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The blinking blue light atop the Baxter Hotel, Bozeman’s highest building, means one glorious thing to the residents of this southwest Montana town: powder day. Another lumbering highline storm has arrived to deposit that famous cold smoke on Bridger Bowl. As a listless college student in Bozeman, I’d watch it pulse through the darkness on my frigid walks home from one of Main Street’s fine drinking establishments. It would fill me with hope for a deep and lucid tomorrow, as my buddies and I struggled for clarity through all the bottom-shelf whiskey we’d just shot.
And because few things bring a mountain community together like a pow day, the whole town would descend on Bridger, 20 minutes north, and Big Sky, an hour south. Parking lots would fill. Lifties would begrudgingly drag out extra ropes for the queues. Anywhere else, you’d hate the madness, but here it’s a mild and temporary affliction, not a chronic infection like at Colorado and Utah resorts. In the wide-open spaces of Montana, a busy day is a chance to catch your breath and the local gossip. Everyone here is friends, and everyone’s riding the collective high of a place that’s radder than the Jacksons, Squaws, and Snowbirds of the world. Montana just doesn’t need to brag to about it.