Museum gets funding for 10th Mountain Division exhibit

March 10, 2020 2:26 PM

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.

The exhibit will commemorate the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, the Montanans who served, and their heroic exploits in World War II and the post-war impact of its veterans in building and reshaping the entire ski and outdoor industry in America, said the center’s director Tim Hinderman.

“This is really exciting news for the Ski Heritage Center,” Hinderman 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 Ski Heritage Museum was notified by the Tenth Mountain Division Foundation in October that a grant for $7,000 was approved, to be disbursed in 2020. A partner organization, Tenth Mountain Living History agreed to fund an additional $3,000 for a total grant of $10,000 to help develop the exhibit.

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 that could take care of themselves out of doors in all seasons. The division was redesignated 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 in commencing to reshape 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.

The Tenth Mountain Division Foundation was established in 1958 by WWII veterans to memorialize the history and exceptional achievements of the 10th Mountain Division, and to perpetuate its legacy for future generations. The foundation administers financial support for a variety of programs related to its purpose, carrying forward the legacy and memory of America’s World War II alpine and winter warfare soldiers. Their mission is “to honor and perpetuate the legacy of the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division past, present, and future by doing good works that exemplify the ideals by which they lived.”

A requirement of the grants is that matching funds and operating reserves be committed prior to the funding of the grants. The campaign to raise these matching funds was recently launched.

“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 is expected to 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 feature 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 center piece 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, Welch 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. 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 Flathead Valley Ski and Education Foundation created the center to celebrate the history of skiing in the Flathead Valley. The Ski Heritage Museum is located at 725 Wisconsin Ave.

Whitefish Mountain Resort has donated numerous photographs and artifacts from the original ski area. The Stumptown Historical Society has generously provided funding for the building renovation and the “History in Photos” exhibit. Other critical funding was generated through participation in the Great Fish Challenge organized by the Whitefish Community Foundation. For information about donating to the TMDF Matching Funds Campaign, contact Tim Hinderman at tim.hinderman@fvsef.org.

The Ski Heritage Center is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. through the ski season.

Annual memberships in the Ski Heritage Center are now available. For information on membership levels and benefits, visit fvsef.org/ski-heritage-museum.