BY TYLER ALLEN

Bridger Bowl, one of Southwest Montana’s outstanding ski areas, has seen a lot of change in the past several years. The Schlasman’s chair opened 311 new acres of advanced lift-served terrain and ushered in an open boundary policy. The new Bridger lift replaced the aging Deer Park and Bridger chairlifts. Late this season, access was extended to Schlasman’s and the Ridge from 2:30 until 3 p.m.

As a non-profit ski area, any money made in a season at Bridger goes to pay increases for employees or is invested back into improvements on the mountain. In a late-March interview with Randy Elliot, Bridger’s General Manager of seven years, I asked about these changes, and about what is on tap for the future.

How did this year compare with years past as
far as skier/rider traffic?

Skier visits are good this year. We have one of the
best snow packs in recent years, and that’s important because everyone is a powder skier these days. Similar to other nearby areas, Bridger Bowl pushed back its closing date again this year (to April 12).

What factors determine this date?

Snow conditions are the main factor. We start with snow pack averages to determine the opening and closing dates before the season begins. Late in the season, the die-hards with season passes are still out,
but it’s hard to make any money. The day after a post-season storm, the top two parking lots will be full of cars. It’s a nicer atmosphere, and not such a feeding frenzy. Plus, it’s difficult to manage those spring storms for avalanches.

What was the rationale for extending the Ridge
closing time?

The question had been brought up at board meetings for some time. It had been proposed for the Schlasman’s lift originally, but that’s considered Ridge terrain, and we wanted to manage the whole Ridge as
a unit.

Why not in years past?

The Ridge opened for hikers with transceivers in ’78 or ’79. Prior to that, the idea was probe teams would have to be organized to search for avalanche victims. Requiring a beacon meant a single patroller would be
able to search for someone buried by a slide. The 2:30 closure allowed enough time for patrol to sweep the Ridge and then get back to the lifts by four to do their sweeps on the lower mountain. We decided three would [still] give patrol enough time.

Is there a cost increase in paying patrol or lift
operators for the longer hours?

Not really. The lift operators on Schlasman’s work
shorter days than the rest of the lifties, so paying
them for another half hour a day doesn’t make
much of a difference. The feedback from ski patrol
is they have to be quicker and more effi cient with
their Ridge sweeps. It does make patrol a little
shorter on manpower from three to four o’clock,
but we have three or four extra patrollers on
Schlasman’s lift, anyway.

What is the plan for next year?

This year we extended the Ridge closing on March
1. Next year we may extend the closing time earlier
in the season, maybe sometime in February. We
just want to allow enough time for an effective
rescue before it gets dark.

Are there any changes to look forward to at
Bridger Bowl?

Next year we plan on increasing snowmaking
higher up on the mountain and [getting rid of
more roads] to create better, friendlier ski terrain.
Also, the Alpine lift was installed in 1967, and
… the swinging chairs and the steep unload area
are intimidating to a lot of people. Eventually we
plan on replacing it with two modern lifts. After
the Alpine project is complete, we also want to
increase beginner terrain on a parcel we recently
secured south of the Ski Patrol building.