Whitefish Ski Museum Hosts Multimedia Presentation About Inception of Big Mountain Skiing

Homegrown feature-length film ‘Raising Hell Roaring’ pieces together archival footage, photos, letters and firsthand accounts of seven decades of Whitefish ski culture

By Micah Drew
Skiers outside the original Big Mountain ski cabin, built by the Hellroaring Ski Club in 1935. Courtesy of the Ski Heritage Center

Back in the 1930s, before the days of high-speed six-pack chairlifts or even sophisticated mechanical rope tows, a group of pioneering skiers jerry-rigged the body of an automobile to a cable to winch themselves up the slopes of Big Mountain.

“It was some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption where they basically stripped a car down to the seats and frame and mounted it on sleds,” said Tim Hinderman, the director of the Whitefish Ski Heritage Museum. “It’s hard to even picture, and I’d call it an urban legend except I heard about it from one of the two founders of the ski resort.”

Hinderman grew up hearing similar tales about Big Mountain’s ski genesis, back when members of the Hellroaring Ski Club took the first hikes uphill. His father, Karl, was one of the early Whitefish ski pioneers and longtime Big Mountain Ski School director.

“My whole life I’ve heard tales like this, but that attempt at building another lift up there was a new story I heard just this week,” Hinderman said. “There’s always something new to learn, and the goal is to try and share those stories with the community.”

As the director of the Whitefish Ski Museum, Hinderman is the keeper of Big Mountain lore, which is primarily displayed in the historic Saddle Club cabin adjacent to the Stumptown Ice Den on Wisconsin Avenue. The museum features a 10th Mountain Division “Ski Troops” exhibit, photographs of the Flathead Valley’s skiing history, a Hall of Fame and more.

This weekend, Hinderman is taking the lore out of the museum and bringing it to the big screen, with a feature-length multimedia presentation, “Raising Hell Roaring: The Big Mountain Story,” which chronicles the story of skiing from Big Mountain to Logan Pass, stretching from the early 1930s through the millennium. The film will screen at the O’Shaughnessy Center on Saturday.

There’s only so much room in a log cabin museum to detail 75 years of skiing history, but the presentation stitches together myriad stories from the early years and tracks with the evolution of ski culture in Whitefish and the greater Flathead Valley.      

“Every time we do research and write about different exhibits at the museum, we start to see how each part is interconnected, going all the way back to the beginning,” he said. “We want to show people what it was like at the beginning — guys on funky skis and leather logging boots, skiing with no grooming and no moguls. From that, this whole culture developed.”

Hinderman said that ever since the Whitefish Ski Museum was founded, the vision was to be more than a brick-and-mortar entity. He always envisioned being able to host events that would take the stories outside the four walls of the cabin and broaden the community’s exposure to its own history.

Two years ago, the museum hosted a similar film presentation on the 10th Mountain Division, showing a documentary about the storied World War II Army division that was key to developing the nation’s ski resorts after the conflict. The documentary drew several hundred attendees, according to Hinderman, and meshed with an exhibit the museum unveiled in late 2022, boosting its profile.

He said that more than 300 tickets have already been sold for this weekend’s event.

“It’s not a history lesson, and it’s not your typical documentary.” Hinderman said. “There’s a little bit of everything — old footage, new interviews with old-timers, photos and other bits from the museum — and combining it together really just brings the story to life.”

The presentation includes lots of archival film from the mid-1930s, including the first sanctioned high school ski race in Montana hosted by Whitefish High School back in 1939, eight years before the first ski lift was built.

“It’s those kinds of ‘oh, wow’ things that we’re stringing together in this film,” Hinderman said. “We go back to the very roots of the sport and show you how far it’s come.”

“Raising Hell Roaring” will play at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish on Saturday, March 9. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the presentation at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students, military and seniors and can be purchased online at whitefishskimuseum.org.

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