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Bozeman, Ski Bums, Backcountry, Bridger Bowl

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Four fanatics who make skiing a top priority. 

First chair. Last call. Whiteout. Bluebird. Fall line. Front-side. Backcountry.

These are the words that make up the skier’s language, and in Bozeman, many of us are conversationally proficient. But some are masters of the tongue, their fluency exposing a life lived for the perfect turn, endless face-shots, and the solitude of the backcountry. As Bozeman grows and recreation choices diversify, it’s easy to forget that this is a ski town, first and foremost, with a devout congregation of diehard skiers who live mountain life to the fullest. This is your reminder.

The Bartender
When college kids back East fantasize about heading west and being ski bums, “bartender” is usually their occupation of choice. Flexible hours, all day to ski, and a heavy social scene are just some of the perks. The pride of Pittsburgh, Dan Wycoff, has maximized those perks for almost a quarter century, and he’s here to tell you that slinging barley pops in a ski town is everything it’s cracked up to be, and more.

O/B: How long have you been skiing in Bozeman? Were you born here, or did you invade like most folks?
Dan Wycoff: Invaded from the mean streets of Pittsburgh in 1993 after spending two years in Park City, Utah.

O/B: Big Sky or Bridger? Or, dare we ask, other?
DW: Bridger Bowl pass-holder forever—23 years and counting! Shout-out to the pro and volunteer patrol at Big Sky, though! 

O/B: How many days do you ski per season?
DW: Probably 80-plus, unless I hurt myself... 

O/B: Name your local ski hero. Why do you admire her/him?
DW: I can't identify him by name but there is a longtime local backcountry skier we call the Wizard who has been crushing it since he lived in a cabin near LuLu pass in Cooke city in 1975. This guy has put in more backcountry ski miles—mostly solo—than anybody I know and would beat most of us uphill to this day. Nobody knows where he spends most of his time but we have threatened to put a tracking device in his backpack so we can find his stashes. 

O/B: Favorite in-bounds run at Bridger? Big Sky?
DW: Bridger has to be Hidden to Outer Limits or Northwest Direct when it’s in. Gotta’ love the side hits on Hully Gully though! Big Sky, all the great lines in the Headwaters zone—such amazing, steep, north-facing terrain. 

O/B: How old were you when you first skied the Ridge? The tram? Describe the experience.
DW: So old I can't remember how old I was. I just remember the Ridge hike being such a big deal back in the day and stopping two or three times on the hike because it was so hard. No recollection of a first tram ride, but I remember skiing the Headwaters when Moonlight first opened, before there was a lift, and being one of a handful of people just lapping that zone. You could pick out your tracks for days. 

O/B: Have you ever snowboarded? Why or why not?
DW: Of course I have—I tried it a handful of times when I lived in Utah and was so terrible and got beat up so bad that I swore it off forever.

O/B: Other than Montana, where is your favorite place to ski?
DW: I don’t make it to many other resorts but I must mention Seven Springs Resort outside of Pittsburgh for making me realize I love to ski and should move west ASAP. As for backcountry, it’s really hard to beat the Eastern Sierra around Bishop during a big year—7k descents, hot springs, and taco trucks all day. I also heard Ski Dubai is worth a trip… 

O/B: Are there any changes or trends in Bozeman’s ski culture that concern you? Conversely, what gets you excited?
DW: Obviously the biggest change is the crowds, both at the resorts and in the backcountry/sidecountry. But I still feel we are in a much better place than Jackson or Utah where you have to fight for a parking spot at backcountry trailheads. I get pretty excited by hot cocoa and a shot of Chartreuse, and when the Penguins win the Stanley Cup! 

O/B: If you could add one thing to Bozeman’s ski scene, what would it be?
DW: How ’bout a tram to the top of Bridger Peak? Just kidding. I think a local community TV channel showing ski/bike movies, doing athlete profiles, and promoting local business would be a cool thing. Seems like you see that in a lot of other mountain towns. 

O/B: What’s your favorite Bozeman ski event of the season?
DW: I’m not a big event guy but the annual Powder Blast fundraiser for the Avalanche Center is always a great time for a great cause. 

O/B: Face Shots or the Griz? Why?
DW: C’mon now… all the cool kids hang at the Dry Fly!


