Big Sky’s Kjetil Hassman airs it out during last year’s Headwaters comp.

Choose your own adventure

Headwaters Spring Runoff returns to Moonlight Basin

The mere thought of hiking the rocky, narrow Headwaters ridge and skiing one of the many super-steep runs off it strikes fear into some hearts. But for others, like the young skiers and snowboarders at this weekend’s annual Headwaters Spring Runoff junior regional competition, the ridge is an ideal competitive playground. 

These competitors, ages 10 to 18, literally want to make these runs count. The Runoff is an International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association sanctioned freeride event—one of many held across the U.S. and Canada throughout the winter. Winners walk away with points counting towards a total IFSA score, and those with the most points at the end of this season are invited to national finals at Snowbird outside of Salt Lake City. From there, a few elite athletes move on the following winter to compete in world championships, typically held in Europe.

The Runoff warms up on Friday, March 9 at Moonlight Basin where the athletes get two chances to inspect their upcoming runs. This will likely include a run on Obsidian off of the Lone Tree lift. It’s a cliff zone known for its chutes and rock features. It offers an all-around free-for-all of skiing and riding opportunities.

Then Saturday all that practice and mental preparation comes together. Competitions begin on Obsidian at around 10:30 a.m., and the community is welcome to join in and cheer on the athletes. Judges camp out beneath the action and there’s plenty of room for spectators to take it all in. For day one, judges are looking first and foremost for competitors who can not only throw down a solid run, but also remain safely in control.

Those who prove their extreme mettle on Saturday will advance to Sunday. This is when the competition moves into the Headwaters terrain—distinguished as a series of chutes defining the upper reaches of Moonlight Basin. The official venue is always dependent on weather and conditions, but if all goes as planned the day-two competitors will brave the infamous Headwaters hike to Zone 3—known as Three Forks for those unfamiliar with the ridge. Three Forks is a series of three north-facing 40-degree runs that drop 1,000 feet to the open bowl below. This is what steep, technical skiing is all about, and it’s here that the brave youth hope to shine. 

IFSA certified judges watching below will be focused on several categories based on a score of one to five: Most important is line—the path the competitor chooses. Then there’s control, features, fluidity, style and energy, and technique. 

“It’s a lot bigger than the terrain that other resorts in these competitions get to use,” said Big Sky Ski Education Foundation Event Coordinator Jordan Aid of the uniqueness of the Headwaters venue. “We’re extremely lucky to have the Headwaters as open terrain. What’s special about it is how big and steep and long it is. There are so many ways to ski through it.”

BSSEF started running the event last year, and on the Tuesday leading up to the competition, Aid was looking forward to the action. “It should be really fun. The terrain is looking good and the snow’s good,” he said.

The event always relies on the cooperation of mother nature, and Aid has been keeping a close eye on the forecast. Four days ahead of the competition, he could name off the upcoming daily temps at 9,000 feet as well as the chances of sunshine and snowfall. “It’s all looking good,” he said with a smile and a nod of approval.

To learn more about this and other IFSA competitions visit

Comment Here