Since the announcement of its expansion, Bridger Bowl has been quiet about where it’s headed and where it’s not. The growth of the resort and its boundaries sparked debate two seasons ago only to be followed by tons of snow and two new open gates. Where are they going with this?
The famous Orca that sits next to Highway 85 has more origin stories and rituals than the modern Sasquatch. For the past two years, rumors about the expansion of Bridger Bowl have been much like the tales of the whale. False hopes and down right dirty rumors have led skiers on or made them sour. What has come of the plans to build two new surface lifts to the ridge? How many skiers will the Bridger lift carry once updated? Are there Lynx in the Bridger Range? These questions and others have run through every Bridger user’s mind since the unveiling of a forest service approved plan to expand our small community based resort.
Bridger can expand a total of 724 acres, add six new lifts, and renovate two more lifts. The Slushman area to the South and Bradley Meadows area to the north have been approved for ski trails and ski lifts. The days of slow fixed doubles, love it or hate it, may come to an end. Bridger and Deer Park can be replaced with Pierre’s-Knob-style triple chairs. The problematic Alpine lift is a point of contention — the lift itself doesn’t cut it nor the area at which it drops you off. However, people love the terrain. It would be a disappointment to tear Alpine down without another lift in place. The potential to add two surface lifts taking skiers to the ridge also exists. While this option has yet to be seriously considered among the board, it exists.
According to Doug Wales, marketing director for Bridger Bowl Resort, the tone is modest and growth will only happen when the community asks for it. The pace to this point has been sluggish, and Wales attributes it to the fact that “No one will personally benefit from the growth; we don’t care about the numbers, just the quality of the experience for the community.” The newly opened gates leading to Bradley Meadows is a good example of this view. While Bridger Bowl planned to put a lift that would access the upper area of the meadows, the large number of people that hiked into the area last season suggests that it’s not needed. For the community to enjoy the terrain, a lift is not necessary.
The environmental concerns also seem to have been addressed and repressed. The fact that recreation in the Northern Bridger Mountains is a thriving activity with or without the resort’s expansion should be taken seriously. People are already intruding on possible Lynx habitat, which happens to be one of the more windy, snowy, and cold regions of the range. The resort’s board spent eight years in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process and took the time to sit down and talk with environmental groups like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition before going forward with the plan. On top of that, Wales mentions that “by expanding north we are preventing the area from motorized use.” The destruction or reduction of Lynx habitat depends on Lynx actually living in the region, which is widely contested. The 57 acres of tree clearing that may be done is also modest in comparison to the amount that many private ski areas do every decade. Bridger Bowl advocates the conservation of the western side of the range, leaving it untouched for animals and their habitat.
Last year my heart was broken when conversations about skiing bumps down the Apron and Gully became comic relief. With powder days bringing over 4000 skiers to the hill per day the last few seasons, deep snow and fresh tracks can be tough to find. The resort is currently equipped for only 3200 skiers per day and the Gallatin Valley is not exactly losing population. The call for more “freshies” and shorter lift lines has become a roar. In this county growth is inevitable and our community based ski resort cannot deny this verity. The first step has been taken. Alta/Snowbird’s Peruvian lift has been purchased and will be put into the Slushman’s drainage in the next two years. The base terminal will be accessed from the top of Pierre’s Knob and the top terminal will drop skiers less than a hundred feet from the ridge. While you will not be able to access the actual Ridge per se, the Fingers and the South Boundary will be lift and traverse accessible. To say this will ease tension is an understatement. The new terrain and lift will reduce the lines at the Bridger lift and leave the North and South Bowl less congested. For the local skier this means more fresh tracks on the Ridge and more expert terrain to the south.
The bottom line with this expansion is much like the bottom line for the Gallatin Valley: growth is here to stay and managing it consciously now protects it for the future. To think that Bridger could ignore the explosion is crazy. Like the community itself, Bridger needs to ease the bulge of growth inside a small space.