Flathead ski history, WWII exhibit get funding boost

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

KALISPELL (AP) — 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, told the Flathead Beacon. “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.