Absent from this year’s Whitefish Winter Carnival is Norm Kurtz, the patriarch of Stumptown, affably nicknamed “Mr. Whitefish,” and the architect of the boisterous, month-long hibernal jubilee, the blueprint for which he sketched on a bar napkin in 1959.
Kurtz, who helped define and promote Whitefish and Big Mountain, died Jan. 10 at the age of 86, leaving behind an immutable legacy as a tireless advocate of the local ski area and his beloved community.
In 1955, Kurtz started work at Big Mountain as a sort of factotum, working as handyman, snow reporter, bartending at The Northern Rocky Chalet (now Hellroaring Saloon) and eventually serving as president and general manager.
“Normy could do any job on that mountain,” says longtime friend Dale Duff. “He just loved being up there and being part of the community.”
Originally from Seattle, Kurtz worked as a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before moving to Whitefish with his wife, Carolee.
He immediately saw the potential in Whitefish as a destination town, and became a tireless promoter, focusing his energy on the Great Northern Railway to bring visitors to town.
On one promotional trip to Minnesota, Kurtz attended the St. Paul Winter Carnival and realized the potential for such a festival in Whitefish.
“That was in 1959 and he and about 11 other guys, they called themselves the Dirty Dozen, they wrote it out their ideas on a bar napkin,” Duff says. “That’s how they came up with the legend of Ullr and the Whitefish Winter Carnival Royalty. Norm is the guy who created all that.”
Through the years, Kurt served as Whitefish Winter Carnival chairman, prime minster and king.
Kurtz was also a veteran, serving in WWII and later as a marine during the Korean War.
He was instrumental in bringing the first time-share condominiums in Montana with the Alpinglow Inn, and was actively involved in the Montana Board of Tourism and the Montana Ski Area Operators Association.
He also served on the Glacier Park International Airport board and worked to bring in flights from Canada in the early days of Big Mountain. This connection with Canadian flights brought in more tourism through the creation of “ski weeks,” wherein visitors traveled to the Flathead Valley for vacation packages.
He wrote a book, titled “Chair One,” and helped start the S.N.O.W Bus, which was originally called the W.A.R.T. — Whitefish Area Rapid Transit.
“He sure left his footprint in this valley,” Duff said.
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