The Legacy of One Grand Parade

Many years ago, on a cold winter night, a man named Norm Kurtz was filling in as the “relief” bartender in the original Ptarmigan Room in the chalet at The Big Mountain (now, Whitefish Mountain Resort)*. As he refilled drinks for his two patrons that evening, he polished glasses and listened to their conversation. The two customers were discussing how the town needed something… a special activity in the wintertime to give everyone around town a little boost to get through the long, cold season. Kurtz listened to their stories and ideas, and took mental notes that he would later put to paper. From that, Kurtz created plans for perhaps the most beloved, historic celebration in Whitefish to date: The Whitefish Winter Carnival.

As Kurtz recalls to his daughter, Gretchen (Kurtz) Murray, in his colorful memoir, Chair One: “[I intended The Whitefish Winter Carnival] not to promote tourism, so much as to involve a helluva lot of Whitefish people in letting off of steam that was hopefully a lot of fun.” With the help of over 400 volunteers in 1960, the first Whitefish Winter Carnival was so much fun that it has been held every year since. 

“[I intended The Whitefish Winter Carnival] not to promote tourism, so much as to involve a helluva lot of Whitefish people in letting off of steam that was hopefully a lot of fun.” —Norm Kurtz
Appropriately, Kurtz is remembered as “Mr. Whitefish,” and his legacy lives on at Whitefish Mountain Resort as the namesake for the run, One Grand Parade.

We caught up Joni (Kurtz) Wootton, one of Kurtz’s four children, to give insight into the late Norm Kurtz, who has held roles in town as diverse as they come—from flipping burgers and fixing toilets at the mountain, to the manager of the Chamber of Commerce, and assistant manager of The Big Mountain**. 

Tell us what you remember of your father’s roots.
He was born and raised in Seattle and worked as the marketing manager for the Seattle PI newspaper. He also went to work for Burlington Northern and ended up taking a ski trip with his friend Charlie up to the Big Mountain. They would hop trains and ski all over the place, but when they came to Big Mountain, that’s where Dad knew he wanted to be. 
Carolee and Norm

Carolee and Norm

And that’s all it took for he and your mother, Carolee, to up and move to our little Montana ski town?
Yes, he and my mom took a big chance and moved up to Whitefish and spent the next 40 or so odd years living in the mountains. We always joked about the mountain being his first love, and my mom his second! And I think that’s typical with the guys who ran Big Mountain… it was such a passion for them. 


Norm and Carolee

In his memoir, Chair One, as told to your sister, Gretchen, Norm tips his cap to so many people who played a role in making the mountain what it is today. 
That’s one thing he drove home with all of us kids: It wasn’t just the mountain… it was the entire valley and everyone in the valley that made it such a wonderful place. 


And if anyone knew a thing or two about how the mountain worked, it was your dad… He’s probably held every role possible!
[Laughs] One of the things that he used to say to me is he would never give a job to someone that he wasn’t willing to do himself. That was huge with my siblings. What made him such a valuable player is that he just jumped in with both feet and did it. He worked hard at anything and everything; people were paying money to come up to Whitefish and he wanted to make sure it was the best time they ever had. 


People were paying money to come up to Whitefish and [Norm] wanted to make sure it was the best time they ever had. — Joni (Kurtz) Wootton
Let’s talk about the beginnings of the Whitefish Winter Carnival.
The drive behind the Carnival was about what can they could do to drive the fun and keep spirits up during the winter. I was still pretty little during that first year, but I know my mom was also deeply involved. A lot of the ornamnets strung up were designed and made by my mom. The old raggedy ann costumes were also made by my mom. It was bits and pieces from what they’d seen elsewhere and tying it all in together, from the Yetis to the Vikings-all the little things made it fun and exciting. 
Ski jouring, Whitefish Montana

Ski jouring, Whitefish Montana

Like so many of the other “fathers” of Whitefish, skiing was in your dad’s blood.
Absolutely. He just enjoyed skiing, period. This is a man who lived and died for the white stuff! After being taught by some of the Mountain Division guys in Washington on how to ski on wooden skis, he was hooked - there was no stopping him. 


Photo Courtesy of the Whitefish Pilot

Whitefish Mountain Resort recently cut a run in Norm’s honor called One Grand Parade. How do you think that honors his legacy in Whitefish?
Throughout dad’s life on the mountain, he would fight like crazy for all the runs they wanted to do and he was instrumental in putting in the chairlifts and expanding. When it comes to One Grand Parade, I think he would be proud that it was a newly cut run…. that pretty much sums up his life. Dad took a huge pride in the mountain and making it the ultimate place people would want to come. 

We feel Norm said it best, on the last page of his book: “For the past 50 years, I’ve worked alongside many in our fair community to build and promote Whitefish and The Big Mountain. Through good times and the bad, it has truly been a labor of love.”

Thank you, Joni for sharing your memories and to all the Kurtz siblings for living your family’s legacy and keeping in tune with the Whitefish community.


* Source: Chair One, by Norm Kurtz
** Source: “The Whitefish Pilot


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