Every season in Bozeman offers a variety of outdoor activities. However, some would argue winter is the best time of the year. With mountains to the north and south that receive an abundance of annual snowfall, Bozeman has been recognized as one of the best ski towns in the U.S. multiple years. There are two ski areas in close proximity to Bozeman for locals to enjoy, and both will soon be opening for students to enjoy While waking up to a bluebird day can bring excitement, it is important to be aware of the current terrain conditions, have the proper gear and stay up to date on COVID-19 measures in order to have the safest and best day on the mountain possible.

Bridger Bowl is located 16 miles north of downtown Bozeman and offers over 75 trails with a wide range of difficulty, accommodating both beginner and advanced skiers and snowboarders. Bridger Bowl is a non-profit ski area, meaning all profits are put back into the ski area, either in the form of maintaining low ticket prices or on-mountain improvements. The mountain  is projected to open on Friday, Dec. 10, and will remain open until Apr. 10. Unlike last season, Bridger Bowl does not intend to have reservations for this upcoming season. However, a future spike in COVID-19 cases and required restrictions would force a reevaluation. Regardless of vaccination status, Bridger Bowl is recommending visitors wear masks indoors. 

Bridger Bowl has two terrain parks consisting of jumps, rails and boxes. For those who are up for the challenge, Bridger Bowl’s Ridge terrain presents no hazard markings, no grooming and no marked trails with numerous steep chutes, rock cliffs and snow fields ending in cliffs. An avalanche transceiver is required to access this expert level terrain, including riding the Schlasmans Lift. Bridger Bowl also recommends having a partner, a shovel, expert-level abilities and knowledge of the terrain.

Big Sky Resort lies one hour south of Bozeman. While ticket prices are steeper than those at Bridger Bowl, the mountain is the second largest in the U.S. with 5,850 acres of terrain and eight terrain parks. Big Sky Resort is planning to open on Thanksgiving Day. This mountain is also pushing towards a more normal operating plan for this winter, with reasonable health and safety protocols in place. All chairlifts and the Lone Peak Tram will load to full capacity with no requirement to wear a mask indoors or outdoors. 

The new, six-person, high-speed lift Swift Current 6, which is replacing the Swift Current quad, is on schedule to be ready for Opening Day. For those who have visited Big Sky Resort, this lift will be similar to Ramcharger 8 with ultrawide individual heated seats fitted inside a weatherproof Big Sky Blue Bubble. Several other improvements have been completed including the most extensive tree cleanup ever has also been completed this summer. A total of 300 named runs stretch across the four connected mountains that make up Big Sky with nearly sixty percent of the terrain designated for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders.

While advanced trails are a thrill, one should be aware of the risks of shredding in these unmarked territories. The ASMSU Outdoor Recreation program offers avalanche rescue courses through the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE). The AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course is a one day course aimed at both new and experienced recreational backcountry travelers and aspiring avalanche professionals. This course is open to students, faculty, staff and alumni. Students also have the option of enrolling in AIRAE’s level one and level two avalanche courses. This one credit course is currently full for the spring semester, but students can join the waitlist using CatCourse. Backcountry Access shovels, probes and beacons can be rented for personal use from the Outdoor Recreation Program. The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center also offers several educational events throughout the winter season. Their website and social media provide mountain weather and avalanche forecasts for the regional area.

There are several other ski areas within a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bozeman. These ski areas include Showdown Montana, Discovery Ski, Great Divide and Red Lodge Mountain. With ski and snowboarding season just around the corner, make sure to have proper gear, ride safe and stay up to date with COVID-19 restrictions.