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Big Sky’s freeride athletes vie for world tour qualification

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A female snowboard competitor reaches the finish line corral amid cheers from spectators. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – A small crowd gathered in Stillwater Bowl on Friday afternoon, eyes turned toward the Headwaters ridgeline at Big Sky Resort, following the tiny movements of the skiers and riders waiting above for their turn to drop into Three Forks for the Freeride World Tour Qualifiers. Gasps and cheers punctuated the crisp spring air alongside the banter of the commentators.

Male snowboard competitor Brian Stenerson, who later took first place in his division. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

“Bib 32 dropping in three … two … one …” crackled the walkie-talkie on the judge’s table. A lone snowboarder dropped into Three Forks, a run on the far end of the Headwaters ridge, and danced down the side of the mountain, a speck of colorful clothing against a snow-white backdrop.

Now in their third year, the FWQs are hosted by the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation and funnels some of the foundation’s best athletes from their junior freeride programs into the Freeride World Tour where they’ll compete on an international level in resorts in Switzerland, Andorra and Japan. Friday’s event consisted of four-star athletes over the age of 18 in four different categories: ski female, ski male, snowboard female and snowboard male. Each run is judged based on five elements: line control, technique, fluidity, style and energy.

Freeride competitors hike along Headwaters ridge to the start of the run before competing. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

“We’re super stoked to be involved,” said BSSEF’s Head Coach and founder of the FWQ, Wallace Casper. “It’s amazing to be holding events and seeing the other side of being an event organizer and seeing all the back work of it. It’s been a lifelong passion for me and a dream come true.”

Casper, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, has been skiing competitively since he was 11 at local mountains such as Snowbird and Alta. While at Montana State University, he founded the MSU Freeride Team and ran it for two years before joining BSSEF in 2016. The foundation had all the programs in place to train freeride junior athletes, so Casper saw the opportunity to grow the program to serve adult competitions as well and worked with the FWQ to make it a reality at Big Sky Resort. He says with the mountain’s “steep and gnarly” terrain, it was a natural fit.

Spectators stand in Stillwater Bowl near the finish line. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

“The terrain at Big Sky is world class,” Casper said. “We’re the only resort with triple black diamonds and it just seemed like a great place to hold the FQT.”

See the full FWQ Four-Star results provided by BSSEF.

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