Sports

Winter Competitions Set to Heat Up Whitefish

Three months of weekly races offer competitive opportunities to newbies and pros alike

Winter is in full swing at Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR).

As the holiday crowds dwindle, local competitions on the mountain are just starting to heat up. Dozens of races over the next three months will provide skiers and snowboarders a chance to scratch their competitive itch.

Hillary Howell, WMR Events Coordinator, said the mountain’s masking and social distancing policies will be in place for all events, and staff are dedicated to making as many changes as necessary for participant safety. Mandatory online pre-registration will be required (https://skiwhitefish.com/events/), awards ceremonies will take place outside in a shortened format, and there will be some virtual competitions in order to avoid bigger crowds.

“We know it was a really long COVID season and people are itching to get outside,” Howell said. “We’re really excited that we’re able to offer everything to give people something to look forward to as long as we can.”

Wednesday Night Skimo Race League and Giant Slalom Race League

Skiers skin uphill at the start of the ski mountaineering race at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 18, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Wednesday night league is a casual racing environment where glory takes a backseat to having a good time.

The ski mountaineering (skimo) league, where racers skin up the course and ski down, kicks off Jan. 9 and features five weeks of racing — a different course each Wednesday of January with a fan favorite course returning on March 5. All races are from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., giving everyone the chance to make it up after work.

Racers are required to have skins, a helmet, headlamp and at least some wayfinding ability. Entrants can choose how many laps to register for based on ability.

In February, the race league shifts to giant slalom, where two courses will be set with 14-17 giant slalom gates. There will be five weeks of competitions where participants can race as part of a team, against the clock, or challenging a buddy.

The races are open to alpine skiers, telemark skiers and snowboarders, all competing in their own category.

Inaugural Whitefish Open Race

New this year, the Whitefish Open on Jan. 9 will kick off the downhill racing season. The early season giant slalom race course will be set up with 13-17 gates on Lower Hellroaring run to Lower Ed’s run and is described as “not too turny, not too fast,” meant to give anyone interested the chance to speed up and have fun.

Tommy Moe Kids League

For the younger competitors (ages 5-12), Sunday mornings are dedicated to low-key, non-intimidating races. The series kicked off on Jan. 3, with four more weeks of ski racing to come and a bye week on Jan. 16. The courses alternate between a giant slalom and a slightly tighter slalom course each week.

Whitefish Banked Slalom

A snowboarder competes for the fastest time in the Biggie Banks Series banked slalom event on the north side of Big Mountain at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 19, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

This Jan. 30 event takes skiers and snowboarders to the backside of the mountain to take advantage of George’s Gorge, a steep-walled ravine that serves as a natural halfpipe over a third of a mile long.

Skiers and riders will compete in separate divisions, with each competitor allowed two timed runs to compete for the $100 top prize. The field is limited to 100 racers, and the event has sold out for the last three years.

The course will be closed in the days leading up to the event so staff can hand-build dozens of berms and features. Staff will be on hand to ensure there is no poaching during the closure.

22nd Annual Nate Chute Classic

The Nate Chute Classic, returning March 20-21, is the second-longest running snowboard banked slalom in the U.S. and third-longest in North America, where racers compete for a $4,000 purse and the chance to gain entry into next year’s Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom.

More importantly, the two-day event is a “Contest for a Cause,” as it supports suicide prevention and raising awareness among young people in Montana, a state that consistently ranks in the top five nationwide for suicide rates. The event is named after Nate Chute, a Whitefish local who took his own life after graduating from high school in 1999.

Biggie Banks Slalom Series

This entry-level banked slalom/cross race series, which started in 2019, is designed for a wider variety of ages and abilities, offering more manageable courses for beginners while still allowing more experienced riders and skiers to test their skills on some challenging lines. The hand-built courses are shorter and less technical than those found during the Whitefish Banked Slalom and Nate Chute events.

Races are scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 23; Saturday, Feb. 20; and Saturday, March 13.

Whitefish Whiteout

Travis Brown, right, leads racers up NBC during the Whitefish Whiteout at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The 2016 edition of the annual ski mountaineering race featured a new long course, challenging racers with a series of four mountain ascents totaling 4,800 feet of climbing. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Mountaineering junkies can get their fix in this race on Feb. 6. Competitors are required to skin and bootpack through a variety of terrain before descending challenging lines.

There will be separate categories for alpine touring skiers, telemark skiers and splitboarders, and competitors choose between a single ascent or short, medium and long course competitions, with a four-hour time limit.

More information for all events, and links to register, can be found at https://skiwhitefish.com/events/.

Glacier Nordic Club Races

Cameron Blake skis at the Glacier Nordic Center in Whitefish on Dec. 28, 2017. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

For the less vertically inclined, the Glacier Nordic Club offers a Tuesday night series of cross country relay races at the Whitefish Lake Golf Course for both classic and skate skiing aficionados. The first race will take place on Jan. 12, and fields will be capped at 22 participants, so pre-registration is required.

The annual Glacier Glide Freestyle Race is held on Jan. 10. Skiers will be able to choose between three freestyle race distances, 1, 5 and 15 kilometers.

More information can be found at https://www.glaciernordicclub.org/events-3/.

micah@flatheadbeacon.com