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WHITEFISH – Faced with a squeeze between available funds and a growing number of athletes, leaders of Special Olympics Montana are being forced to cancel this year’s State Winter Olympics in Whitefish.

For years now, the Special Olympics athletes from all over Montana would flock to Whitefish Mountain Resort in the waning days of winter to compete in alpine skiing, snowshoe races and other events at a state level.

But over the weekend, Special Olympics leaders announced they’ve decided to call off plans for the 2018 State Winter Games, which had been scheduled for this coming May.

In a statement on the Special Olympics Montana website, President and “Chief Executive Fan” Bob Norbie explained the games had seen “significant growth and expansion” putting the organization in the position of re-thinking how best to serve athletes with the available funding and fan base providing volunteers.

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So this year, Special Olympics will be encouraging local organizations to host their winter games, with the idea that top finishing athletes would be invited to a statewide event every four years.

That means Special Olympics athletes from the Flathead and Northwest Montana will still be coming to Whitefish Mountain, but for a single day and not a multi-day event. Games will also be held at Lost Trail and other locations as they have been.

Norbie said the number of athletes has nearly doubled in the past five years, with participation days averaging 50 days per athlete. He says Special Olympics must take some time now to figure out how to best maintain and support that growth.

MTN’s Dennis Bragg