soon as I could,” he said.
When the recession hit, the building slowed, but Hergert’s project went on. He found that many of the ski areas in the state haven’t changed in decades and are in no danger of changing any time soon. “That’s the allure to some of these places,” he said. “It’s still 1972 at some of these ski areas. Some even have the same carpet in the lodge from 1972, and nobody wants them to change.”
After visiting every ski area in Big Sky Country, Hergert does have a few favorites. Discovery Basin near Phillipsburg tops his list. He enjoys the Wild West feel of the area with the variety of terrain. “The front side is family fun, while the back side is full-on expert skiing,” he said. One of his favorite days while traveling came at Turner Mountain near Libby. He timed the trip to perfection. “We got there on a Friday and it had snowed 30 inches,” he remembered. “One bus load of drunk Canadians was there, and us, and that was it.” It felt like they had the mountain to themselves. He made a few trip to Whitefish, which he calls in the book, “one of the liveliest ski towns in the state.”
“Although the skiing can be top-notch, the best part of Whitefish is the overall atmosphere. It’s a mountain that truly embraces and relishes in its history as the oldest ski resort in Montana.” Hergert hopes the book has a long shelf-life as a historical place marker and says that it just might spark a local to check out a new ski area in Montana. “I made it for us, people that live in Whitefish, Bozeman or Havre,” he said. “I wanted it to be something that documented these places and something for people to look at and maybe inspire them to go on a road trip,” he said.
The book is available online at www.MontanaPanoramic.com, iTunes and Amazon, and sells for $60.