Flashback: Whitefish's first T-bar was a wild ride

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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.

When the resort first opened to the public on Dec. 14, 1947, lift tickets cost $2 apiece, a burger at the lodge cost 25 cents and a beer was a few nickels. The only way up the mountain was a brand-new T-bar installed by resort founders Ed Schenk and George Prentice.

As the first guests hitched rides on the T-bar, the pair realized they had mistakenly overtightened a spring in the machinery. Hilarity ensued, as Schenk recounted in a 1950 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

"Next morning, with 1,000 people gathered round, the motor coughed and the first skiers took off. 'Oh, no!' George howled, and turned his reddening face away. Instead of riding up the hill with the T-bar supporting them under their hips in the usual fashion, these first riders were dangling 10 feet in the air and spinning around and around. It was like a Bob Hope movie," Schenk recalled in the magazine story.

"The retracting spring had evidently been wound up sufficiently at the factory, and our extra tightening had really done the job," he said. "But since most of the skiers hadn't ever seen a T-bar lift, they didn't know anything was wrong. So George and I kept straight faces and finished out the day."

Lyle Rutherford, a member of the Hell-Roaring Ski Club, offered a similar recollection in the book "Hellroaring: Fifty Years on The Big Mountain."

"The night before the mountain opened, we were up there playing," Rutherford said. But instead of gliding along the T-bar track, he said, "I was swinging up there like an ape. The darn cable wouldn't let you down. It picked you right up until you were sitting on it like a chicken on a roof with skis dangling below."

Oh, how far we've come in terms of lift safety …

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