When residents of Whitefish wired Ed Schenck and George Prentice and asked them to come to town and help build a ski resort, it was a long shot at best. George and Ed put up $20,000 of their own money, and the Chamber of Commerce got pledges from members for another $40,000. This was a good start, and they began in the summer of 1947.
As construction dragged on through an amazingly wet autumn and the newly-formed company struggled to pay workers, it was the residents of Whitefish who kept the project alive. Several local business owners took considerable time away from their shops to sell stock in the company. Many people in town volunteered their time to build the road up to the mountain. And when the T-bar broke, twice, during that first season, half the businesses in town shut their doors as owners and employees scrambled up the mountain with tools in hand to rebuild lift towers overnight.
These kinds of stories are amazing, and if you read about the history of Big Mountain, you’ll find more examples of this kind of self sacrifice than you might believe.
Many people in town gave more money and time than they could afford to ensure that their ski resort was a success. And so did Ed Schenck, George Prentice, Toni Matt, Karl Hinderman, and many others who didn’t grow up here.
What makes our story special is the dedication of these people to a dream that seemed impossible. Whether they were already important residents in 1947 (Mully Mulldown, Brad Seeley, et al.), outside developers (George and Ed), or visitors who stayed (Toni Matt, Karl Hinderman, et al.), they were inspired by something to work harder than most to make their vision of Big Mountain a reality.
What was that something? I say it was Whitefish itself. This place is different from anywhere I’ve ever been, and I imagine it was then, too. It has inspired me to take low-paying jobs and scrape for rent just to live here. But more than that, it has inspired me to try and be part of what makes it so amazing, and even to help it thrive.
That’s why I work longer hours than my wife might like at the job I have now. It’s why my boss, his boss and the board of directors of our company want so badly, work so hard, and contribute so much to see our little ski resort succeed. Not because we are from here, necessarily, but because we have been here. We’ve seen and felt what Whitefish is, and we want to succeed as part of it.
There are plenty of rumors floating around about the intentions of various people associated with our beloved ski hill. I’ve heard that we’re going to change it into a private ski area like the Yellowstone Club, that we’re doing away with night skiing, that we’re not running Chair 2 early anymore, that we’re closing the superpipe, and so on and so forth until your breath runs out.
All of these are untrue, of course. The private ski area one, in particular, mystifies me. How could we possibly run a private anything on U.S. Forest Service land? We couldn’t. So, where do these things come from?
I think that in large part, they come from a fear that the people calling the shots are outsiders. What could they know about who we are, and what this place is? They’re not from here; how could they care?
The answer is that they are here, pumping their money and time into an impossible dream, in much the same way Ed and George did so many years ago, and they’re doing it for the same reason: They’ve seen Whitefish. They’ve come here and been inspired, the same way I was, and the same way many of you have been.
We’re not changing our ski hill, the one we have loved and the old-timers worked so hard for. We’re only doing what needs to be done to make it work. To improve it without changing it. And to make it, finally, into what Ed and George and Mully wanted it to be, so many years ago – a real, working ski resort in Whitefish, Montana.
Donnie Clapp is the public relations manager for Whitefish Mountain Resort
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