A Warm Welcome for Wounded Warriors

By Beacon Staff

For five years now, some of our nation’s bravest soldiers have taken a well-deserved ski trip to Whitefish and been welcomed with open arms.

And beginning on Jan. 30, the Flathead community once again has the chance to thank these men and women, as the Wounded Warriors come back to town for a week of fun.

“The whole goal is to allow them to ski or to learn how to ski and just to have some time for some fun and some downtime,” said Shelle Kuntz, a member of the volunteer-run Whitefish Supports the Wounded Warrior Project.

This year, eight warriors will fly to the Flathead Valley with their caregivers, arriving on Jan. 30 at Glacier Park International Airport. The public is invited to join the Patriot Guard from Polson – who will be dressed in full regalia – for the visitors’ arrivals. They arrive at 1 p.m. and 1:45 p.m.

During their visit, the warriors will ski and snowboard at Whitefish Mountain Resort, take a snowshoe tour, go snowmobiling in the Flathead National Forest, eat at a variety of the community’s restaurants and appear on a float during the Whitefish Winter Carnival’s parade.

Public events include informal, no-host dinners at Café Kandahar on Jan. 30 (for reservations, call 862-6247); the Bierstube at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 1; and McGarry’s on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. (for reservations, call 862-6223).

There will also be a formal dinner on Jan. 31 at the Iron Horse Clubhouse, featuring a speech from Navy Seal Lt. Jason “Jay” Redman, who was shot multiple times in the face and arms during a tour in Iraq.

Tickets to the formal dinner are $175; reservations are available at 863-3115.

The warriors will also participate in Winter Carnival events, including the parade and the Penguin Plunge. Kuntz said she encourages members of the Flathead community to say “hello” and “thank you” to the warriors if they encounter them during their visit, which runs until Feb. 5

“This is so cool, we live here and we’re able to help them out,” Kuntz said.

Riley Polumbus, spokesperson for Whitefish Mountain Resort, said the resort is ready and excited for the warriors’ visit, which employees look forward to all year.

“We get really excited this time of year to welcome them up on our slopes,” Polumbus said.

Everyone gets in on the fun, she said, from the lift operators who sport Wounded Warrior hats and stickers to the grooming crews, who offer the warriors a ride and a unique view of the mountain.

“If you’re skiing on Thursday or Friday and you happen to see them, just say hello and welcome them to Whitefish,” Polumbus said.

To get involved with the Wounded Warrior Project, visit the group’s blog at www.whitefishwwp.blogspot.com or its Facebook page. Donations are always welcome, Kuntz said, and to date, the Whitefish area has donated more than a quarter of a million dollars to the fund.

Polumbus also recommended visiting the websites dedicated to the Wounded Warriors to get involved, and touted the Whitefish community for being so warm and welcoming already.

“It’s really this entire town. The whole community embraces them. Whitefish Mountain Resort plays a pretty big part in their time here but they’re also welcomed all over town and supported by a variety of businesses,” Polumbus said.

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