By Doug Hare EBS SPORTS EDITOR
After a long spell of frigid temperatures, the sunshine finally returned just in time for the 2019 Big Sky Headwaters Spring Runoff IFSA Junior Regional 2* competition, held March 9-10. On Saturday, competitors battled on Dead Goat and Obsidian terrain for the chance to qualify for a final run on Sunday. The event was judged by Joe Turner, Evad Vanspoor and Kristen Cooper.
“We were fortunate to have had great weather and with some smart skiing by the athletes in the qualifying rounds, we were able to take 55 competitors onto the world-class venue of Three Forks for the finals where we saw some very impressive skiing,” said Pete Manka, who announced and helped coordinate the event.
By the end of the weekend, the Big Sky Freeride team had athletes in first place in every division except for one. Kennedy Cochenour finished first in U12 female ski division and Blaise Ballantyne took home first in U12 male ski and also won the Spirit award with the help of a big 540 at the bottom of the venue and a stylish ski switch entrance into the corral.
“Super fun venue. So fun to get together with all the freeride athletes that I’ve gotten to know over the years in Big Sky. Everyone did an awesome job! All of my coaches: Wallace Casper, Cooper Rausch, Drew DeWolf and Joey Thompson, they did a great job of getting me to the podium,” Ballantyne said. “They all just tell me to go full send. I also want to thank Parkin Costain and Gardner Dominick for inspecting with me and psyching me up for this competition.”
Andrew Smith took home first prize in the highly competitive U14 male ski division with a Sunday run that catapulted him from fourth to first. Elijah Singer won the U12 snowboard male and his older brother Isaac won the U14 snowboard male division.
“To have me and Isaac both finish in first place is awesome. It has been coming for a while now and it just so happened to be here at home,” Elijah Singer said.
“Watching your kids compete in extreme sports is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I’m really proud of Isaac and Elijah. They work really hard each weekend getting up early and training all weekend with their coaches. And it seems to be paying off!” said Jill Myers Singer, mother of Elijah and Isaac. “Watching both of them take the first place spots in their respective categories at their home mountain is indescribable for us and for them!”
“The team and I have trained really hard this year, so to be able to win at the mountain I love so much is huge for me!” Isaac added.
A different duo of Big Sky siblings also both won their respective divisions. Skylar Manka won the U14 female ski category and her sister Nehalem easily won her U18 female ski section with the highest combined score of any athlete on the weekend.
Luuk MacKenzie had the highest scoring run of the weekend on Sunday, which moved him from fifth place to first in the U18 male skier division.
“Our team has been having a blast this year and I’m stoked on our performance this weekend as well as this entire season. Our athletes excel in steep terrain and are very good at ‘reading rocks,’ as I like to call it,” Coach Wallace Casper said.
Casper noted that his squad has captured podium spots all over the country this season and his athletes are some of the highest ranked in the country.
“The whole team has been super-committed this season and we have spent a lot of time working on technical skills and have dialed in a lot of good training zones,” Casper said. “I really like our venues because they give competitors experience in entry-level mountain navigation. If you compete in Big Sky, you’ve got to like hiking! It was a super fun weekend. Props to all the volunteers, competitors and employees involved in making this happen.”
According to Casper, the biggest surprise of the weekend was watching Max Bass from Aspen, Colorado, spin over 1440 degrees in competition between his two runs. He had back-to-back 360s spinning in both directions, as well as a switch 180 off the cornice on the top of Obsidian.
Did you miss the action? Don’t worry. Another freeride competition is slated for March 29-31. The IFSA Big Sky Headwaters World Qualifier 2* will showcase adult freeride athletes trying to tackle the same terrain that our juniors crushed in their hometown event.