Ski hill showdown.
“How can you compare Bridger to anywhere?” you might ask. “You’re not being loyal to Bozeman!” you could criticize. “This one’s a no-brainer,” you’ll probably assume. However, while Bridger Bowl will always be our backyard ski hill, the Rockies are vast, laden with high-elevation peaks on which abundant snow falls. Just such a place lies a mere three hours to the south, has a down-home vibe similar to Bridger’s, and gets more snow than anywhere around here. Sounds like a legitimate face-off to us—let’s see where this one goes.
The Tetons are majestic and have no rival in the lower 48 when it comes to scenic appeal. But the lift-served terrain at Targhee is basically the foothills, and while mellow, open slopes can be great on a zero-vis powder day, there’s not a whole lot of terrain to get your heart pumping and your knees shaking. The steeps off Bridger’s Ridge, however, have caused more underpant-soilings than the carne asada at Chipotle.
Instead of the requisite cocaine joke about copious quantities of white powder, we’ll go with a sugar analogy. The snow at Bridger is like powdered confections at the fair: light, fluffy, and delectable. But it’s sprinkled somewhat sparingly when compared to Targhee’s, which is akin to an extra-large swirl of cotton candy—there’s a lot of it and it’ll make you feel like a kid again.
We gripe a lot about the growth of Bozeman, and how it ain’t like the good ol’ days, but it’s pretty great to have a real town 15 minutes from the hill. Driggs is cool, but the Teton Valley ain’t the Gallatin Valley—aside from a few potato farms and a good pizza joint, there’s not a lot going on.
Post-skiing atmosphere cannot be overstated—where and when to start drinking is high on the list of things to consider. Jimmy B’s may serve the best fries on the planet, and the Griz is a solid hangout; but there’s no lodging at Bridger, so real après doesn’t start until you get back to town. At Targhee, the Trap Bar & Grill checks a lot of ski-town-bar boxes: excellent pub grub, consistent live music, and ski-porn on repeat all night long.
Although Bridger can feel pretty empty on a random weekday, there’s no hell like the slow-moving, never-ending Suby convoy on a weekend powder-day. And with MSU’s record enrollment and increasing wintertime tourism, the lift-lines at Bridger get longer every year. Targhee may have on-mountain lodging and similar base-area congestion, but Driggs is pretty much the middle of nowhere, and Jackson Hole pulls a lot of traffic over the Tetons. It’s sad but true: Bridger’s just not a sleeper hill anymore.
From the Ridge, the Bridgers are your oyster. Go north or south—or even west, if you’re ambitious—and you’ll find great skiing when the conditions are right. You might also find some misinformed tourists who thought Bridger Bowl’s “sidecountry” was patrolled; they’ll be shivering, crying, and holding each other as the sun sets. From Targhee, you can walk through the gates and be in the Tetons, and if that doesn’t get you jazzed up, obviously you’re not a golfer.
Targhee opened in 1969 as a 900-person community co-op, and welcomed the public three years later. It’s been family-owned for all but a few years in the late ’90s (when it was bought by corporate overlords), but is family-owned once more and retains its throwback vibe remarkably well. Bridger opened to the public in 1955 as a community nonprofit and has remained that way ever since. Both ski areas are, and generally have been, all about the locals—let’s not split hairs on this one.
Although the Tetons—“teats” in French—may have the best name for a mountain range ever, “Targhee” refers to a breed of sheep—which, though hardy and heavy-fleeced, is no match for Jim Bridger, one of the greatest mountain men to roam the Rockies.
Bridger Bowl has been instrumental in shaping modern freeride skiing and riding. Skiers like Tom Jungst, Scot Schmidt, Doug Coombs, Jim Conway, and many others cut their teeth on the Ridge, and went on to become luminaries of the sport. Targhee’s claim to fame is that the late Jamie Pierre famously hucked a 225-foot out-of-bounds cliff and landed on his head.
Score: 4 to 3
Winner: Bridger Bowl
Come on, we haven’t totally lost our minds. Bridger forever!