Flashback: Whitefish community stepped up for road-building project

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Whitefish Mountain Resort was founded in 1947. To celebrate our 75th ski season, we're taking a look through the archives with the help of Whitefish's Ski Heritage Center.

Here's a fun story from a 1950 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. In a five-page article headlined "They Bet Their Shirts on Skiing," Ed Schenck recounted how he, George Prentice and a motley crew of local investors and laborers built the ski area that would grow into Whitefish Mountain Resort.

At one point, the U.S. Forest Service agreed to pay $15,000 — nearly $200,000 in today's dollars — to extend and widen a fire-access road leading up to the ski lodge, but only if the resort builders contributed to the effort. As Schenck recounted in this excerpt from the Post story, the community stepped up to help — with a little coaxing, of course:

Much as we needed an adequate all-weather road to keep the mountain open to skiers for the full season, we just didn't have any money to do it. In this emergency, the townsfolk stepped in and donated their labor as our share of the road cost.

Evenings, Saturdays and Sundays as many as 40 volunteers would work at swamping out brush and cutting timber to clear the right of way. … In a typical crew we'd have doctors, lawyers, storekeepers, bank clerks, our postmaster and the mayor, swinging axes alongside professional timbermen. A couple of times the Northwest Lumber Co. shut down early and sent a bus filled with 30 sawmill workers to help.

One Saturday when interest flagged, we got a crew out by offering to raffle off a $100 share of stock if 20 men would each work five hours. La Plante's Café donated a fine lunch of beef stew, bread, butter, coffee and cake. Only 19 men had turned out, and in the expansive glow that follows a good meal, someone suggested that La Plante's name be the 20th in the drawing. Sure enough, the café owner won the stock.

Lester Scott was the first to realize that the election that fall meant another real reservoir of manpower. He got on the phone and called all the candidates in the county and invited them to labor with us. It was just as mandatory for politicians as an invitation to a church social, and they swarmed in from all corners of the county. We had county Attorney Ambrose Measure, county Commissioner Charlie Luke and dozens more literally working for votes. Some of them even brought their own axes.

By the time the road was finished, the Forest Service figured that more than $5,000 in work had been contributed by our volunteers.

For more Whitefish skiing history, check out our history page and pay a visit to the Ski Heritage Center at 725 Wisconsin Ave.