The Guide 
Guiding is high on the list of dream ski jobs. What could be better than getting paid to show people around beautiful mountains? Only one thing: getting paid to show people around beautiful mountains and then skiing cold-smoke powder. For born-and-raised Bozemanite Nina Hance, that dream is a reality. As a guide for Beartooth Powder Guides out of Cooke City, Nina spends her time sharing her expertise with folks from all over, but she cut her teeth like most of us, on the Ridge at Bridger Bowl.

O/B: How long have you been skiing in Bozeman? Were you born here, or did you invade like most folks?
Nina Hance: 22 years. I was born and raised in Bozeman. 

O/B: Big Sky or Bridger? Or, dare we ask, other?
NH: Bridger, because I grew up in Bridger Canyon. I do appreciate the occasional Big Sky day for the long bump runs. 

O/B: How many days do you ski per season?
NH: Around 80, including guiding and free skiing. 

O/B: Name your local ski hero. Why do you admire her/him?
NH: My mother, (Bridger Bowl instructor) Birgit, because she is the most beautiful skier I know. Her technique is flawless, and she taught me how to ski. 

O/B: Favorite in-bounds run at Bridger? Big Sky?
NH: The Apron on the Bridger Ridge. 

O/B: How old were you when you first skied the Ridge? Describe the experience.
NH: I was seven years old. It was a quiet powder day and my parents casually took me up the Ridge to ski the Nose. The traverse along the Ridge felt so much longer than it does now as an adult. 

O/B: Have you ever snowboarded? Why or why not?
NH: When I was in middle school I thought I would give it a try. It was all right. I made it down Sunnyside. 

O/B: Other than Montana, where is your favorite place to ski? Resort and backcountry.
NH: For backcountry, Valdez, Alaska. For resort, Jackson Hole.

O/B: Are there any changes or trends in Bozeman’s ski culture that concern you? Conversely, what gets you excited?
NH: People booting up the skintrack—that bothers me. I’m excited for the increased accessibility to baked goods and pastries en route to skiing, given all the new coffee shops. There’s nothing like a summit pastry. 

O/B: If you could add one thing to Bozeman’s ski scene, what would it be?
NH: More people skiing in tutus. 

O/B: What’s your favorite Bozeman ski event of the season?
NH: Powder Blast! 

O/B: Face Shots or the Griz? Why?
NH: The Griz, because I see friends every time I go in there.


The Builder
Father of two. Business owner. Snowboarder. Not necessarily in that order. That’s life for workaholic Steve Ritter, who showed up in the mid-’90s and never left. But Steve’s doing it right, putting in just as much as he’s getting out.


O/B: How long have you been skiing in Bozeman? Were you born here, or did you invade like most folks?
Steve Ritter: Since ’95. Very invasive. 

O/B: Big Sky or Bridger? Or, dare we ask, other?
SR: Bridger. 

O/B: How many days do you ski a season?
SR: Maybe 80? But I don’t really count. 

O/B: Name your local ski hero. Why do you admire her/him?
SR: So many candidates! Bob Dawg’s legendary status is hard to surpass. Anyone who has the drive to set up personal rope-tows (in the Playground) serving thousands of vertical deserves some props. 

O/B: Favorite in-bounds run at Bridger? Big Sky?
SR: Tough question… but I gotta say Z Chute and the North Summit snowfield. 

O/B: How old were you when you first skied the Ridge? The tram? Describe the experience.
SR: Ridge, 21 years old. Back then, it was hard to even get on the Ridge. You had to have a partner, pack, Pieps, and shovel. To go with someone who actually knew the Ridge was an extreme privilege. My guide may have been coming down from a psychedelic substance, but I didn’t care; I was stoked to finally go. He took me to the 1st Virtue, told me to drop in, and keep an eye to the right. I was so jacked! When I hit Hidden, I looked up to the right and saw my mentor straight-line the 3rd. He ripped past me, engulfing me in that epic BB blower. That day tweaked my jibber ways toward the steep-and-deep. Turns out, my escort was still tripping. Later that day he was ticketed for public nudity! Tram: first year it opened—was that ’96? I was terrified but it was so fun!

O/B: Have you ever skied? Why or why not?
SR: Never been in ski boots. The first time I snowboarded I knew it was what I wanted to do. 

