One of the world’s premier ice climbing festivals has a new director, Phil Bridgers, the former events coordinator for Spokane-based Mountain Gear.
Bridgers will take the helm of the Bozeman Ice Festival this year and signed his employment paperwork last week.
“They run a really good festival,” Bridgers said. “Some people want to reinvent the wheel every time and I don’t want to do that. (I want to) find where it can be improved upon and where it can’t and leave it alone.”
Bridgers, who was raised in Coeur d’Alene, worked at Mountain Gear for almost 13 years planning and running events. Those included the Banff Film Festival and the successful Red Rock Rendezvous – a yearly climbing festival near Las Vegas. Before that, he worked in events at Citadel Broadcasting Corporation in Spokane.
The Rendezvous is where Bridgers, 57, met the founders and organizers of the Bozeman festival. When Mountain Gear closed in 2020, Bridgers was asked if he wanted to work for the Bozeman festival.
But a worldwide pandemic was shuttering events at the time. The Bozeman organizers decided to cancel the festival, which runs the second week of December. That postponed his employment.
Adapting to, and dealing with, COVID-19 will be Bridgers’ No. 1 priority as he starts planning the 2021 festival.
“If we’re smart about it, we can make a lot of the event happen,” Bridgers said. “My job is to come up with some Plan B’s.”
During normal years, the Ice Fest offers daytime clinics ranging from the basics of ice climbing to more advanced skills, all taught by some of the best climbers in the world. In the evening there are events in downtown Bozeman with gear vendors, giveaways, presentations, films, food and beer. Bridgers is confident the clinics, which are all held outside at Hyalite Canyon, will continue. What’s less certain is how the evening events will run, though he hopes the U.S. is “over the hurdle of the pandemic” by December .
The festival is run by the nonprofit Ice Climbing Alliance.
“Bozeman Ice Fest is incredibly fortunate to have an event leader of Phil’s caliber to guide our festival forward as we enter our 25th anniversary year and emerge from COVID,” board president and former director Joe Josephson said in a news release.
Aside from the immediate COVID-19 concerns, Bridgers said he hopes to increase community outreach and improve efficiency where its needed.
“It’s a really big deal for the Bozeman community,” he said. “It’s kind of a kickoff to their winter season. To their ice season. Which is a big part of their economy.”
He’s aware too much success can lead to a place being loved to death and build resentment from crowd-weary locals.
“If I’m going to rent anything, I’m going to rent it locally,” he said, as an example of a way to balance those concerns. “We want to spend the money from the event in the community we are in. And then give them a big heads up that we are coming to town this event is happening.”
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