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Basking in Bridgerís unfamiliarity

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I know many skiers love going to their favorite resort every weekend. They love the anticipation of the familiar, seeing friendly faces, skiing favorite trails.

Good for them. That's not me.

I love discovering new resorts, meeting people, and not knowing what's over the next knoll, or how steep that double black diamond is going to be.

So when I found myself riding a classic double chair at Bridger Bowl in Montana looking up at double black (scary) steeps, I had a big smile. Bridger is a gem with 2,000 acres of amazing terrain and spectacular scenery of the Yellowstone River and the Crazy Mountains (real name). Bridger isn't a big name Montana resort, like Big Sky or Whitefish, but it should be, since it has spawned amazing free skiers like Doug Coombs and Scott Schmidt.

Bridger's impressive 8,800-foot ridge is two miles across with insane steeps, sick chutes and extraordinary powder bowls. Skiers used to have to hike to reach the ridge, but a new double chair now accesses it, though you must have transceivers as part of avalanche safety. Proof of peeps is required as you load Schlasman's lift (named after a miner that died here in an avalanche  - and a reminder of the risk).

During our Bridger day, we witnessed super, strong skiers competing in the Bridger Gully Free Ride - a gutsy all out, single run down the steep face, where judges reward difficulty and aggressiveness of attack.

But on the flipside, we saw families from Bozeman, an easy 20 minutes away, spending the day in the snow and sun. Bridger is a playground for experts, and those just learning to turn or looking for ego-pleasing wide open satiny snow in South Bowl and the Alpine Face.

I didn't know a soul at Bridger Bowl, but I felt a really friendly vibe. Rather unique, Bridger is a privately owned community operated ski area. That makes it sound low budget, but the management and shareholders have added numerous new lifts and three spectacular new rocky mountain lodges in the last decade, impressive at a time when many real estate laden resorts have verged on bankruptcy. Bridger has no slopeside lodging, akin to county-owned Gunstock, but Bridger is one of the most easily reached western resorts, 14 miles from Bozeman. Compared to most big western areas, Bridger's 2,700-foot vertical is a bargain ($47 for adults, $16 for kids).

While I like new places, I would gladly go back to Bridger to score more fantastic snow, ski more of its vast terrain, and meet more nice Montanans that really know how to ski.

Photo by Greg Burke. For more of Heatherís ski tips, go to www.familyskitrips.com

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