Tree Skiing and powder — Photo courtesy of snowbuzz
Bozeman, Montana is a ski town with a college habit. Or, rather, a college town with a ski habit. Located in the Gallatin Valley and at the base of the Bridger Mountains, this mid-sized Rocky Mountain town is legendary for its fly fishing, microbreweries and Subaru population - as well as for its skiing. When heading to the slopes, Bozemanites have two options. Though many people know about Big Sky - the area’s bigger and more famous resort - with its large village and fancy infrastructure, few people (beyond the locals) know about Bridger Bowl. And that’s exactly why many people love it.
Bridger Bowl stands on the eastern slopes of the Bridger Mountains, just 16 miles northeast of Bozeman. Dating back to the mid 1940s - before any lifts existed - locals had already begun driving up Bridger Canyon Road to ski the glistening slopes of this natural ski area. By the late 1940s, enough interest motivated the State of Montana to purchase this land and create a state park on it. In 1951, the first rope-tow was installed, and a local legend was born.
In the intervening decades, Bridger Bowl has maintained a passionate love affair with local skiers and snowboarders, providing them with top-rate skiing for utterly affordable prices. With its bowl-shape, this mountain offers a full spectrum of terrain from its green-circle bunny hill to its cliffed-out chutes. Until the late 1990s, the mountain was serviced exclusively by charming red-and-green, two-seater chairlifts and quaintly crooked ski lodges. And though a few larger lifts have replaced these two-seaters, Bridger Bowl still has its experts-only “Ridge,” an area accessed by hiking and open only to those with an avalanche transceiver, shovel and capable partner.
Bridger Bowl in summer — Photo courtesy of Matt Lavin
Recent years have brought a good dose of modernization and expansion to Bridger Bowl. Though this comes like a knife to the heart of some locals, these adjustments have done little to threaten the ski area’s down-to-earth vibe. In addition to constructing a new base-area and mid-mountain lodge during the 1990s, Bridger Bowl underwent a massive expansion in the 2000s.
This 2009 expansion, which added an entire drainage to the ski area, was Bridger’s first terrain expansion in more than three decades. Increasing Bridger Bowl’s size by 311 acres, the Schlasman Chair exudes classic Bridger Bowl style. To start, the lift itself is actually a recycled chairlift. Once the Peruvian Lift, this equipment was purchased from Utah’s Snowbird Resort. Additionally, the terrain accessed by this lift is so steep and challenging that only guests with transceivers, shovels and partners may ski it.
Today, Bridger Bowl is a serious ski area with over 2,000 skiable acres, 2,700 vertical feet of relief, eight lifts and two lodges. Bridger’s mission is now, as always, to “provide the best possible skiing experience at a reasonable cost to local, regional and destination skiers.” And though Bridger Bowl doesn’t offer the massive, timbered lodges and five-star restaurants that the hoity-toity resorts do, this is precisely why many people prefer this resort to Bozeman’s alternative ski destination.