Montana is a massive state with few people, ample mountains, and home of the largest snowflake on record (15 inches across!). So, what’s not to love? Throw in a fun freeride comp at Bridger Bowl, just 25 minutes outside of Bozeman, and it was the makings for a must-do road trip to the wilds of Montana.
Myself, a skier named Ian and boarder friend Jess made the seven-hour haul on Feb. 18th from Alta, Utah, to see what the B Gully Freeride at Bridger Bowl was all about. Jess and myself were newcomers to the comp and Ian had wrangled a second-place finish some years back and was itching to hit it again.
Up early to get to Bridger and scope the venue, I stood in awe at the base. The mountain rises gently, providing loads of intermediate runs until the curvature of the terrain ramps up sharply for a thousand vertical feet or so of extremeness. “The Ridge” stretches wide across the resort and a few lifts dump people off just below the steeps. From the top of the Bridger Lift it’s a rather grueling, 20-minute staircase hike to the top. From there, traversing out on either side is allowed (beacons required) and dropping back into the bowls puts you on top of amazing and scary exposure, huge cliffs and more.
Bridger Gully (B Gully for short, the venue for the comp) is located on the far skier’s left of the mountain and was a beauty of a course. The top section was short, tree-riddled and steep, with features galore worked into the foliage and lots of big drops at the end to shoot you into the open powder field that comprised the middle section. Next is another technical area with a main gut, devoid of danger, surrounded on both sides by several layers of airs to hit before winding things out in the finishing zone with mellow, low-angle turns.
We got a few laps in, trying to commit things to memory before heading inside for nourishment. We scored some leftover $1 pizza and burgers at the mid-mountain lodge, which may be the single greatest deal ever offered in the history of expensive ski resort food. Thank you.
On the day of the event, the 20th, the vibe was small, friendly and local. The entry fee was low and the overall mood was a feeling of pure skiing and snowboarding enthusiasm. People wanted to win, but I got the impression that they wanted to see their friends shred hard and do well just as much.
Given that climate, the fact that it was skiers and snowboarders competing against each other, and that it was a one-run event, I decided for a go-for-the-gold mentality. ‘Might as well give ‘er hell’ was the basic sentiment in my mind, as my turn to drop loomed closer.
Right away I hit a cross-fall line ten-footer that was literally no more than five feet from the traverse/starting line. I landed and regained control before my big air of the run, a solid 20-footer into the open pow-field. Lining it up, I sent it and in the air noticed a whole lot of tracks in the landing. Upon setting down, I promptly blew up and tumbled at least two and a half cartwheels. Oops, there went the flawless run. Sticking with the plan, I traversed to another 15-20 footer that I had never hit. I aimed for what I thought was the take-off and landed cleanly this time, cutting a few turns to slow down before the next section. Next was three drops of about 8-10 feet in rapid succession. Number one was another failure and I almost slid straight off number two. Recovering and hitting the second and third without any more crashes, I was happy to be done and made some fun turns to the bottom.
I knew it was not a good run (something of a disaster really) through the judge’s eyes but I was proud to attempt an aggressive line in a contest nonetheless.
Afterwards I sat back and watched some amazing ripping. Most entrants were from Montana and you got the impression from watching that the skiers and riders had a thorough understanding of the terrain and the snow, which was ample powder becoming a bit choppy by the end.
Watching the mixture of skiing and boarding, it seemed tough for us boarders to match the power and speed of four long edges versus two shorter ones through some of the steeper, choppier snow. But boarders definitely held there own and though none finished in the top three, they could definitely hang in the same crowd as the skiers.
More importantly, there was no bickering on which discipline was superior and the so-called “rivalry” seemed non-existent anyway, it was just personal choice of a different weapon to get down the same mountain.
On the long, late and exhausting drive through the pitch-black dark night through the woods, it seemed the B Gully comp just made sense. Ride hard on good snow, have fun and don’t complain. It really can be that simple, in Montana at least.
All Photos: Jen Milton