O/B: Other than Montana, where is your favorite place to ski? Resort and backcountry.
SR: Anywhere with the pow. We have neighbors in every direction that have the terrain and get pounded with powder. I use to get up to Canada every year—I’d like to get back into that groove.

O/B: Are there any changes or trends in Bozeman’s skiing culture that concern you? Conversely, what gets you excited?
SR: Population of rippers is exploding and shralping the zones that were once “secret.” At the same time, that pushes me to find that next sick spot! 

O/B: If you could add one thing to Bozeman’s ski scene, what would it be?
SR: New shred resort could be cool... but where? A local ski channel would be rad, too.

O/B: What’s your favorite Bozeman ski event of the season?
SR: I enjoy pre-season films downtown to get my stoke on. 

O/B: Face Shots or the Griz? Why?
SR: Start at Face Shots, end at the Griz—if I’m not driving.


The Student
Montana State is dubbed Cold Smoke College for a reason: Bozeman has some of the best skiing in the country. Which means the MSU student body is full of boundary-pushing skiers, some of whom push a little harder than others—like Sawyer Thomas, who has taken top honors at three seminal Bridger Bowl badass-skier events: King & Queen of the Ridge, the Skin to Win Randonee Rally, and the Bridger Gully Freeride. Bridger even made him a custom award they dubbed the “Triple Crown” and made an awesome trophy out of an old avalanche shell for being the first person to win all three events.

O/B: How long have you been skiing in Bozeman? Were you born here, or did you invade like most folks?
Sawyer Thomas: I was born in Jackson and I’m currently in my fourth year at MSU, meaning this will be my fourth year skiing at Bridger. 

O/B: Big Sky or Bridger? Or, dare we ask, other?
ST: Bridger Bowl—it has the huge advantage of being close enough for a quick afternoon ski. 

O/B: How many days do you ski per season?
ST: It depends whether you count quick dawn-patrol laps. If you include those, close to 80. 

O/B: Name your local ski hero. Why do you admire her/him?
ST: Oh boy, we’ve got a classic group of skiers that paved that way for us here in Bozeman. Ski legends like Scott Schmidt, Doug Coombs, Jim Conway, and Tom Jungst. That is truly a group that pioneered the spirit of adventure and skiing around here. Tom is a professor at MSU and has told me some stories that really make me wish I could see Bozeman during his day. 

O/B: Favorite in-bounds run at Bridger? Big Sky?
ST: Sixth Grade at Bridger Bowl… it’s pure gold. I haven’t really skied at Big Sky enough to have a favorite run. 

O/B: How old were you when you first skied the Ridge? The tram? Describe the experience.
ST: Like many others, I was a freshman in college when I first skied the Ridge. The wind was absolutely howling and it was the first time I’d ever seen a tele-skier crushing lines I wouldn’t dare go close to. The first time I ever saw the top of Lone Peak was during the Shedhorn Skimo race. At the time, all I could focus on was trying to stay upright in the 50-mph winds. My first time riding the tram was last spring and it was a significantly less painful experience.

O/B: Have you ever snowboarded? Why or why not?
ST: Once or twice when I was younger. I would love to get into it more, though; it looks like a blast, especially in powder. 

O/B: Other than Montana, where is your favorite place to ski? Resort and backcountry.
ST: Hogadon Ski Resort in Casper, Wyoming! You park at the top and ski down from there. It’s a real wild time. For backcountry, I once did a trip to go catch the snow in Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park. We hit rocks the entire time but it was a remarkable trip and truly unique. 

O/B: Are there any changes or trends in Bozeman’s skiing culture that concern you? Conversely, what gets you excited?
ST: I’m not sure if it’s a trend, but I know a few kids who ski without their brain buckets on. Even if you’re just cruising around or filming, you can still take a hit to the head. What I’m most excited about is the growing number of snowblades I see on the mountain. I’m certain that short skis are the future of the sport. 

O/B: If you could add one thing to Bozeman’s ski scene, what would it be?
ST: Lycra and more Lycra—more people should get into Randonee racing! 

O/B: What’s your favorite Bozeman ski event of the season?
ST: The Big Sky Pond Skim. 

O/B: Face Shots or the Griz? Why?
ST: Griz. People usually pass by as they’re leaving the mountain, so it’s a good opportunity to heckle your friends.

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