Bridger Bowl

Montana skiers love to thank the mysterious Bridger Bowl Cloud for the thigh-deep, popcorn-dry dumps that bestow cult status on this community-owned ski hill outside of Bozeman.
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Montana skiers love to thank the mysterious Bridger Bowl Cloud for the thigh-deep, popcorn-dry dumps that bestow cult status on this community-owned ski hill outside of Bozeman.
Bridger Bowl 2011

Skiers at the American West’s megaresorts might take one look at Bridger Bowl and its fi xed-grip lifts, dearth of condo development, and practical ski lodges and call it “charming” at best. But behind this low-key façade is spectacular terrain. The Ridge, a hike-to zone, is a cliff -hucking, chute-schralping paradise. You won’t fi nd hairier inbounds steeps than Hidden Gully and the Virtues anywhere. The vibe at Bridger is mellow and rootsy. To fi t in instantly, add a patch of duct tape to at least one piece of apparel.

THREE DAYS LATER: Head to North Bowl, off the Bridger lift, to Easy Money, a 2,640-foot-long open, 30-degree bowl that’s often overlooked.
PARK AND PIPE: Look for a 10-foot rail, a 40-foot box, and a barrel bonk midmountain between the Deer Park and Bridger lifts, but don’t look for a sign—the park’s not named. Low-snow year? Bridger relocates the park underneath the Powder Park lift, where snowmaking machines keeps the jumps shellacked.

BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS: Check your beacon against one attached to the telephone cord dangling near the patrol shack beyond Bridger lift. Then pass through the gate and hike 400 feet to the Ridge, a mile of 1,300-vertical-foot lines. Compress your spine on the south-end drops and open it up on the northern reach’s 45-degree, ultra-clean Apron.

WEATHER: Bridger’s marquee storms hit when moisture off the Pacific whizzes north across Canada until it cools, drops south, and slams into the western face of the Rocky Mountains. December, January, and March average 58 inches, but locals prefer February’s dry, deep powder (monthly average: 48 inches) and consistent coverage.

APRÈS: Weather permitting, hit the sun-drenched back porch of the Jim Bridger Lodge for a $4 pint of locally brewed Bozone IPA. If the mountain’s socked in, take shelter in the no-frills Grizzly Ridge bar below the lodge for $9 pitchers.

FUEL: Head south on Highway 86 back to Bozeman and turn left on Main Street to the Montana Ale Works—the giant pub with a converted railcar as its dining room­—and savor a bison burger ($9.25) or mahi po’boy ($11).

UP ALL NIGHT: In the basement of the historic Bozeman Hotel, art-deco meets techno-industrial at the Zebra Cocktail Lounge. Stop in for urban DJ party music,
local jam bands, or visiting Latin-reggae-funk-rock fusion acts. Covers start at $5.

DIGS: Book the A-Frame Cabin ($675 for three nights; 800-223-9609) at Bridger’s base if you prefer zero nightlife. Otherwise stay at downtown Bozeman’s Best Western City Center Motor Inn ($104 double occupancy; 800-870-3158).


Bridger Bowl's Schlasman's Lift

Anatomy: Bridger Bowl's Schlasman's Lift

Schlasman’s (pronounced Slushman’s) lift opened in December 2008 and accesses 300 acres and 1,700 feet of steep terrain. It’s more skier-friendly (translation: fewer places to get cliffed out) than the rest of Bridger Bowl’s gnarly Ridge, but beacons are required and nothing is marked. Case in point? Last season, patrol regularly performed rope rescues here.

Anatomy Casper

Anatomy: Jackson Hole's Casper Bowl

Casper Bowl, a 180-degree cirque of 1,200- vertical-foot cliff-littered chutes, opened in the winter of 1997. Since then, it’s become one of Jackson Hole’s many proving grounds and the venue for numerous freeskiing comps.

Sugar Bowl, CA

Inside Line: Sugar Bowl, CA

Opened in 1939 with help from Walt Disney, Sugar Bowl retains its old-school charm with a 1950s-style gondola and a rustic base lodge. But it’s plenty modern too. It offsets 100 percent of its energy through wind credits and has a remodeled 35,700-square-foot lodge and a new skiercross course that’s home to Olympian Daron Rahlves. The best thing about Sugar Bowl, however, may simply be the snow. Each year, the resort gets around 500 inches of Californian fluff.

Size Matters thumb

Size Matters

Big Sky, Montana, is out to prove that, like girlfriends, other resorts are lying if they tell you otherwise.

Alpine Meadows' Estelle Bowl

Anatomy: Alpine Meadows' Estelle Bowl

While technically inbounds, Estelle Bowl feels as close to backcountry as you can get at a ski resort. Ride the Summit Six chair, then take the ridgeline traverse to the north past two other bowls to reach Estelle, which offers sheltered north-facing trees, wide-open powder shots, and 45-degree spines.