By Abbie Digel, Explorebigsyk.com Editor

Moonlight Basin employees on Feb. 27 lined up on the edges of the Madison Avenue run, cowbells in hand.

As Special Olympics racers dashed past the crowd on snowshoe, the crowd roared, the ring of the cowbells echoing in the cold air.

The competitors crossed the finish line, and family members and other volunteers greeted the athletes with hugs and hoorays. The same enthusiasm stirred the ranks on Cup ‘o Joe and Wagon Train runs, where athletes skied through gates, with volunteers and spectators posted at every turn, cowbells in hand.

This was the third Special Olympics Big Sky Area Winter Games at Moonlight. It’s special event, said Moonlight events coordinator Ersin Ozer, “because everyone can get involved and share their love for outdoor sports with people who don’t have the opportunity to make it out here every day.”

This was the first year athletes rode the Six Shooter lift, which opened up even more terrain for the intermediate and advanced skiers, said Penni Koplin,
winter games coordinator for the Big Sky area.

The athletes—27 skiers and 11 snowshoers—represented teams from the Belgrade Panthers, Bozeman Schools Hawks, Bozeman Outreach Bobcats, REACH Renegades and the Gallatin Valley Bears.

“It was so exciting to see how well our Special Olympics athletes took to Moonlight’s terrain with their ski volunteers,” said Koplin. Many of the volunteers also work with Eagle Mount, the athletes also benefited from their experiences through that program.

Heather West, a restaurant owner in Bozeman, skied alongside athlete Ty Sherwood all day. He skied a great run, and said he was looking forward to beating his time in the finals. West decided to volunteer this year because she skis at Moonlight regularly and wanted to share her enthusiasm for the sport.

Koplin also expressed gratitude toward Moonlight Basin, which donated close to 80 lift tickets. Moonlight Basin staff helped with course set up, provided use of the pavilion, and ensured they were doing everything possible to make the athletes and volunteers welcome for the competition, Koplin said.

“General manager Greg Pack has also joined us for opening ceremonies and enjoyed watching how excited our athletes get during the ribbon ceremonies. We feel like royalty for how Moonlight Basin accommodates our needs for the competition.”

The Special Olympics Winter State Games were held in Whitefish on March 4.

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