Former racers show up on race day

BSSEF hosts Wrangler Cup at Resort and leans into volunteers

One hundred four athletes from Norway, Canada, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States converged on Big Sky Ski Resort on Friday, Jan. 21, to compete in the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) Wrangler Cup on Andesite Mountain. The racers, some old hands and others beginners, ranged from 16 year old kids to college-aged adults. They warmed up their legs for the start of the GS race by squatting, stretching, whacking their quads with their hands, and stretching.

Groups from Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Salt Lake City, and Billings attended the FIS competition hosted by Big Sky Ski Education Foundation (BSSEF) and Big Sky Resort. A small group of local volunteers also pitched in early Saturday morning to help out around the mountain. Races like these—which often stretch up to three days—would not happen without the volunteers' help.

Volunteers for these types of events are becoming scarcer, explained Jesse Lepel, BSSEF projects coordinator. Many of the folks choosing to lend a hand over the weekend are parents of either current or former racers. Approximately 10 of the 104 skiers entering the race lived in the Big Sky or Bozeman area.


To get a course ready for a race, hundreds of feet of netting need to be drilled for boundaries and gates need to be precisely placed at different intervals for the course. Typically, an assortment of volunteers, judges, and coaches arrive early to set up.

Once the netting and gates are placed, referees must check to make sure the course is legal, then turns are dyed, and connections are checked to make sure the timing systems are functioning.

Next, racers inspect the course with their coaches. After about a half hour of inspection, a few folk,s called forerunners, ski the course prior to get experience and report any issues.


On Friday, skiers competed in giant slalom. The goal is to get the fastest time total after two runs down two different courses. Giant slalom courses have fewer and wider turns as opposed to slalom, super G, downhill and combined alpine. Judges then add up the two times to determine the winner.

In the big picture, racers start on the FIS circuit with 999 points. Over the course of a season, athletes subtract points based on their finishes. The goal of the season is to get the lowest possible point total. The better the skier, the lower the score. Points are the measuring stick for the athletes to get into colleges and other competitions.


Local U18 skiers Skylar Manka and Lilli Brown prepared at the starting line early on Friday to compete in their third FIS race. “The conditions aren’t great so I’m a little nervous,” said Brown. Both girls' parents volunteered as referees and gate judges, sometimes slipping the course.

Carol Bildahl, who has been volunteering with BSSEF for nearly a decade, explained she knew nothing about ski racing when she first showed up. Carol and her family moved from back east 17 years ago. Her daughter decided she wanted to ski race when she was 10 and her husband ended up on BSSEF’s board for 12 years. Carol’s daughter is now 27 years old.

“My husband was one of the people who noticed the ski team was nearly dying—they were in the hole by $36,000. A group of dads got together and hustled and hired Jeremy... That’s another reason why we keep coming back: we just kind of feel like this was a program we put back together, and we want to continue to see [it survive]. And I’m hoping my daughters will continue to do the same thing, volunteer when their kids take up skiing,” said Bildahl.

Carol started to laugh—somehow in between making sure all the racers lined up in correct order—when she recalled how it all started.

We were initially more familiar with sailboat racing, she explained. “It’s nearly the same. I know it sounds funny but it’s like hustling the kids, making sure all their equipment, making sure all the boats are all together, getting them in the water, getting them to the start. Believe it or not, it’s nearly the same thing, as weird as it sounds. It’s also just getting children out of their elements,” said Bildahl.


In between radio calls and sandwiched by skis, busy BSSEF project coordinator and coach Jesse Lepel explained how volunteers make all the difference. “We rely on them a lot. Ten staff on a good day to run this whole production and then everything else is volunteers, said Lepel. There’s absolutely no way this would happen without them, Lepel explained.

To get involved with BSSEFs (Big Sky Ski Education Foundation) programs, which are always looking for volunteers, checkout their website at: https://bssef. com/volunteer-opportunities/. They have 10 spots available for the Big Sky Junior Regional on Jan. 28-30 and 39 spots for a Northern Division Race on March 4-6. 

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