By J.C. Knaub

BIG SKY SKI EDUCATION FOUNDATION

On Andesite Mountain at Big Sky Resort are three ski runs that see a lot of action beyond the realm of just free skiing: Hangman’s, Tippy’s Tumble and Big Horn. Since the resort opened in the early 1970s, these runs have served as the primary location of alpine ski racing events.

Starting Feb. 7, the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation will host the U18 Northern Division Speed Qualifier for three days of Super G beginning at 10 a.m. each day. Preceding the timed races will be speed training, all on Hangman’s, which has been sanctioned by F.I.S., the international governing body for ski racing. About 90 athletes from 10 ski clubs will be represented, including a large contingent from BSSEF.

Director and Head Coach Jeremy Ueland, now in his 10th year, expects some breakout performances from his athletes, who have the home advantage. The team, which consists of kids ages 6 – 18, trains almost exclusively on Hangman’s, Ueland said. “It has great terrain, a roller in the middle, steep off the top, and we’re adding a speed bump below the start.”

Local youth involvement in ski racing has grown steadily since the nonprofit BSSEF was founded in 1993, and this year boasts its largest enrollment in the history of the club, with more than 140 athletes.

A grassroots organization, the team depends on support from many area businesses, and provides scholarships with support from the Rapier Family Foundation. The myriad of players in our ski racing programs include the United States Ski Association – Northern Division; BSSEF; Big Sky Resort; and most importantly, our local parents.

With one of the top alpine training and F.I.S. approved race venues in the country, Big Sky Resort has over the years hosted a slew of National Championships, Junior Olympics, and college and masters races.

Local interest has also grown rapidly in BSSEF’s free-ride program, which now has 22 participants. The team trains on various runs at the resort including the north side of Lone Mountain in the Headwaters, a world-class competition venue, and also travels around Montana and the Northern Rockies to compete.

What it comes down to is this: Our youth are our greatest assets. Keeping them active in these phenomenal winter sports is one of the healthiest, positive things we can give to our children.

With the backdrop of our U.S. Ski Team athletes competing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Big Sky athletes can visualize a concrete goal while watching the events unfold. Who knows, some of these youngsters may be competing in future Olympics down the road, say Big Sky in 2026?

J.C. Knaub is a Level 4 USSA Technical Delegate and former BSSEF coach, president of the board of BSSEF and the USSA Northern Division.