By Abbie Digel, Explorebigsky.com Editor

BIG SKY – Big Sky and the Gallatin Valley were put on the national stage once again, thanks to a partnership between the Big Sky and Bridger Ski Education Foundations.

On Friday, March 16, about 170 racers from across the West competed in a giant slalom on Ramshorn at Big Sky Resort. It was the Western J3 Regional Championships, and racers ages 12 – 13 traveled with their families from as far as Alaska to compete at Big Sky Resort and Bridger Bowl.

The race, which spanned the weekend with two days at Big Sky and two at Bridger, and planned in conjunction with the Bridger Ski Foundation, was just one of the many race weekends hosted in the area during the ski season.

Big Sky Ski Education Foundation president Eric Becker put together an economic impact survey for the Jan. 21-22 Youth Ski League race held at Big Sky Resort.
The only one of its kind since Becker began his term as president of BSSEF two years ago, the survey was given to parents of participants in order to look more deeply into the impact these races have on the community.

The survey results from this race were understated and don’t represent the overall economic benefit of the race, Becker said. That’s because expenses such as travel costs and athlete coaching fees were beyond the scope of the study. However, it does show an accurate snapshot of the micro benefit of hosting races.

For each racer in attendance, an average of two family members along, and most groups stayed at the Huntley Lodge at Big Sky Resort. The younger age groups, like the J3s who raced on March 16, bring in more revenue because parents and families still come to chaperone and watch.

The total estimated expenditures for the 180 racers in attendance at Big Sky Resort at the January races were approximately $65,121, or $362 per racer in attendance, the survey reported.

These numbers are important because they give Becker and the BSSEF board a better grasp as to where racing families spend their money in town, and which facets of the event work well.

“It’s important to us to put on a great event, especially because we work under the arm of the resort, and because the resort to also needs to know this information,” Becker said. “The [resorts] want to know how they can better market to the ski racers and their families.”

The survey also included a comment area where most parents praised the resort and foundation for a job well done.

“This is why Big Sky is regularly selected to host the higher level races,” Becker said. “It’s both fun for us, and is a reflection of the good job [the hosts] do.”

This year, in tradition with past years, championship races for all age groups from youth to masters have been held in Big Sky and the Gallatin Valley.

Becker stressed that like other Big Sky nonprofits, BSSEF receives public money from foundations and donors.

“The cool thing is when people support our organization, it helps us generate our own economy right back into the community.” And in significant amounts. In the case of the January YSL race, hundreds of thousands of dollars were generated, and that was just in Big Sky.

Local ski teams, both race and freestyle, have the highest participation numbers among all the sports at Ophir School and Lone Peak High School. So, Becker said, “by supporting the ski team, you are supporting the most local kids and families as you can through our organization. It’s good return on charitable giving.”

As for the March J3 race, representatives of from the U.S. national team were there scouting the young racers, as well as an estimated 43 coaches, and several ski, boot and binding manufacturers.

The racers that weekend were part of the main U.S. development pipeline, and will most likely move onto the national team, said Tony Nunnikhoven, Alpine program director for the Bridger Ski Foundation. “In terms of what it did for the Gallatin Valley, this race was very much on the national stage.” The only other two events of this caliber were held this year at Vail and Sugarloaf.

Nunnikhoven also said that with the press in ski racing publications, and the conversations the racers and their families will have following the race, “we put on a great show and all [who attended] left with a great impression of Montana skiing.”