Original Big Mountain ski lift relocated to museum in town

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  • Hellroaring Ski Club volunteers Lyle Rutherford and Chuck Creon transporting the tow rope up Big Mountain for installation on the original rope tow. Circa 1940. (Photo courtesy FVSEF)

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    The rope tow driver terminal that served as the first ski lift on Big Mountain last week was moved to the Ski Heritage Center ski museum on Wisconsin Avenue. (Photo courtesy FVSEF)

  • Hellroaring Ski Club volunteers Lyle Rutherford and Chuck Creon transporting the tow rope up Big Mountain for installation on the original rope tow. Circa 1940. (Photo courtesy FVSEF)

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    The rope tow driver terminal that served as the first ski lift on Big Mountain last week was moved to the Ski Heritage Center ski museum on Wisconsin Avenue. (Photo courtesy FVSEF)

A key piece of ski history was moved to the Ski Heritage Center ski museum last week and should eventually be on display for those wanting to view it.

The rope tow driver terminal that served as the first ski lift on Big Mountain has a new home at the Wisconsin Avenue museum run by the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation.

The first rope tow drive terminal was originally installed on Big Mountain by the Hellroaring Ski Club in 1940 and was used by club members until 1947 when the Big Mountain Ski Resort opened and it was removed and placed in the “bone yard,” according to FVSEF director Tim Hinderman.

The drive mechanism for the old tow consisted of a four-cylinder Lycoming engine along with a chassis and transmission from a 1920s Gardner automobile.

“Being essentially a car-with-no-wheels, it wasn’t an easy thing to move,” Hinderman said. “The solution was provided when Hill Brothers Auto Body and Towing arrived with their tow truck. The chassis came mounted on log skids, and they were able to winch it up onto the deck of the tow truck.”

The museum expects to do some clean-up and restoration work on it and then the rope tow drive terminal will be the first outdoor exhibit at the ski museum. A plaque explaining when and where it operated as the first ski lift on Big Mountain is also planned.

It will be a great addition to the story of the skiing pioneers, Hinderman noted.

Work is also currently underway to add a 10th Mountain Division “Ski Troops” exhibit to the museum. The exhibit is planned to feature the Flathead Valley men who served in this winter warfare unit in World War II, and to record firsthand accounts of surviving early-day skiers and employees of the Big Mountain Resort.

“As a nonprofit organization relying solely on volunteers, we are always seeking new members interested in being a part of documenting and disseminating this important chapter in the history of our region,” Hinderman said.

The museum is also looking for old chairs from the chair lifts of the past, including Original Chair One, Chair 3 and Chair 4.

The Ski Heritage Center is operated by the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation in the historic Saddle Club cabin adjacent to the Stumptown Ice Den in Mountain Trails Park. The center is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday through Saturdays through Labor Day.

The museum features a photographic exhibit portraying the history of skiing in the Flathead Valley, a Hall of Fame honoring the ski pioneers and local skiing legends, a life-size cutaway reproduction of the interior the Hellroaring ski cabin circa 1935 and a video library featuring rare footage of skiing in the valley and around Montana in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

For more information, contact Tim Hinderman at 406-885-2730 or tim.hinderman@fvsef.org.

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