Welcome to the land of cowboy boots and cold smoke, where big skies are outdone only by big mountains; where the gateway to Yellowstone country is out the backdoor and Montana State pride bangs on the front (Go Cats!); where world-class skiing eventually melts into world-class fishing; where the après scene and neon nightlife glow from last chair to last call. Welcome to Bozeman, Montana.
Bozeman’s crown jewels, Big Sky Resort and Bridger Bowl, are both within an hour’s drive of downtown and offer a combined 7,000 vertical feet and nearly 8,000 skiable acres of Montana’s finest. With both mountains averaging between 350 to 400 inches of annual snowfall, it’s no wonder the relatively small population of Bozeman (42,000 according to 2014 Census data) has grown year after year.
The Buzz About Boze
There was a definite buzz around the Boze, so we set out to pin down the origin of all the reverb. Like any good ski trip, we were promptly informed that it had just finished dumping prior to our arrival and that “we should have come last week.” Sitting in the lobby of our downtown hotel, The LARK, we calculated that although blower powder would have been acceptable, the scenery would have suffered immeasurably. With two bluebird days at Big Sky and Bridger lying in wait, clear skies would have to suffice.
When it came time to click in and get down, our options felt about as big (and juicy) as a Montana steak. With 48 hours to ski it all, we had our choice between groomers, glades, freestyle terrain, expansive couloirs, narrow chutes and transceiver-required ridgelines; the diversity and sheer volume of terrain was overwhelming. A welcome complement to the steep and deep were the non-existent lift lines we encountered throughout both mountains. The end result of adding too much terrain and too few people equaled a relaxed vibe and Jell-O legs for all.
Between the high-fives and endless vert, we found a number of lift-serviced runs that topped out with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. Ranges like the Crazies, Tetons, Absarokas and Bridgers were just a few, making selfie angles a real dilemma. The country felt both undiscovered and uninhabited, providing a welcome sense of space and freedom.
Lax to Lux
Aside from the two leg-burning days we spent across both mountains, we enjoyed three nights in Bozeman, where the beer flowed like wine and the women instinctively flocked like the salmon... well, you get it. Bozeman’s vibe seemed to encourage sauntering, even moseying when moving from one watering hole to the next. If craft beer and pub fare don’t jangle your spurs, we uncovered a number of high-end restaurants, bars and hotels to choose from as well. Bozeman does an excellent job of catering to all walks, from the ski-bum in need of a burger and hostel to the affluent globetrotter seeking a saltwater pool and a nine-course meal.
When it was all said and done, Bozeman managed to defy labeling and convention. Reflecting on the town during my flight out I struggled to pigeonhole the atmosphere. It wasn’t just a “hard-core skier town” or a “resort town,” although one could argue it’s a bit of both. Bozeman doesn’t harbor an intense local scene—although the Filling Station was a bit rough and tumble—nor is it a tourist trap. So what is Bozeman?
In short, it’s a premier ski destination for individuals, friends and families. But it’s more than that. Bozeman is just Bozeman and it’s doing an excellent job of retaining its own unique identity in a land that’s still as wild and wide open as ever. It felt like whomever you were and whatever you were after, Bozeman was happy to make a little extra room on the bench for you.