Trista Jones and her husband decided to scout out the new lift at Bridger Bowl Ski Area last Tuesday before coming up with their two children. She was impressed with what she experienced.
“It's way better,” said Jones, a Bozeman resident.
Over the summer, the ski area added a new triple chair replacing its old Bridger and Deer Park lifts. As part of the $3.2 million in upgrades, the road that ran from the top of the Deer Park chair and crossed into the South Bowl was removed and a rope tow was added near the base of Pierre's Knob lift to ease skier and boarder access to the Deer Park Chalet from the south side of the mountain. More chairs were added to Pierre's Knob, as well.
But the big investment was in a new Bridger lift. The new Doppelmayr CTEC lift rises 1,424 vertical feet from just above the Deer Park Chalet to where the old Bridger lift unloaded, at an elevation of 8,100 feet. Aided by a Magic Carpet conveyor belt that routes riders in front of the circling chairs, the lift has the capacity to move 1,800 people an hour. From bottom to top, the ride takes about 8 minutes. The lift's heavier chairs should also allow the chair to keep running in winds that used to shut the old lifts down.
The Bridger lift is considered the most important on the mountain to the ski patrol since it provides access to the ridge where avalanche hazard reduction work is conducted.
Jones likes that she and her husband will be able to ride to the top while their children can get off at midway and navigate lower groomed runs. The midway unload is at the base of Bridger's mogul-pocked face.
From midway up, the mountain's runs are designated black diamond and double black diamond — most difficult to expert only. The lift also accesses the upper ends of the North and South bowls, two areas key to powder hounds. From midway downhill, most of the runs are rated blue, or more difficult. Midway will also provide access to ski racers who use Hamilton's Hollow.
Out with the old
The new Bridger lift replaces two old-timers. The old Bridger lift, often referred to as the Old Chair, was erected in 1964 and was shortened in 1995. Deer Park was installed in 1971. One of the main reasons for replacing the lifts was that getting parts was difficult and expensive, said Doug Wales, Bridger's marketing manager.
Although the new Bridger lift replaces two chairs, it actually increases lift capacity by almost 8 percent. It also reduces the number of lift towers on the hill.
“People have been falling in love with that part of the mountain again,” Wales said. “It opens up these great lines that were obscured by that road.”
The new lift and changes to the mountain are the latest in a series of upgrades that have impressed Bridger's loyal contingent of skiers and boarders.
“It cleaned the mountain up,” said Randy Nall, who has been skiing at Bridger Bowl since 1980.
He said he doesn't miss Deer Park or its tiny chairs. His friend suggested newspaper coverage of the changes be downplayed to keep visitation low.
Some critics argue that the new lift should have been based where the Deer Park lift started, allowing skiers to ski down from Deer Park Chalet to the lift. As it is now, skiers and boarders have to walk up from the chalet a short distance.
More in store
More changes are in Bridger Bowl's future, Wales said, but probably not for a couple of years. Next on the list is to replace the Alpine chairlift with two triple chairs coming from the same area, he said. One would rise north toward Montagne's Meadow while the other would go to the North Bowl above Powder Park.
The improvements won't be made until the cash is in hand, Wales said.
“We try to do these out of pocket,” he said. “The soonest we could do it would be a couple of summers from now.”
Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at email@example.com or at 657-1387.