Over the past four decades, the Snowbowl Cup Gelande Championship has shifted from a college party to more of a family reunion.

It was a slow start to the annual ski jump competition Sunday at Montana Snowbowl. Saturday's rain had dashed enthusiasm at first, with some spectators avoiding the event because they thought it would be canceled.

But by the fourth round of amateur jumpers, the sun came out and the party started heating up.

The Snowbowl Cup has grown up since it started in 1974, said 11-time champion – and this year's winner – Rolf Wilson.

"The culture really hasn't changed. I think we've grown up a lot more in how we go about with our interactions with the public," he said. "It used to be a huge drunken and druggin' generation, the '70s and '80s and '90s. There's a lot more responsibility and funding and things like that for this sport (today). I think it's a lot prouder, you know.

"We hold our heritage really close to our hearts, and it's very important to us. We want to see a lot more professionalism. We want to see a lot more qualified jumpers. The fact of the matter is we want everyone to be able to do it."

The party hasn't stopped, but it feels more as if you're hanging out with a troupe of goofy uncles. It's unlikely you'll spot a spectator or jumper without a beer or Bloody Mary – best in town, according to several awards lining the bar's walls – in their hand. The ski patrol chucked as many snowballs at each other as announcer Steve Curtis lobbed jokes – clean and otherwise – about the jumpers and Missoula Betterside Women's Rugby Club.

"Precision is their name and rugby's their game," he said.

But the silliness of the crowd was in stark contrast to how seriously the jumpers take the sport.

"We've got kids that are doing this – 12 and 13 and 14 years old – and we can't be out there just partying our rear ends off," Wilson said.

Sunday's competition held special meaning for Wilson.

"That's how I met my wife; she was one of the bamboo-holders," he said of the women's rugby club that stands on the hill, measuring jumpers' distances. "And you know what? It was 15 years ago today we met. And now I have a 4-year-old with her."

It's all one big family, said judge Bob Irwin.

"Everyone's part of the Snowbowl family," said Irwin, who's been skiing at Snowbowl for 25 years. "These guys love to come from all over the place to here 'cause it's not like a typical resort. We're like a mom-and-pop. We're not a corporation here for profit."

He grabbed a case of beer and inched his way up the hill, while James Brown's "Get On Up" played before the amateurs started the first of their four rounds.


A hush fell over the crowd lounging on the bar deck every time a jumper rounded the in-run, hitting speeds of 50 to 60 mph before jumping and landing to roars of applause.

By the end of the amateur rounds it was "a battle to see who can undress." A longstanding tradition, the winner of the amateur jumpers does a final jump – in the nude.

"He likes spending time in his tight Spandex. Check him out, ladies!" Curtis called out to the crowd as Rylan Wilcox landed a 161-foot jump.

Curtis' voice rang out over the hill, calling out jumpers – often Rod Roddy-style: "Come on down!" – nicknames, jump distances and one-liners. Nicknames include the Flying Fondue (Tyler Erickson), the Tenderizer (Dan McKay) and Mr. Gelande (Wilson), among others.

"Hell yeah! Sexy, right there!" Curtis shouted as jumpers landed farther and farther down the hill. 

More and more people are starting to pay attention to the sport as it's grown in professionalism, Wilson said. He's jumped alongside some of the best: ex-U.S. Ski Team members, Nordic ski jumpers, and an Olympic gold medalist.

"Everybody rallies behind it," Wilson said of the Snowbowl. "Especially if the weather's good, people are all over this mountain watching this event. It's a fairly tight-knit group of jumpers and a tight-knit group of family members that all come out here and support us.

"It's pretty badass."

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Reporter for the Missoulian