Whitefish has a reputation as a charming ski destination in Montana’s northwest corner that welcomes wayward strays, whether that’s for a season or a lifetime. That attitude has helped grow small businesses and local watering holes, and keep friendly faces on the slopes and behind the bar. But in recent years, more and more people have been drawn to the good thing Whitefish has going on. Locals fear that surging popularity — and skyrocketing cost of living — could push out the very characters that make this place so special.
Mara Silvers Welcome to Shared State. I’m Mara Silvers, and this season we’ve been digging into stories about political conflicts and how people are working through them. Today I’m here with Justin Franz. He’s a freelance journalist based in the Flathead Valley. Justin, what are we hearing here?
Justin Franz This is a promotional film made back in the 1970s for Whitefishe’s ski hill.
Speaker 3 “It’s a long way from San Francisco up to Whitefish Montana, especially astride a motorcycle. But for a fella as serious about skiing as Gene is, it’s worth the trouble.”
Justin Franz It’s about a guy named Gene who rides his motorcycle from his home in San Francisco to Whitefish in search of a seasonal job so he can be closer to the great outdoors, good skiing and a good time.
Speaker 3 “Now he was one of those first skiers flying down the mountain over long reaches of trackless power.”
Mara Silvers Honestly, it sounds like Gene is having the best life.
Justin Franz It’s a good one. It’s a good one.
Speaker 3 “Now he was really living.”
Justin Franz I think this this movie shows, sort of, the mythology of the place, a mythology that’s been around for decades, that anyone can come up here and scratch out a life for themselves, either for a single season or for a lifetime. For a long time. That mythology felt real. It felt true, but that’s starting to change.
Mara Silvers So you’ve lived in the valley for about a decade now. What do you mean it’s changing?
Justin Franz I think it’s harder and harder for everyone to find a spot to live in Whitefish. It’s just getting more expensive. It’s getting harder for people to achieve that dream that Gene was going after back in 1971 in this promotional film.
Mara Silvers This time on Shared State, the story of how people in the Flathead Valley are dealing with …….