Catching my breath, after a short hike along an exposed Ridge, I excitedly scanned for the line I glimpsed from the base of the mountain. Skiers and boarders stand on either side, painstakingly choosing between wide-open faces and thrilling tight chutes off a ridge that indulges endless possibilities.
My moment had finally come to drop in. Launching into the famous Montana “cold smoke” powder with hardly a person in sight, I couldn’t help but think…
“How can this only be USD$69 a day?!”
Just 17 miles (26kms) and a 20-minute drive from the uber-cool town of Bozeman, Montana, you’ll stumble upon Bridger Bowl.
With a modest 2000 acres of skiable terrain and a small (yet effective) lift system, you can easily see why Bridger is often overshadowed by its expansive sister resort Big Sky, just an hour and a half down the road.
But what Bridger Bowl lacks in size, it more than makes up for in challenging terrain, and more importantly, personality.
Bridger is a locally owned, non-profit ski area, where membership is open to Montana residents over the ages of 18. Any new development has to be approved by its members first which is a refreshing deter from the polarising business-first nature of many North American ski resorts.
This community-centric nature is easy to see in Bridger’s affordable lift passes ($69 a day for adults, $44 a day for kids), low-density infrastructure, and avalanche-controlled, patrolled terrain, that every self-proclaimed freerider dreams of.
Now let’s talk “The Ridge”. Expanding boundlessly, its descending bowls, chutes, and ridgelines make up Bridger’s world-class terrain, granting access exclusively to those proving they’ve got what it takes.
Lift attendants diligently check for evidence of appropriate backcountry safety gear, including an avalanche transceiver, before access to Shlasman’s Chair, gateway to The Ridge, is granted.
A quick scan and confirmatory “beep” will have you happily on your way. Alternatively, void of any proof, you’re sent packing, taking on the walk of shame back to the nearest in-bound chair.
Don’t be fooled. Having all the gear isn’t enough. Competence to ride technical, double black terrain is a must, as there is no cat-track or “easy” way down. Before loading this chair you should be confident in your knowledge of avalanche risk and rescue techniques as conditions can be unpredictable.
Complimenting Bridger’s famous ridgeline and its connected terrain is an annual snowfall of 300 inches or just over 7.6 metres. East-facing, the resort is perfectly positioned to reap the rewards of the prevailing winds from the west dumping buckets of snow across on and off-piste runs.
Finally and perhaps best of all, thanks to its smaller stature, Bridger Bowl remains relatively crowd-less thanks to the likes of big names, Big Sky and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, who are both close by. A benefit that’ll hook you to this resort even more.
So if you’re looking for a mountain that offers challenging terrain, cheap lift tickets, and a down-to-earth vibe from staff and riders alike, then look no further.
Bridger Bowl is the best US ski resort you’ve never heard of. Until now.
Need to know
All the major airlines fly direct to Bozeman from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, New York and so on.
Bridger Bowl then offers a free bus service to and from the mountain, so you can park your car at Montana State University or the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, both in Bozeman, and take a shuttle to the resort and back.
When you get to the resort take a free mountain host tour at 10.00am to get the lay of the land, you’ll be guided by a local who loves the mountain so you’ll get all the good intel. Expect over 75 official marked runs serviced by a quad, six triple and one double chair plus three surface lifts.
Our top tip? Make sure you buy your lift passes online as Bridger offers a better deal for e-ticket purchase than at the ticket window on the day.
Check out their website for more.