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Community rallies for Best in the West skijoring



A record number of competitors, such as skier John Anderson and rider Audrey Williams pictured here, took to the course for the third annual Best in the West Showdown. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

By Brandon Walker

BIG SKY – Mother Nature did not cooperate for the third annual Best in the West Showdown skijoring event on March 7 and 8 in Big Sky Town Center. Hovering around 50 F, the warm conditions were less than ideal for maintaining snow on the racecourse, but, thanks to an impressive community effort, the event went off without a hitch.

After six other skijoring events were canceled across Montana this season, some worried the Best in the West Showdown would join the growing list—events in Butte, Helena, and Whitefish, were all nixed due to a lack of snow—but the Big Sky Skijoring Association wouldn’t hear of it.

That said, the Best of the West required hefty amounts of effort and support from local companies and community members to pull off according to BSSA race organizer Justa Adams. 

“I’m overwhelmed with the community’ generosity,” Adams said in a phone call with EBS after the event. “My entire team’s effort to … divide and conquer … made this a successful event. My volunteers that showed up stayed there and stuck [it] out through the mud.”

Area businesses supplied a loader, rock truck, dump trucks and operators free of charge to ensure enough snow remained on the 800-foot course to make it suitable for competition. Dick Anderson Construction, Rent Biz, TMC Transport and American Excavation each donated supplies and labor, moving 300 loads—or 2,000 yards—of snow onto the track over the week leading up to the event. 

The effort equated to about $25,000 for the Best in the West Showdown. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without our original sponsors, but specifically [without] the additional $25,000 in time and donations last week, we wouldn’t have had a race,” she said.

A record 120 teams came out to compete, up from the 92 that raced in last year’s event, according to Adams. Six different levels of competition were on display and competitors had to navigate through 15 to 20 gates on the course, dependent on their level of competition. Each gate a team missed resulted in penalties that added time onto their run.

Safety was paramount for the BSSA team throughout the weekend. Former skijor competitor-turned-BSSA member and course designer Colin Cook, volunteer equipment operator Patrick McVey and veterinarian Jacy Cook were constantly surveying the course to ensure it was safe to race on. The competition was stopped a handful of times for fresh snow and salt to be added to the course, and for a groomer to scrape away excess slushy snow as temperatures rose. 

In the highest level of competition, the Open Division, skier RJ Klotz and rider Josh Abbott stormed back to claim the top spot in the overall results, with a combined time of 33.87 seconds between the two days, just ahead of Aaron Griffen and Claudia Schmidt, riding Clyde, who finished at 33.99 combined. 

A difference of nearly two full seconds between Klotz and Abbott’s Saturday run compared to their time on Sunday made up the ground that they originally trailed. Griffen and Schmidt also took home third place overall with a combined time of 34.02 seconds riding Schmidt’s other horse Zeek.

“It’s awesome because this is only the fourth race I’ve made it to this year,” said Schmidt, the 2019 National Skijoring America Champion, of competing at the Best in the West Showdown. Schmidt, who lives in Gallatin Gateway, competed in 11 competitions last year. “We just don’t have any snow and it’s been really hard for a lot of races trying to make it work,” she said.

Adams, grateful to have held the Best in the West Showdown in the spring-like conditions, is already looking toward next season and perhaps some cooler weather.

“White and fluffy snow and no mud,” she said. “Hopefully.”

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