The Legacy of George’s Gorge

So many times at our home mountain—Whitefish Mountain Resort, we fly by the posted signage on powder days, breeze past the historical plaques and artifacts in the Summit House, and chatter endlessly about which runs we’re going to hit next: Summit House to the Ant Hill to East Rim, dropping into Moe-Mentum and onto Russ’s Street back to Chair 1. The names roll off our tongues like last night’s dinner menu. 
 
But what about the stories beyond the chatter? Behind the alliteration and quirky nicknames donned by ski runs on Big Mountain, there are the stories of the men and women who made this place possible. Through a series of posts in collaboration with Whitefish Mountain Resort, we hope to shine a light on some of the legends of Big Mountain.
 
Today’s feature is the late George Prentice, one of the co-founders of Big Mountain.
 

 
Cruising up Chair 7, skiers’ eyes are drawn to the left, following the berms of a natural half-pipe. Although George has since passed away, his legacy lives on as the namesake for that technical backside run—it was one of his favorite ski runs on the mountain. Recently, we caught up with Tom Prentice, George’s son, to fill in the blanks on his father’s lasting legacy.

Gladys Creon, George Prentice, Phyllis Prentice, and Chuck Creon.

 
Walk us through what you know of your dad’s roots.
Tom: My dad was from Great Falls, Montana. He was a civil engineer, and was good friends with Ed Schenck. It was their dream to open a ski area somewhere in Montana. They eventually ended up in Whitefish—where locals were walking up Big Mountain and skiing down. Those same locals encouraged Schenck and Dad to get going, and hooked them up with financial support. 
 

Ed and George sharing a coffee in the lodge with a guest.

 
In the book, “Hellroaring,” by Jean Arthur, your mother, Phyllis, is quoted: “The fellas didn’t have much time to even spend time with their families in those first years of The Big Mountain.” What do you remember from those early years?
I was born in 1948, and the resort opened in 1947. I remember my mom would put my sister and I at the window and my dad would come down the road in his plow, having cleared the roads all the way from the mountain to Pine Street. I also remember how the mountain had such tight operations. The community was supporting the whole process, and Dad and Ed would go out on weekends and sell stock just to meet the demand.
 

George, handing out snow samples in downtown Whitefish, selling the mountain to all who would listen.

 
What stories did your dad tell you about those early days?
He told me about going up to the mountain at all hours of the night, making sure everything worked and was ready for the following day. Everyone from town was always willing to help get that place going. It was something about the way he talked about it—I could feel the passion. Dad was always so proud that he and Ed actually accomplished something they set out to do.  He wasn’t a very emotional man, but every time he told me stories of Big Mountain, he would have a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye. 
 
“He wasn’t a very emotional man, but every time he told me stories of Big Mountain, he would have a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.” — Tom Prentice, of his father, George.
 

George, stringing a communications line for a race.

 
In light of the difficulties, George made the choice to pack up and leave Whitefish as a family. Why?
In 1952, my dad went on to pursue his engineering career, and turned the operation over to Ed. For him, it was the best choice for us—running the mountain didn’t allow him to support a family. 
 
How did that decision affect him?
I don’t think my dad was happy about it. Over time, he never talked about his engineering work, but he always talked about skiing. I’m sure it was a really hard decision for him.
 
Although life took your family elsewhere, it also brought your parents back to Whitefish.
Yes — it was wonderful. I never saw him as happy as he was after they moved back to Whitefish. Before they retired, they didn’t do much of anything.  After they got to Whitefish, they became extremely active in skiing and golfing. Dad started working on the mountain as a ticket manager. My mom was all over the place, in the ski shop, hostessing, working retail at the Summit House. They stayed active on that mountain for as long as they possibly could. 
 

Repairing the T-bar tower in the early days.

 
So they spent their retirement working the mountain?
Yes—and skiing it! The cool thing is that he wanted to be part of that mountain again. He wanted to work up there. I guess that’s the way I feel when I’m up there in the summers; I feel connected. My dad didn’t have to work, but he wanted to. He’s loved that responsibility and that mountain. 
 
In Hellroaring, Arthur says, “Since Prentice enjoyed the snow on the mountain’s north slope during the last few years he skied, The Big mountain honored his service to the skiers of Montana by dedicating George’s Gorge on the north slope to George Prentice.” How do you believe your father’s legacy lives on in Whitefish?
I remember my mom telling me that George’s Gorge was one of my dad’s favorite runs. And Heaven’s Run was where—at their request—I scattered Mom and Dad’s ashes after they passed away. 
 

 
We couldn’t imagine a more lasting—and appropriate—legacy, as one of the co-founders and leaders through the early years of Big Mountain. As Ed Schenck was quoted in The Saturday Evening Post on March 4th, 1950, “Already George (Prentice) and I have started getting letters asking how it happened. ‘It’s easy,’ we tell them, only half remembering the headaches. ‘All you have to do is find a town like Whitefish.’”
 
“Already George (Prentice) and I have started getting letters asking how it happened. ‘It’s easy,’ we tell them, only half remembering the headaches. ‘All you have to do is find a town like Whitefish.’” — Ed Schenck, co-founder of The Big Mountain.
 
Thank you, Tom, for sharing your memories! 

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