Just 16 miles down the road and offering some of the most challenging and dangerous in-bounds skiing in the Lower 48 sits one of the most historic and fabled ski resorts in the U.S. — Bridger Bowl. Over the course of 70 years, it has grown and dug roots deep within the community, serving as a shining example of accessibility, stewardship and responsibility.
Originally owned by the State of Montana, the resort’s land was bought with the intention to build a state park and ski area, but never managed to grow past a simple rope tow. The resort struggled through its early years until locals formed a non-profit — originally named The Bozeman State Park and Recreation Association, now simply the Bridger Bowl Association — in 1954 to continue the resort’s development and create a clean and affordable environment for anyone to ski.
Over the preceding decades the resort added more lifts, such as the familiar Bridger and Alpine lifts in the 1960s, and then Pierre’s Knob and Virginia City in the 1970s. However, the next significant area expansion wouldn’t come until 2008 when the Schlasman’s lift began turning for the first time, opening up an additional 311 acres of extreme terrain and ridge access. The lift was named after a German miner who perished, among three others, in a massive avalanche below Saddle Peak in 1885. Avalanche danger is consistently high in this area of the Bridger Bowl Ski Area, so all users must wear an avalanche beacon in order to ride the lift.
Though many expert skiers can’t even think of the resort without drooling over the steep and craggy hillsides, the famous Bridger Ridge wasn’t open to the public until 1973. Once the Ridge opened, the challenging terrain beckoned extreme skiing pioneers like Doug Coombs (the first skier to descend the Grand Teton) and Scot Schmidt (who Powder Magazine once called “the original freeskier,”) by providing a playground for the world’s elite to hone skills they would later take to world’s greater ranges.
Nearly 70 years later, in an age defined by large-scale corporate resort expansion and conglomeration, the Bridger Bowl Association still seeks “..to plan, develop and maintain facilities and services in a financially sound manner which provide the best possible skiing experience at a reasonable cost to local, regional and destination skiers.”
While other resorts like Big Sky and Jackson Hole now charge over $200 for mid-season lift tickets, Bridger Bowl only charges $63. In addition to its long history of outdoor accessibility, the association has ensured that the expansion and progression of Bridger Bowl does not come at the cost of the community’s future.
According to the association, “Bridger Bowl is committed to operating the ski area in the most socially responsible manner possible...” by utilizing sustainable practices of energy and waste efficiency. “Recognizing the importance in the community, Bridger Bowl is passionate about preserving the essence of Bridger for future generations.”
In 2018, Bridger Bowl conducted a survey of its carbon footprint and set a plan in motion to minimize its environmental impact by reducing waste through installing solar panels for energy production while lowering usage. The resort also hopes to reduce the ecological and environmental cost of wastewater filtration through a research project with MSU that utilizes native wetland plants instead of costly mechanical processes.
Just last year, Bridger Bowl won the Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence from the National Ski Area Association, an award that the NSAA considers the “...highest honors bestowed on a resort for environmental performance”
Though the Hotel Baxter’s blue light won’t start shining, indicating at least 2 inches of snowfall at Bridger Bowl, again for the next eight months, skiers and riders from the community can rest easy knowing the history books won’t close anytime soon, because next season will be yet another opportunity for them to carve their name into the historic hillside.