More than 75 years ago, the 10th Mountain Division was deployed to Europe to help liberate Italy in the final months of World War II. But its influence on history continued long after the war ended. Hundreds of soldiers from the Tenth went on to play major roles in the world of sports, conservation and recreation. One became the first executive director of the Sierra Club. Another had a hand in creating one of the world’s largest footwear companies, Nike.
Still others helped build ski resorts from Vermont to Montana, including the Flathead Valley’s own Whitefish Mountain Resort.
To honor the legacy, the Whitefish Ski Heritage Center Museum was recently awarded a grant to help fund a new multi-media exhibit honoring the 10th Mountain Division from World War II and celebrate its impact on skiing history in the United States and in the Flathead Valley. The exhibit will commemorate the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, the Montanans who served, their heroism in World War II, and the post-war impact of its veterans in building and reshaping the entire ski and outdoor industry in America.
“This is really exciting news for the Ski Heritage Center,” Tim Hinderman, the Ski Heritage Center Museum’s director, said. “Veterans of the 10th Mountain Division played an important role in shaping the history of skiing on Big Mountain and throughout the country. We have envisioned this exhibit as a cornerstone of our Center from day one.”
The original 10th Mountain Division was formed in November 1941. It was the only U.S. military unit since the Civil War to be recruited by a civilian entity, the National Ski Patrol. Many of its soldiers were skiers, as well as forest rangers, lumberjacks, outfitters and guides — anyone self-sufficient in the outdoors in all seasons was recruited. The division was re-designated the 10th Mountain Division in 1944 and fought in some of the roughest terrain in World War II, including a series of daring assaults against the German army in the northern Apennine Mountains of Italy.
After the war, 10th Mountain Division veterans returning home wasted no time reshaping America’s ski industry and the outdoor recreational industry in general. They published ski magazines, opened ski schools, and established ski areas, including Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Whiteface Mountain and others. At least 62 ski resorts have been founded, managed, or employed head ski instructors that were 10th Mountain Division veterans.
WWII veterans established the Tenth Mountain Division Foundation (TMDF) in 1958 to memorialize the history and exceptional achievements of the 10th Mountain Division, as well as to perpetuate its legacy for future generations. The Ski Heritage Museum was notified by the TMDF late last year that a grant for $7,000 was approved to be disbursed in 2020. A partner organization, Tenth Mountain Living History (TMLH), agreed to fund an additional $3,000 for a total grant of $10,000 to help further develop the exhibit.
A requirement of the TMDF and TMLH grants is that matching funds and operating reserves be committed prior to the funding. Hinderman recently launched a campaign to raise these matching funds.
“Clearly, raising the funds for the grant match and operating reserve is our highest priority,” Hinderman said. “We are encouraged that there is abundant community support for documenting this important part of our history and culture.”
When completed, the 10th Mountain Division exhibit will include a life-size diorama including a soldier with winter gear: skis, packs, tent, uniform, and weapons. Highlights of the division’s campaigns in WWII will be included, along with an interactive touch-screen video display offering full feature presentations or segments from the films “The Last Ridge,” “Climb to Glory” and “Fire on the Mountain.” Montanans in the 10th will be featured in an interactive display describing their individual stories before, during and after the war.
The exhibit will include the story of how soldiers from the 10th returned home all across America and laid the foundation for today’s modern ski industry.
Whitefish Mountain Resort’s own story of 10th Mountain Division veteran, Austrian immigrant and skiing legend Toni Matt, and how he helped put Big Mountain Ski Resort atop the post-war North American ski scene, will be a centerpiece of the exhibit.
To assist with research, planning and designing the exhibit, the Ski Heritage Center has recruited content and exhibit designer Laura Welch.
“With a master’s degree in Museum Studies from George Washington University, Laura brings a wealth of experience from an internship at the Smithsonian National Museum and employment with the Museum of The Rockies in Bozeman and the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming,” according to Hinderman.
Research and acquisition of artifacts for the exhibit is currently underway. Construction of the displays and production of the interactive video presentation will begin as matching funds allow.
The Ski Heritage Museum occupies a prominent location along Wisconsin Avenue, the main road from Whitefish to Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain.
For more information about donating to the TMDF Matching Funds Campaign, contact Tim Hinderman at email@example.com.
Annual memberships in the Ski Heritage Center are now available. For information on membership levels and benefits, visit fvsef.org/ski-heritage-museum.