We ski and snowboard because it’s fun. Once you learn, you get hooked and just want to get better so that you can do more, and go more places in pursuit of said fun. That’s why skiing is a lifelong endeavor, fueled by our passion for the outdoors and desire to go where your friends go and do what your friends do so you can all have fun together.
I believe skiing is a team sport. Some of you may disagree—when it comes to competition, everyone competes individually—but hear me out. We go on ski trips with our family or our friends. We meet up and ski together on our days off—together—because it’s a fun activity to share with others. Proof? Look at chairlifts—there’s no such thing as a single anymore! Skiing and snowboarding can be done alone however, it is way more fun when we go with others who share the same passion.
Take our Freestyle Team for example. These are kids ages 8-17, most of whom ascended through our Kids Programs (Buckaroos, Half Pints, and Development), and wanted to learn more. Kids, who like the speed and power of carving turns choose ski racing. Other kids are naturally drawn to the terrain features like jumps and berms off the sides of runs, or the rails and jumps in the terrain park, so they choose to join our Freestyle Ski & Snowboard Team. There they can hone in on skills of expression—flips, spins and tricks—and take their skills to the next level. They also make friends and have fun.
Part of being on a team, is learning from each other and supporting each other. The team meets up on Friday afternoon for a team stretch, and then kids and coaches head to the terrain parks to practice skills. They will focus on a skill and practice over and over. Coaches are there to model and critique, and teammates encourage each other.
It’s also about having fun together. The team comes back together on Saturday morning, and after stretching they break off with their respective coach to ski the mountain. Again they will focus on one skill, say landing a 180—spinning half-way around and landing backward—then they will ski a couple runs for fun. Kids naturally want to practice what they learned, and do so while freeskiing. They love playing their version of basketball’s HORSE which they call SLASH—one team member does a 360 off a lip on the side of a run and lands it. Then the next teammate must land it, or receives a letter. It’s practice, but it’s fun.
The majority of this year’s team hails from the inner Flathead Valley communities of Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls yet there’s a growing number of kids coming from further away: Libby, Polson, Eureka, West Glacier, Kila, Rollins, Calgary, Lethbridge and one from Saskatchewan! Without the team these kids might never know each other, instead they become good friends—potentially lifelong friends and ski buddies.
Safety is the number one priority, then fun. Kids who are stoked to learn tricks they see in movies or on TV during the X Games must first learn how to make appropriate choices—to ski or snowboard within their ability. The team is divided into two groups by ages—the Junior Freestyle Team is for skiers and snowboarders ages 8-11, then they move up to the Senior Freestyle Team. All athletes are taught to start small when learning a new trick, and then as they gain the skills and build their confidence, they can progress to the more difficult features.
They also have the opportunity to perform the skills they work on in competition. While competing in events is not a requirement, it is encouraged. Competition helps teach life skills and build confidence. Several senior team members are traveling to competitions at ski areas across the region. All team members can participate in the events held here in Whitefish. The ability to compete here at home with the support of friends and family is a big advantage. Even better is that our events promote a laid-back vibe, giving athletes the opportunity to practice in a non-threatening atmosphere.
It’s also fortunate that this year our Freestyle Team members can participate in any event they want without having to worry about paying the entry fee. Last October Level 1 Productions premiered their film, “Romance” in Whitefish and donated 100-percent of the proceeds to the Freestyle Team’s nonprofit partner, Whitefish Freestyle Inc. Local Level 1 athlete Chris Logan and his friend Andy Connelly, one of the team’s coaches, wanted to make sure that any team member who wanted to, would be able to participate. The nonprofit also raises money for athlete scholarships and travel expenses.
Two of the big events for this year are coming up this weekend. Saturday night is the Presidents’ Day Rail Jam. The event starts at 5:15 p.m. in the terrain park. Rail jams are fun to watch, action-packed events where skiers and snowboarders attempt as many tricks as they can in a timed period. After the event stick around for some night skiing and then watch the Torchlight Parade and Fireworks at 7 p.m.
The second big event is Sunday’s Slopestyle event. Slopestyle is a terrain park event where athletes use both rails and jumps to show off tricks and skills. Competition begins at 11:30 a.m. for the upper division and continues at 1:15 p.m. with the lower division. For more information on these events visit skiwhitefish.com/events.
A healthy portion of Whitefish Freestyle Team will represent at these events and spectators (parents, siblings, proud aunts) along with their fellow teammates will cheer them on. Regardless of where they land on the podium, or whether they compete at all, these kids will continue to learn the skills to ski all over this Big Mountain, and just have fun. A win they will carry for a lifetime.