More than a few people in the nascent ski industry were surprised when the Big Mountain won its bid to host the 1949 National Ski Association Senior Championships.
Ed Schenck and George Prentice, who had opened the resort in 1947, knew the event would bring in money and national attention. So they dispatched George Savage, a onetime high school state champion who had helped build the resort’s first lodge and T-bar, to make the case for Whitefish at a national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“I was pretty good at the cocktail parties and did a lot of lobbying with the different delegates,” Savage recalled in the book “Hellroaring: Fifty Years on The Big Mountain.”
“They awarded Big Mountain the Nationals, I think because the delegates wanted to see this new up-and-coming ski area,” Savage said. “We beat out Aspen and Mammoth and Sun Valley.”
Preparations for the downhill course began in summer 1948, with volunteers felling trees on the south face of the mountain to create Langley Run, named for Roger Langley, then president of the National Ski Association. The slalom event would be held on Mully’s Mile, named for Whitefish skiing pioneer Lloyd “Mully” Muldown.
The championships took place on March 5 and 6, 1949, with 80 male and 33 female racers. Among them were Andrea Mead Lawrence, a teenage phenom who swept the women’s events. She was a big name, having competed in her first Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, a year earlier.
The championships drew around 4,000 spectators, filling up local lodgings and prompting many Whitefish residents to open up their homes to visitors, according to “Hellroaring.”
The event was such a success that the resort was selected to host the championships again in 1951, this time with more parking area to accommodate an even bigger crowd.
And Whitefish was officially on the map of great skiing destinations.