The Big Mountain Race team is as strong as it’s been in years, with three boys representing Whitefish Mountain Resort competing against some of the best downhill skiers in the country on a regular basis, but even as the present is bright the future shines even brighter.
The Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation (FVSEF) supports the race teams on Big Mountain and has done so since 1973, but when Roy Loman, a Mission Valley native, returned to join FVSEF in 2007, the economy was trending downward and ski racing was an afterthought for most young mountain-goers. More than 12 years later, enrollment in FVSEF programs has nearly quadrupled to over 100 total participants and this year’s collection of skiers ranges across the spectrum in terms of age and ability.
The biggest boom has come at the very bottom of what Tim Hinderman, FVSEF’s executive director, sees as the program’s pyramid. The foundation is the All Mountain Rangers, open to skiers age 7 to 12 who are just learning to ski. There are 60 All Mountain Rangers this year, a significant spike from just last season, when 45 ended the year in the program.
“It’s been a race team forever, but we also really emphasize the development of general skiing skills, and the emphasis on racing kind of evolves as kids work their way up in ability,” Hinderman said.
The “solid base,” as Hinderman describes it, comes from increased interest in the sport and increased attendance at the resort, but it also has something to do with the racers on top of the pyramid. Three boys in the program — Colin Harper, Tyler Anderson and William Lewison — are all skiing on the FIS circuit, the top level for junior ski racers in the world. It is the largest contingent of FIS skiers the organization has had at least since Loman arrived, and all three have “set an example for the program,” according to Hinderman.
“Those three in particular are really good leaders,” Loman added. “Not only are they obviously talented skiers but they share it a lot with the kids. Not all athletes that ski at that level have that kind of openness.”
Harper, Anderson and Lewison were all showing off their skills last weekend in Big Sky at a non-FIS Northern Division event and each came home with loads of hardware. The U-19 competition included giant slalom races on Friday and Saturday, and a slalom race on Sunday. Harper won Friday’s giant slalom and finished no worse than third in any of the races. Anderson earned two fifth-place finishes and a fourth. Lewison was sixth, fourth and fifth on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The three skiers are all relatively new to FIS racing — only Lewison is in his second season — and all three have at least one more season beyond this one. The top ski racers in the world have a chance to earn college scholarships, positions in elite professional races and even the Olympic Games, and while their coaches believe those doors are not closed for any of the three elite skiers in FVSEF program’s right now, there is a whole ecosystem within FVSEF between the bottom and top of the pyramid.
“What we’re really trying to promote is that there’s a whole lot of opportunities,” Hinderman said. “If you enjoy ski racing and you enjoy the culture and the training and the lifestyle and all the things that go with it, if at some point you realize you’re not a candidate for the Olympics, there’s still an opportunity to compete on a competitive circuit.”
Skiers who advance beyond the introductory level can move up to one of two FVSEF development teams, then to U-14 and U-16 teams (the U-16 teams also competed at Big Sky Jan. 3-5). FVSEF also sponsors a Masters team for adults who want to remain competitive in ski racing.
The 2019-20 season has already begun, but FVSEF is still welcoming any interested skiers who want to join at any level. More information is available at www.fvsef.org or by calling Hinderman at (406) 885-2730.