Every ski town has its quirks, its own parades and sporting events, its own goofy traditions and rites of passage. But only Whitefish has Frabert.
Frabert, for the uninitiated, is a 3-foot-tall stuffed toy monkey with casts on his limbs and more than a few beer stains from his decades of service at the Bierstube, the beloved bar in the resort’s village area.
During the ski season, Frabert is awarded every Wednesday to the “Clod of the Week” — that is, the skier or snowboarder who finds the most creative or amusing way to embarrass themself on the slopes. Often this involves some mishap involving a tree, a chairlift, a mogul or a very bad sense of direction.
It’s all in good fun, really. The winner gets to chug a beer from a special mug as members of the ski patrol recite a short poem to commemorate the feat of the week.
According to the book “Hellroaring: Fifty Years on The Big Mountain,” the tradition started around 1960 with the monkey being awarded on a near-daily basis. The name Frabert, the book says, came from patroller Stuart Swenson’s college days when he visited “a derelict from Billings with the first name of Frabert.”
The mishaps deemed worthy of Frabert awards have varied over the years. In 1968, for example, a Wisconsinite named Cal “The Destroyer” Wheeler won a Frabert for “attacking the Big Drift with his nose.” According to “Hellroaring,” two confused Delta airlines pilots once shared the award after arriving in town for a few days of vacation having mistaken Big Mountain for Big Sky, some 360 miles away.
But perhaps the biggest clod in Whitefish history was a patroller himself. Chet Powell, our former director of mountain operations, recalled in “Hellroaring” that a rookie once found himself outside the ski area boundary and didn’t know the trail to cut back inbounds.
“At the same time there were two accidents on Chair 2, and when he was called on the radio to respond, he couldn’t because he had gone too low and was on his way to the lake,” Powell said in the book.
Other patrollers responded to the accidents while the rookie slogged out of the woods and hitchhiked back up the mountain.
“What made things worse was his denial that he got lost,” Powell said. “When we asked what happened, he said his pipes had broken and he had to leave to fix it! We wondered why he took his skis and left his truck on the mountain. Major Frabert for that!”