Flathead Freeride Program Launches on Big Mountain

The new ski club offers coaching for top level young athletes to participate in IFSA competitions across the region

By Maggie Dresser
Townsend Reed hikes his skis up the mountain during the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Jeep Junior Freeski 2022. Photo by Andrew Chad

After a handful of young skiers competed in Junior International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA) events, a nationwide freeride skiing competition series, local skier and coach Kyle Taylor saw a demand for the sport in which he once competed.

Through the Flathead Valley Ski Education Foundation (FVSEF), Taylor and Danner Pickering started the Flathead Freeride program this year where they coach young skiers to compete in freeriding competitions with the goal of heading to the Freeride World Tour when they graduate from the program.

Differing from the mountain’s race team and freestyle team, the freeride program focuses on all-mountain skiing skills like choosing big ski lines and hitting features where they are judged on technique, fluidity, style and energy.

“I think kids get burnt out with the structure of ski racing,” Taylor said. “This kind of skiing is more fun and it’s what they see in the ski movies. I think the kids have the freedom to express themselves.”

This year, the new freeride team has 11 athletes ages 12 to 18 with nine boys and two girls, and Taylor hopes to have more next year after he turned away a handful of skiers this year.

“There was a need for this team,” Taylor said. “The kids were skiing in these competitions on their own and they needed a program.”

Townsend Reed skis during the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Jeep Junior Freeski 2022. Photo by Andrew Chad

Nationwide, Taylor says interest in freeride programs is rising and teams continue to pop up at other ski resorts in Montana including Big Sky Resort, Snowbowl and Red Lodge where many of the teams are full.

Earlier this month, the freeride team traveled to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in British Columbia where 15-year-old Townsend Reed placed third and 15-year-old Anders Soylad placed eighth. Skiers recently competed at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and will travel to Big Sky Resort and Grand Targhee Resort later this season.

Athletes train on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays with the Flathead Freeride team, starting with a few warmup runs and eventually hit features all over Big Mountain’s terrain. In addition to inbounds skiing, coaches are also providing avalanche education for athletes who have backcountry aspirations, and the coaches have plans to offer an Avalanche Level 1 course next season. Filming and social media influence are other aspects of the program to attract sponsors.

Historically, local professional skiers like Maggie Voisin and Parker Costain have left the Flathead Valley to train elsewhere and Taylor says the freeride program gives skiers an opportunity to stay at home and to continue training and competing.

In the future, Taylor hopes to grow the program through FVSEF with potential plans to host a freeride competition at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

“We’re trying to grow the program and have an alternate outlet for kids to compete and become better skiers,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to give the kids some options beyond ski racing.”

For more information, visit www.fvsef.org.

Anders Soyland skis during the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Jeep Junior Freeski 2022. Photo by Andrew Chad

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