Winter Racers, Take Your Marks

Three months of weekly races are set to provide competitive opportunities

By Micah Drew
Travis Brown, right, leads racers up NBC during the Whitefish Whiteout at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 16, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The 2022 Winter Olympics are just weeks away, and every viewer will have the chance to wonder what it’s like to perform on the largest world stage. Now that northwest Montana is firmly in the clutches of winter, everyone can break out their skis and snowboards and tap into the local pool of competitive energy and imagine taking part in a smaller, but no less exciting, Olympiad. Here’s a quick guide to help navigate your way to the starting chutes.  

Cross Country Skiing

For the horizontally inclined, there is no shortage of opportunities to spike your heart rate and kick, glide and skate laps with competitors. 

In Whitefish, 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 through Feb. 15. Races begin at 6:05 p.m. and distances and teams are adjusted by the organizers to accommodate most ages and ability levels. 

Returning in its original structure is the Carnival Classic, a series of 1-, 4-, and 12-kilometer classic races starting at Grouse Mountain Lodge on Feb. 6. Each event will be subdivided into sections of 25 racers for safety. 

Want to go longer? Montana’s premier skiing sufferfest, the OSCR, celebrates its 40th anniversary on Jan. 29 in Seeley Lake. The 50-kilometer race marks the milestone by returning to a single-loop course at the base of the Swan Mountains and includes 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Although “OSCR” originally stood for the “Ovando to Seeley Citizens Race,” it now stands for “Over Seeley’s Creeks and Ridges.”

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

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

Wednesday Night Skimo Race League 

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, takes place every Wednesday of January with a different course each week. 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, skis or a splitboard, a helmet, headlamp, and at least some wayfinding ability. Entrants can choose how many laps to register for based on ability. 

Friday Night Franks

On Jan. 21 and Feb. 25, aerial aficionados can hit the terrain park for either a Rail Jam or Slopestyle event. Each group of competitors will play their own game of H-O-R-S-E by calling out a trick of their choice and challenging their competitors to complete it. Both events will feature a cookout for all riders and skiers. 

President’s Park — Slopestyle and Rail Jam

February’s holiday weekend provides the best opportunity for skiers and snowboarders to throw down their best tricks through the Whitefish terrain parks and channel their inner Maggie Voisin. Following Saturday’s Rail Jam competition there will be a torchlight parade and fireworks show. 

Beacon file photo

Whitefish Whiteout

Mountaineering junkies can get their fix in this race on Feb. 12. 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.

Tommy Moe Kids League

For the younger competitors (ages 5-12), Sunday mornings are dedicated to low-key, non-intimidating races. The January series has two more weeks of ski racing to come. The courses alternate between a giant slalom and a slightly tighter slalom course each week.

Whitefish Banked Slalom

This Feb. 5 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.

Beacon file photo

22nd Annual Nate Chute Classic

The Nate Chute Classic, returning March 19-20, 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. 29; Saturday, March. 5; and Saturday, March 12.

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

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

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