The Good Old Days – Ski Heritage Days

Once upon a time, Chair 1 would shut down mid-day, ski patrol would sweep the slopes and everyone went to lunch. Guests sat alongside lift operators, ski instructors and other administrative employees and shared a meal together at the Chalet. After lunch the guests went back to skiing and employees went back to work.

This is just one of many stories I’ve heard that captures a snapshot of our unique ski history. The thought of shutting down a ski area for lunch seems far-fetched and the story is an endearing tribute to our natural, easy-going atmosphere. It is fun to reminisce about our past, and we are lucky to feel this nostalgia.

Whitefish was a town of skiers long before there was a ski area. This community of skiers thought skiing was more than a fun activity, it was good for business. That’s why the town backed the two skier area founders Ed Schenck and George Prentice. Through this “spirit of cooperation” a cast of dedicated characters turned the idea of a ski area into reality. The mutual passion for skiing this mountain bolstered its success, and it is what helps sustain its success while maintaining our character. Our dyed in the wool connection to the community is what’s kept it real from the beginning.

Although a lot has changed, so much remains the same. We are still a town of skiers with a deep rooted passion for the sport and for this mountain. This passion is a part of our legacy.

As we approach our 70th season less than two years away, there are many ways we can celebrate our rich ski history. One is to share stories. Gather with old friends and share your memories. Write them down or pass them down to your kids. If you haven’t been here long (like me) find someone who has and ask questions and listen. The more we share our past over beers, on lifts and in our homes the more we keep our past alive and preserved so that we can all enjoy it, and connect to it.

If you have stories you’d like to tell, I’d love to hear them. Send me an email (rileyp@skiwhitefish.com) and I will read it and keep it in our archives in an effort to preserve our history and keep us connected to our past for decades to come.

In addition to sharing stories, share your photos. Dust off those albums to see what treasures you can find. If you uncover some gem of a photo you get excited about—share it with someone. Better yet, share it with us! Scan or take photos of your old prints and post them using #skiwhitefish or send images to me at the email provided above.

The Tucker Sno-Cat, purchased in 1959 for $8,000 was used to take skiers to the summit at Whitefish Mountain Resort prior to the installation of Chair 1. It cost $4.50 for a ride inside, or a quarter to be towed behind. Photo: Marion Lacy
The Tucker Sno-Cat, purchased in 1959 for $8,000 was used to take skiers to the summit at Whitefish Mountain Resort prior to the installation of Chair 1. It cost $4.50 for a ride inside, or a quarter to be towed behind.
Photo: Marion Lacy

Speaking of old photos—if you’ve not had the chance to see the canvas prints at the Base Lodge, you should stop by before the season ends. On the third floor of the Base Lodge you will find 21 large canvas prints of photos taken by Marion Lacy, Whitefish’s resident professional photographer from the mid-40s who helped in the early promotion of the ski area. In fact this is not the first time large prints of his have graced our walls. The original Lodge also featured classic shots of snow ghosts and Cal Tassinari skiing “The Big Drift.”

We know not everyone’s photos will be of the same caliber of Lacy’s, nor will they all be in black and white, however if you find something you feel helps tell our story our unique heritage please share it, and the story that comes with it.

Another way we can celebrate our history is by attending Hellroaring Ski Heritage Days March 18-19. This event benefits the Flathead Valley Ski Heritage Foundation & Ski Heritage Center. Friday night is the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Dinner. Saturday is Retro Ski Day and everyone is encouraged to break out the old ski gear and ski wear. Those who want to support the Ski Heritage Center can participate in the Ski-a-thon or enter the Retro Race.

At 3 p.m. those who wear vintage ski wear should meet at the Summit House for a chance to win a prize for best outfit, and then at 4 p.m. a “Grand Promenade” of vintage-clad skiers and snowboarders will descend Toni Matt. The festivities conclude with “Tall-tales cocktail hour” at the Hellroaring Saloon.

Many of our traditions, relics and characteristics have endured and our passion lives on. We’re still a town of skiers, and while we don’t shut down the lifts for lunch, out-of-town guests and our employees and locals still feel a keen sense of belonging and cheerfulness. We continue to share in the camaraderie of good times and great snow.