We are on our way to Bridger Bowl from Bozeman, Montana. The morning is crisp (at 16 degrees) and it takes us about 25 minutes to get there. As we arrive we are greeted by Douglas Wales who has done PR for the mountain for over 20 years.
“We have had most of our employees for thirty years.” Doug explains as we ride up the chair together. From their all star cast of ski stars [to emerge from Bridger] including Scott Schmidt, Doug Coombs, and Tom Jungst (as well as Heather McPhie of Women’s Moguls and Bryon Wilson Bronze Medal Men’s Moguls in this year’s Vancouver Olympics) to employees like Doug, it is clear that Bridger breeds loyalty. They have a good thing going and it is not just in the talent or the beauty of their majestic ridge terrain.
As I look up from the Bridger Lift two seater I am blown away by the view in front of me sparkling in the sun. Doug chimes in- “the chutes and faces you see above you is the controlled boundary skiing from the Schlasman’s chair that is new to the mountain since two years ago.” Doug explains the new feature lift, which gives access to thousands of acres of terrain. From the China bowl, to wolverine, and saddle peak, skiers and snowboarders are given a world of potential opportunity.
In order to get on the Schlasman’s chair you must check in with a transceiver (which is in place as a safety measure). But once up there almost anything is fair game and it is no short of magnificent. From the hiking to the views, Schlaman’s chair has given Bridger a whole new feel and atmosphere since before it was built two years ago.
Doug and I spent the morning checking out much of the mountain before heading to the new lift. Much of the mountain is blues and intermediate terrain with a small terrain park in the middle. It offers a wide variety of slope for beginners and intermediate skiers with 5 chairs (excluding Schlasman’s).
When you include the new lift there is over 4000 acres of possible terrain making Bridger a worthy Montana resort to hit on the ‘to ski’ list. As we explored, Doug filmed for their daily video that is up on the website everyday of the season! His job is basically to get the word out on the new updates on Bridger and he has chosen to do this by giving the web the Bridger experience daily. With such a drastic change in the mountain Bridger has some different draws and a wider market but still that home mountain feel.
Schlasman’s chair is similar to the tram at Big Sky (Bridger’s Montana neighbor) and even at Jackson Hole in its attraction to controlled backcountry. In fact, before my visit this February, Bridger had gained a lot of media attention for the avalanche off on saddle peak (an out of bounds area fully accessible by Schlasman’s). The top crack was a whopping 5 feet deep sending a tumble of snow which piled to 25 deep when it finally came to a stop. No one was killed but the regular Bridger crowd was a bit shook up. Doug explained though, that for many of their skiers it wasn’t much of a shock as the ski patrol sign entering the bowl gave a large warning of the previous conditions and the high possibility of a slide.
With terrain like Saddle Peak accessible, Bridger has put a lot of thought into the safety of it’s venture-some skiers. They in no way frown on adventurous explorers but rather created Schlasman’s chair to welcome the Montana backcountry spirit.
Growing up skiing Montana, it seems there is really no other way to ride. With the combination of our own feet and resorts like Bridger and Big Sky, the Montanans get to ski like the best of big mountain riding without a Red Bull sponsorship. Forget cats and heli skiing in this recession, just boogie on to Bozeman.