Montana Snowbowl outside Missoula packs out for the last weekend every February for its annual Snowbowl Cup Gelande Championships. The ski jumping competition draws huge spectator crowds for the two-day event.
Gelande jumping is different than the Nordic jumping seen in the Olympics. Jumpers use regular downhill skis and fixed heel bindings rather than Nordic skis with free heel bindings. Longer skis, however, gain better flight than short shaped skis, and jumpers hold their skis in a "V" to fly up to 200 feet off natural terrain.
Jumpers in the Snowbowl competition launch off a narrow chute pinched between two cliffs above the Grizzly chairlift Feb. 21 and 22. Amateurs compete in two rounds on Saturday followed by the pros in a seeding round. Crowds sitting in lawn chairs line the course for Sunday's amateur finals and the pro competition. Jumpers hail from across the U.S. to vie for the $8,000 cash purse-the largest on the Gelande circuit.
Skiers and snowboarders with lift tickets can watch the event for free. Non-skiing spectators must pay a $3 admission. Spectators are encouraged to carpool.
Winners amass points for their length of jump and style. A trio of local brothers -- Rolf, Erik, and Brent Wilson, who grew up skiing at Big Mountain --have passed the monster champion trophy between each other for the past decade.