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Plenty of upcoming rail jams in Montana

Newschoolers fly under the lights, arriving at rails for their jumps and tricks looking for prizes and titles at rail jams. Newschoolers are skiers and snowboarders who spend their snow time launching themselves airborne—on purpose.

Rail Jams are judged contests where skiers and boarder perform tricks on rails, boxes, pipes and walls. And newschoolers in the Northwest are discovering that one of the biggest urban rail jam events is near Bozeman, Mont.

The Chamberlin Rail Jam, this year March 5-6, 5-10 p.m. at the Gallatin Valley Speedway will host 25 snowboarders and 25 skiers competing for cash prizes, schwag and “street cred,” according to promoter Tate Chamberlin, who spends all year organizing the event which attracts some of the region’s best skiers and riders.

“Snowsports, loud music, energy drinks, epic competition, and more,” says Chamberlin. “Rail Jam is not only a competition for snow athletes but a music festival featuring RJD2, Chiddy Bang and XV hiphop. This event promises to be the biggest and best yet!”

Four years into success, Chamberlin’s Rail Jam crew assembles a 30-foot–tall custom scaffolding structure with steep ramps and a 90-foot-long landing and run-out area. Food and coffee, ski and snowboard hardware and soft goods will be for sale among several outdoor booths.

During 2010’s event, 3,500 spectators each night witnessed 50 mostly-male athletes – 80 percent of them MSU students — ride down the scaffolding and slide the rails. Each competitor takes several laps, riding up a temporary elevator to return to the launch spot. Finalists advance with another dozen laps while judges determine best skiers and riders.

Chamberlin’s Rail Jam hits the road after Bozeman’s event. The ski ramp is in the third phase of creation of a $100,000-investment ramp. The ramp will itself land a few 1080s in other college-ski towns—including Missoula, Mont., March 12, where a free one-day rail jam promises to attract hundreds of spectators to Caras Park downtown.

Meanwhile, rail jammers also practice on the slopes of local resorts such as Big Sky Ski Resort, Moonlight Basin, and Bridger Bowl. The Terrain Park crew from Big Sky Resort helps create and maintain the features at Chamberlin Rail Jam.

“Our park crew is responsible for providing and building the features, installing them and judging the event,” says Tyrel Thornton, Big Sky Terrain Park manager. “We are working constantly during the event raking and smoothing the transition and landing areas for the riders.”

He said the best tools for maintenance are the snow spork and shovels. The spork is a large-toothed rake used to smooth and “groom” landings and take-offs.

Thornton, 29 and an accomplished rider himself, explains that this winter’s must-have trick, and one to watch for at Rail Jam 2011 is a switch backside 180 to nose press.

“It’s a newer, very technical trick,” he says. “This is where the rider approaches the rail switch (or opposite his regular way) and does a backside 180, which makes the landing blind and then moves his weight to the front foot to lift the back of his board while sliding. Most people this year need to spin onto a rail and spin off it to garner any chance of winning.”

Since most ski areas in this area don’t offer night skiing, some newschoolers find ways to ride rails in town, under city lights.

“Urban riding is sometimes sketchy because business owners don’t like us to use their rails,” says Shay Lee a student at Montana State University and frequent Rail Jam competitor. “We keep a low profile but Lindley Park (downtown Bozeman) is a good spot for urban rails. There is also a good wall under the bridge at 7th Street (as shown in Toy Soldier’s clips). There are random places to find in-town rails.”

Sign-ups are online at for $45. For more information and to purchase tickets at $15 in advance ($20 at the gate), see the above site or Missoula’s Caras Park event offers free entry.

“The Chamberlin events bring unforgettable spectacles, record crowds and raising the bar for winter events,” says Chamberlin. “Chamberlin productions will execute this gargantuan event to involve the massive ski community, spectators and vendors from all over the state. Scope and funding for Chamberlin events grows every year as we continually bring fresh and undeniably unique events to a growing population and audience consisting of all ages, creeds and interests.”

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