Building a Ski Race Culture from an Early Age

By Beacon Staff

During a successful professional ski career, Jay Sandelin broke the world record in gelande jumping and was a top-tier speed skier. But coming from a poor family, the opportunity to race as a kid wasn’t there. He had to create those opportunities on his own as he grew older.

With that in mind, for the past two years Sandelin has helped raise money for the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation, which provides funding to operate the Whitefish Mountain Resort Race Team.

Sandelin, the owner of Great Northern Powder Guides, believes that if you give kids the tools and resources they need, there’s no telling where skiing might take them. Maybe they’ll grow up to break a world record.

“I didn’t have much money and I wasn’t able to race when I was kid,” Sandelin said. “Having this organization helps the kids – that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t do it when they’re kids, down the road you won’t have good skiers.”

This year, the Whitefish Mountain Resort Race Team has a record turnout of 84 athletes, compared to 52 last year, according to Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation board president Bill Kahle. There are a handful of adults, but the vast majority of athletes are kids.

The program is in its second year under sole guidance of the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation. Previously, Whitefish Mountain Resort was the underwriter on the program’s major expenses, with the foundation board playing more of a complementary role. But the foundation decided it made the most sense to break away on its own, and the resort agreed, Kahle said.

“We still have the cooperation of the resort,” Kahle said. “We have a great relationship.”

To accommodate the influx of athletes, the program hired three new coaches this year and filled a fourth open position, head coach Roy Loman said. There are now 10 coaches total. Loman, a former ski racer, is in his sixth year of coaching the program, which features a junior team for ages 6-12, a youth ski league, an elite program for older kids, and a master’s program for adults.

Loman says the Whitefish Mountain Resort Race Team has much to offer beyond simply making better skiers out of kids.

“Competition in itself has a lot of things of value – sportsmanship, hard work and persistence – which all make a better person and a better member of the community,” he said. “Those are things that we think are important and try to emphasize as well.”

Fourteen-year-old Cameron Welch turns through a gate during a recent giant slalom practice with the Whitefish Mountain Race Team. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The foundation, led by a volunteer board and enthusiastic parents, has managed to keep up with the program’s growth through generous corporate sponsors, grants and successful fundraisers such as a live auction earlier this winter. The auction, part of the annual “Showcase of the Chefs” event, featured a full day of backcountry snowcat skiing, donated by Sandelin.

Scott Ruta, owner of the Sport Center and Whitefish Therapy, was the top bidder for the backcountry ski trip. Sandelin said the Jan. 19 trip was a success, and he was glad it contributed to what he sees as an important cause. He says the foundation is doing a good job growing the race program.

“They’re working toward the right goal,” he said.

Kahle said he’s “happy with how things have come together over the last several years.”

“Ski racing is alive and well in the Flathead Valley, for sure,” he said. “Parents can feel comfortable that their kids are going to be much better skiers when they’re done with the program.”

For more information, visit www.fvsef.org.

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