By Doug Hare EBS SPORTS EDITOR
Ski season might be an afterthought in the middle of the summer for most, but Big Sky’s most talented skiers and riders take advantage of the fact that Montana boasts North America’s only summer-specific ski destination, Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area, located 23 miles south of Red Lodge.
The Beartooth Basin IFSA FWQ 2* Summer Shredfest, held June 18-22, technically marks the beginning of the 2020 freeride season, and numerous Big Sky athletes return to the top of the Beartooth Highway every June to get some turns and test their mettle on a uniquely difficult venue featuring massive cornices, cliffs and chutes.
“The Summer Shredfest is an epic weeklong celebration of ski culture and competition in the heart of some of the most spectacular terrain in North America,” said Pete Manka, former BSSEF freeride coach who also judged the event.
“You never know what the weather will be like. It’s a short and steep venue, so you have to use as many features as possible. We even got to use a little bit of the park this year. It was awesome to hit a rail in my final run,” said Blaise Ballantyne, who finished in second place in his first competition in the 12-14 age bracket for male skiers by putting down multiple smooth 360s.
Ballantyne finished behind Preston Smith, another BSSEF freeride athlete who is no stranger to finding podium spots at IFSA competitions. Preston’s older brother Andrew finished in second place in the 15-18 male skier division. The Smith brothers split their time between a ranch in North Dakota and Big Sky during the winter months.
“We lucked out with the weather and had two full days of sunshine and perfect corn on the venue,” said BSSEF Coach Wallace Casper. “What I’m most excited about is that almost every Big Sky athlete increased their score on the second day meaning they were skiing at the best of their abilities. Very excited to see what these kids do this coming season.”
In the adult division, the Samuels brothers continued to prove that they are some of the most exciting skiers and riders on the freeride qualifying circuit. “We headed to the Beartooths to have some fun and ski in the summer. Pretty hyped about how things ended up. It’s a super relaxed competition put on by some good people. I’m looking to have a blast traveling around next year.” said Chase Samuels, a rising senior at Montana State University who finished in second place in the male skier division.
“It was a crazy unique competition, and it’s always fun to get out riding in the summer. I’m just stoked the [competition] went off!” said Holden Samuels, who won the male snowboard division. The younger Samuels, a sophomore this fall at Colorado University at Boulder, narrowly missed qualifying for the Freeride World Tour in his rookie season as an adult competitor last season.
“Holden has the skill set to compete and win at the highest level against the best in the world. It will be fun to watch him this season,” Manka said after watching him put down another first place performance.