The biggest snowboarding contest in Montana might also be the friendliest, and while the annual Nate Chute Classic is a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog affair, the riders who converge on Big Mountain every year to honor their fallen friends compete in the spirit of raising awareness for suicide prevention.
The banked slalom and boardercross event is named after Nate Chute, a well-known Whitefish local who took his own life after graduating from high school in 1999. His sudden, tragic death rocked the community, and served as a gut-wrenching reminder of an epidemic plaguing Montana, a state that consistently ranks in the top five for suicide rates.
After their son’s death, father Terry Chute and mother Jane Kollmeyer devoted themselves to trying to prevent other families from experiencing the same anguish. With the help of Nate’s friends, many of whom have competed in the event every year while raising thousands of dollars, the family established the Nate Chute Foundation, a nonprofit with the goal of raising funds for suicide awareness and prevention services aimed at high school and middle school students.
“It’s special because it’s giving back to my hometown and the place I grew up in,” said Shane Moulder, one of Nate’s best friends and an event organizer. “We want to be out there as the go-to organization and we want the community to know that this isn’t just a snowboarding competition, we are giving back to our local youth.”
Among other programs, the NC Foundation supports the Whitefish High School Student Assistance Program, a crisis intervention program that provides trained guidance counselors who can offer help and resources to students who need support. The counselors assist students in developing life skills and problem-solving abilities as a way to cope with situations before they become crises. Similar programs have been launched in school districts throughout the Flathead Valley.
In 2014, more than 300 school-aged kids participated in the program, and the NC Foundation funded facilitator training for 50 teachers, administrators, counselors and students. The Foundation also provided mental health counseling for individual youths at risk of suicide, and hired a part-time executive director to assist the volunteer board of directors to provide services more effectively to the community.
“We have just gotten rave reviews from faculty, student facilitators and peer groups,” Terry Chute said. “We’ve been able to train up some students to co-facilitate those peer groups and it’s been a very powerful thing.”
To raise funds for the NC Foundation and area resources, Whitefish Mountain Resort is hosting the 16th annual Nate Chute Classic, a snowboarder competition that raises money for the NC Foundation. A cash prize of nearly $4,000 is up for grabs in the banked slalom and boardercross event, slated for March 21-22.
The event usually attracts upwards of 130 competitors, who race through a course consisting of jumps, banks and rollers while jostling for position. The top two riders advance to the next round and each rider has at least two chances before being eliminated.
And while the fun-filled weekend draws riders from throughout the Pacific Northwest, competitors become involved even before the much-anticipated races using Crowdrise, a website designed for nonprofits. This year, the NC Foundation hopes to raise $10,000.
In the months leading up to the competition, a handful of Nate’s high school friends, including Moulder and Mark Delorme, began a friendly contest to see who could raise the most money, and the Whitefish natives have each raised more than $1,000.
Moulder, who grew up riding on Big Mountain with Nate, said the annual competition is a fitting memorial for his lost friend, combining the thrill of riding and racing on a fast hometown course with friends and family to support an important cause.
“We work really hard to try to keep it fun and light with an atmosphere that reflects our childhoods and how much fun we had growing up on the mountain,” Moulder, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, said. “I come back every year for the contest. I’ve never missed one and I always try to be a big supporter, and I’m always blown away by how supportive everyone is. A bunch of us help build the race course and tweak it out and put a personal touch on it. That has been fun every year, having some control over the features. It really harkens back to the days when we were teenagers just snowboarding and hanging out.”
After Nate’s death, his friends and family wanted to create an event that reconciled the teen’s passion for snowboarding and the despair they felt in wondering if they could have done more to help him. The idea for the Nate Chute Classic was born as a throwback to the old Hawaiian Classic snowboarding competition on Big Mountain, the first snowboarding event that Nate ever competed in at the age of 15, racing against the likes of pro-snowboarders Andrew Crawford and Travis Parker.
Nate’s longtime friend Canyon Florey asked his high school welding class – a course that Nate enjoyed in his school years – to build trophies for the competition, and for 16 years running the hardware has featured a snowboard propped against a palm tree, paying homage to the original Hawaiian Classic.
“Our idea was just to create an event where Nate’s friends would get together once a year for a good cause and to remember an amazing person, and I’m stoked that the tradition has continued,” Florey said.
Terry Chute said the Foundation’s goals also include expanding outreach of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program to provide financial assistance to under or uninsured youth for crisis mental health counseling; providing suicide prevention and intervention training to local educators, health providers, police, and others in local communities; and continuing to raise awareness of youth suicide and suicide prevention services.
On March 21, the banked slalom will take riders through the lower section of the boardercross course into George’s Gorge below Chair 7. It is a timed event that seeds racers for the Sunday boardercross event.
On March 22, the biggest boardercross in Montana (and one of the biggest in the Northwest) will get underway with more than 100 riders competing for the title.
“It’s a really tight, kind of gnarly course,” Delorme said of the boardercross.
But at the end of the day, the event is about remembering Nate and other lost friends, like Whitefish snowboarder Aaron Robinson who died riding in Chile in 2011. To honor them, riders converge at the summit at the end of the races for a moment of silence, followed by a moment of loudness and a “Lap for the Lost.”
“Honestly, at any point during the weekend you can look to your right and look to your left and you’ve just made two new friends,” Moulder said. “I hope I never have to miss it. I hope I’m 60 and still riding in this contest.”
A slate of fundraising events will take place in the days leading up to the races, and event details are available at http://skiwhitefish.com/event-details/?e=21.
For more information about the NC Foundation, visit www.natechutefoundation.org.
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