In a cringe-inducing twist to the traditional charity event, big gulps of emulsified McDonald’s Happy Meals and vomit-inducing “beer miles” are proving to be a lucrative means of raising money and awareness for suicide prevention.
So begins the final countdown to the 17th annual Nate Chute Classic, a banked slalom and boardercross contest at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain.
The event – the longest continuously running banked slalom in the lower-48 – 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 poignant 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.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s competition, a handful of veteran competitors began a friendly contest to see who could raise the most money, advertising their fundraising campaigns via a series of video stunts posted to social media.
In one revolting video post, Ben Croft, of Missoula, places a McDonald’s Happy Meal into a blender and swallows a gut-wrenching gulp for each donation to his account on Crowdrise, a website designed for nonprofits.
Inspired by Croft’s antics, Jason Forrest, sales manager at Whitefish Mountain Resort and a board member of the Nate Chute Foundation, organized a “beer mile,” a self-effacing event that requires participants to chug a beer at the beginning of each quarter-mile lap, predictably resulting in a carbonated liquid eruption, posting his video on Facebook and Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/158542695) along with a call for donations.
Not to be outshined, Croft delivered on the challenge, and posted his own video at https://vimeo.com/158676617.
“It’s been awesome. The Happy Meal alone gave me a $350 boost, so I’ve raised over $1,000 with a week to go,” Croft said. “That’s double what I raised last year. It’s amazing what a little self-deprecation, suffering and entertainment can do.”
An avid snowboarder raising a family in Missoula, Croft said he first entered the Nate Chute Classic three years ago after learning about the cause.
“I have lost several friends to suicide, including a good friend and co-worker last year,” Croft said. “This is a problem that continues to grow, and the fact that I have two young ones myself who are going to face the trials of being a teenager has inspired me to raise awareness about suicide prevention.”
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.
For more information about the Nate Chute Classic, the Nate Chute Foundation and, new this year, a fundraiser featuring a Calcutta and raffle with proceeds benefiting the Nate Chute Foundation, visit natechutefoundation.org.
Registration is open until March 18 at 1 p.m.