Bridger Bowl, located in Bozeman Montana, is a ski resort with a novel approach to resort skiing. While they offer the regular lift access and amenities that you would expect of a ski resort, they also offer challenging expert terrain that puts some personal responsibility on the guest, should they choose to access that terrain.
While many resorts have a similar policy for those accessing terrain just outside the ski area boundaries, what makes Bridger Bowl different is that this type of terrain is within their area boundaries.
Skiers or snowboarders who wish to access the “Ridge”, located above the main part of the resort, are required to pass a “beeper checker” before beginning the boot hike up. This “beeper checker” is a device that can verify whether an avalanche beacon is transmitting. Everyone who wants to hike up into Ridge terrain is expected to wear one. They are also encouraged to have in their backpacks avalanche shovels and probes, and the knowledge of how to use them. Although the Ridge is within the boundary area, it has been left in a more natural state. This means the resort does not mark hazards with bamboo poles, there are no signs to warn of cliffs or other dangers and the skier or boarder is left to make smart choices in this terrain. There are signs stating all of this at the start of the hike, where the “beeper checker” is, so it is impossible to accidently venture into this terrain and claim ignorance.
Here’s where things get really interesting. At the start of the 2008 winter season, Bridger Bowl opened over 300 acres of new terrain with a new lift. This terrain is technically challenging and Bridger Bowl is treating it similar to the Ridge accessed area. It has been left in a more natural state, the skier or boarder is more personally responsible for their choice of line to ski, and a transmitting avalanche beacon is required just to get on the lift. So in a way, it’s a little bit like backcountry skiing with lift access, although some avalanche mitigation has been done.
While this new lift, called Schlasman’s, has the public excited, Bridger Bowl has also made it known that the rest of the resort is a priority for getting lifts opened first after heavy storms. Once Ski Patrol has completed their avalanche hazard reduction duties for the main part of the resort, then it will attend to the Schlasman’s area.
With its newer lift, boundary policies, and now more easily accessed out of bounds terrain, Bridger Bowl stepped up its public education campaign. Every person who purchased a season’s pass received a free DVD, detailing the risks and personal responsibility of this additional terrain. They also educated the public thru newspapers, magazines, internets and local schools. Without a doubt, Bridger Bowl is definitely on the cutting edge of ski area management.