The first terrain expansion in 30 years opens Bridger Bowl’s southern boundary into Schlasman’s Bowl. While skiers and riders celebrate the lift access via a retrofitted double Doppelmayr, the caveat is that the additional 311 acres tilt so steeply that riders and skiers must carry avalanche transceivers to be allowed on the chairlift. Hopefully they also carry the knowledge of how to operate the beacons/location devices.
It’s apropos that the chairlift arrived at the Bozeman, Mont., ski area from southern neighbor, Snowbird Resort near Salt Lake City, where the famed Peruvian Lift accessed steep crags of the Wasatch Mountains. Now equipped with a new cable, new chairs and new scenery, the renamed mechanism, Schlasman’s Chair, cranks into service on opening day, Dec. 12.
While giant resorts look for handouts and bailouts, Bridger Bowl’s unique status as a nonprofit ski area where all profits become reinvestments, allows the 2,000-acre mountain to glide past mega resorts suffering financial disarray.
What’s additionally unique about Bridger and the new terrain, due south of Pierre’s Knob, is that it will remain pristine. And as was the case three decades ago at many ski hills, no grooming will mar the new Schlasman’s—in part because it’s too steep for grooming machines and because it’s for experts adept at fickle mountain moods.
While the bulk of the mountain offers creamy snow, groomed for intermediates and beginners, it’s the steeps that make headlines. Even though the ski area is only 50-some years old, Schlasman’s has made headlines since 1885 when its namesake, P.B. Schlasman and three other German coal miners died under a massive avalanche that cut loose from the top of the Bridger Range. The slide buried the mine entrance and demolished the cabin.
Luckily the ski patrollers are adept at avalanche control because 350 inches of cold fluffy snow falls on the Bridger Mountain Range each year. That’s a lot of moisture for the south-central part of the state, thanks in part to what locals call the “BBC,” the Bridger Bowl Cloud that crowns the mountains even when the rest of the region is blessed with winter sun.
For non-experts, that snow cloaks the two big bowls, glades, chutes and gullies. Sometimes the snow is so deep that skiing and riding becomes an exercise in Pranayama—the art of yoga breath control—inhale at the top of each turn; exhale at the bottom.
For those who might need breathing lessons, one of the best deals in ski country is the $80 private ski lesson—that includes 90 minutes of instruction from skiers and riders who excel at soft-snow cruises. And the private-lesson student and instructor forgo the inevitable powder-day lift line.
Group lessons, workshops, learn-to-ski options, preschool and youth sessions, and adaptive programs help kick start or fine tune snow skills. There’s even a three-hour Ridge Tour to hone the advanced skier’s turns—up to three customers for the private, $140 lesson.
Three lodges provide respite from the chill. At mid-mountain is the Deer Park Chalet a bright and open post and beam constructed lodge known for baked goodies and hot soups, kid-favorite French fries and sandwiches. The deck allows a view up the slopes.
Two base-area day lodges have the bar and grill, ticket office and guest services. There’s also the ski school, daycare, rental shop and cafeteria. On sunny afternoons, the deck fills with après ski festive folks.
Bridger Bowl offers several winter events including the Skin to Win Randonnee Festival where recreational and professional skiers, men and women, test high-altitude endurance by ascending several thousand feet in the Bridger Range, and then descending steep expert terrain. Always popular is the Feb. 28-Mar. 1 Terrain Park Jam, a judged event for skiers and riders.
About a mile north of Bridger Bowl, cross-country ski trails of Bohart Ranch Cross-Country Ski Center wend around forested terrain, totaling 27 kilometers of groomed tracks. Rentals, lessons and trail passes are available in the Bohart cabin.
Lodging is also available near Bridger Bowl. Information and ski and stay packages are available at www.bridgerbowl.com or (800) 223-9609. More lodging is available in Bozeman with information at www.wintermt.com or www.yellowstonecountry.net.
Restaurants and nightlife brighten downtown Bozeman at settings such as the CatEye Café just of Main on Tracy Ave., open for breakfasts and lunches daily, and dinners Thursdays through Sundays in a historic brick telephone building. The Garage Shack and Mesquite Grill at 451 East Main St., offers excellent soups and burgers—served outside on sunny days.
Several bars have live music on weekends. Smoke free, alcohol free Main Street venues attract large audiences at Wild Joe’s Coffee house, The Leaf and Bean coffee house, and Bozeman’s Community Co-op.
And when skiers see the beacon atop the Baxter Hotel in downtown Bozeman, they know that new snow is falling at Bridger Bowl Ski Area.
Snow phone (406)
Bohart Ranch Cross-Country Ski Center
(406) 586-9070 or www.bohartranchxcski.com