Flashback: WWII vets brought skiing mastery to Whitefish

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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.

It might surprise you to learn that Whitefish Mountain Resort's history is intertwined with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, an experimental infantry unit that endured nearly five months of intense ground combat in northern Italy during World War II.

The division — which was specially trained to fight in cold weather, often traveling on skis — was made up of mountain men, cowboys and world-class athletes, many of whom would go on to play key roles in the establishment of the nation's first ski resorts.

The division included a number of Flathead Valley residents, notably Toni Matt, the Austrian American ski-racing champion, and Karl Hinderman, the Army's first skiing instructor who ran the ski school on Big Mountain for 35 years.

During the first months of 1945, the 10th Mountain Division broke through German defenses in the mountains of northern Italy, seizing positions on Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere, entering the Po River Valley and reaching the northern end of Lake Garda by war's end.

The Army says the division "was opposed by 100,000 German troops yet effectively destroyed five German divisions, unhinging the defense in Italy and drawing forces away from other theaters."

While carrying out these heroic feats, the division sustained nearly 5,000 casualties during World War II, with 999 soldiers killed in action.

An exhibit on the 10th Mountain Division — and the later accomplishments of its veterans — can be found at the Ski Heritage Center at 725 Wisconsin Ave. Don't forget to check out our history page as well!