I find a lot of interesting emails on my computer each morning and one caught my eye this week, prompting a response. It announced the opening for the season of Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, Montana. I know that not many Maine skiers are going to fly to Bozeman to ski at Bridger Bowl, but some have surely flown into Bozeman on their way to Big Sky.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

My interest began in 2001, when an invitation to the North American Ski Writers Association meeting at Big Sky included an invitation to stop in Bozeman to ski at Bridger Bowl. It became more interesting when I learned that the marketing director was Doug Wales, and his hometown was Rumford.

Now, it’s not uncommon to find Eastern skiers who have migrated West. The reasons are obvious. While I love my Eastern ski areas, I have skied enough in the West to appreciate the attraction. The mountains are bigger and the snow is generally better. I have run into Eastern skiers transplanted to the West at any number of Western resorts.

In the ‘80s, when I was doing radio and TV ski reports, I would often call my reports in from the ski patrol shacks at the top of whatever mountain I was skiing. On one occasion at a major Colorado resort, I made my report from the top shack and eight of the ski patrollers present were from New England, including one from Waterville Valley whom I had worked with as an examiner for the professional Ski Patrol Association. He had become a pro at Beaver Creek and worked as a carpenter in the offseason. While I didn’t get any details, I am sure his weekly paycheck was bigger out there than a typical pro patroller gets here in the East.

But those are big resorts. How does a Maine skier wind up at a local mountain in the West? Don’t be fooled by the term “local.” Bridger Bowl has 2,600 feet of vertical drop, which would place it in the top three in Vermont; equal to Sugarbush and Smuggler’s Notch. It may be only 15 minutes out of Bozeman, but Bridger occupies a long ridge with a bunch of chutes steep enough to challenge any skier, and the day we were there they were filled with fresh powder. It was easy to see why local Bozeman skiers found all they needed right outside of town, without making the much longer drive up to Big Sky.

And this brings us to the town itself. From our hotel, we could walk to plenty of bars and restaurants. And one very good steakhouse. You can get a good steak at any of the Western ski towns. And most have good Mexican food as well.


But this is about Maine skiers out West, not about the food. When I received that email announcing Bridger Bowl’s opening, I wondered if that young man from Rumford was still there and sent a reply asking about him. The response was that Doug Wales had retired.

But the new GM was from Aroostook County. They forwarded my email to him, and I received a phone call from Hiram Towle, who had been born in Fort Fairfield. I learned that he had worked at Sunday River and lived in Greenwood during that time. Also at that time, he got interested in working with non-profits at a number of different associations in the Bethel area. This interest led him to take a position at Mount Ashland in Oregen — a non-profit ski area. He was also familiar with the non-profit BigRock in The County, which was run by a relative.

This past fall, he took the position of GM at Bridger Bowl. The community ski area works with several local non-profits in Bozeman in youth ski programs and an adaptive skiing program. While the ski area is as big as most of the major ski areas in the East, Bridger’s ticket price is well below most Eastern ski areas of similar size, at $85 a day at the window, but the average with most skiers taking advantage of specials and online, skiing for $70.

On that trip to Big Sky, I met Steve Kircher, President of Boyne, the company that also owns Sugarloaf and Sunday River. We didn’t know at the time that he would be coming to Sunday River in 2009 to help celebrate that resort’s 50th birthday and my book on the history of the mountain would be given to all the guests. It’s amazing how the ski world is all tied together in some way. I learned that Bridger Bowl is not just a place where local skiers from Bozeman go to ski, it’s a mountain they are proud to be part of, where they happily boast of the variety of terrain and the challenges to be found there.

Actually I learned this more than 20 years ago on my first visit. And Hiram Towle, another Maine skier, let me know nothing has changed and he’s happy to be part of this local mountain that has such a fiercely loyal following. After skiing there, I can understand that loyalty. Bridger Bowl has all the skiing most skiers need and a day or two added to a trip to Big Sky would be a nice bonus and a different experience from most of the major Western resorts. You might even hook up with a Maine skier who has not only made a home in Bozeman, but is running the show.

For me it has been the most interesting email I have received so far this season. If you get an opportunity to ski Bridger Bowl, it will be a ski day well spent.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at DaveiSkiGolf@aol.com.

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