Lords of the Ridge
Tips from a seasoned competitor.
On any given powder day at Bridger Bowl, long lines of hikers wait near the patrol shack above the Bridger lift to shoulder their skis or board and trek up the Ridge. But on February 5, the line will stretch far longer—with up to 100 competitors decked out in spandex, Hawaiian shirts, tutus, and other bright, soon-to-be-sweaty garb. This marks the 19th year of the annual King & Queen of the Ridge, where people compete to earn money for avalanche education by seeing how many times they can hike the Ridge and ski down. Some participants travel over 10,000 vertical feet. Bridger Bowl snowboard instructor and Lead Ridge Guide, Nate Bartnick, is a frequent flier. “As a masochist, I really like pushing my limits and breathing hard,” he says. “Also, type II fun. And midway through the competition I get into the zone. It becomes a rhythm, and I’m not really thinking about much except the next step, the next turn.”
All proceeds go to the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, and since 2003, the event has raised $183,959. Medals are awarded to the top three male and female finishers in each age group (12 & under, 13-18, and 19 & up). Last year took on a different flavor of competition, but competitors still managed to raise $8,167—the third-highest ever. In 2019, Bridger had a record of 97 participants with a total of 1,369 hikes. Mike Wolfe broke the King record with a whopping 32. Emily Kipp was Queen with an impressive 20. Nikki Kimball holds the Queen record, logging a total of 27. Both skiers and snowboarders are welcome, and teams are encouraged. Competitors under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Bartnick made 20 laps in 2019, with 21 being his record. He’s aiming for a similar number this year. Instead of a costume, he’ll be donning his regular black snowpants. He’s usually down to a T-shirt after a few laps anyway. Bartnick recommends wearing lots of thin layers, so you can adjust easily. “There’s the old adage of ‘be bold, start cold,’ but I don’t recommend that for King & Queen, since the laps are so short. Most of the time, go for it, but for this event, if you get too warm, you can easily ditch a layer. Better to keep your heat than dump it all for the start.”
Bartnick ate breakfast at the 8am pre-race FaceShots meeting once—an egg sandwich he couldn’t finish—and was too keyed up to digest it. Since then, he makes sure to eat before heading to the mountain. After the pre-race meeting, everyone makes for the lift so they have as much time as possible to get situated. In the last minutes before the start, everyone drops their packs and sorts themselves out. “The people in spandex will typically head to the front at this point,” says Bartnick. The race runs from 9:30am until 2:30pm, conditions permitting.
At the top of the Bridger lift, the organizers dig a big shelf for the staging area. There are two bootpacks specific to the event, which run up the Pearly Gates (parallel to Patrol Chute).
As the day goes on, the bootpack evolves, depending on snow conditions. “It definitely deteriorates throughout the day,” says Bartnick. “Usually we get a couple huge steps here and there that keep blowing out more and more, from people stepping off of one or the other. You’ll end up with a third- or half-bootpack in the middle.” He recommends switching off between the two so that you can figure out which one is in better condition. He also makes sure to focus on his breathing and to go slow. “If you hike yourself out of breath and have to take a break, you’re wearing yourself out faster than you need to,” he says.
Snowboarders should bring poles for hiking. Skiers should choke down on their poles, so they don’t start losing circulation in their hands. The numbness can sneak up on you if your hands are above your heart for too long.
For the ski down, expect bumps. “The pinch also gets rutted out really bad,” Bartnick says. “Again, slow and steady really helps. Also, try to get on top of the bumps, rather that skiing in the ruts. This strategy is a more efficient use of energy, and it also helps push snow into the ruts.”
Bartnick also recommends taking time to stay ahead of hydration and calories. “I keep track of which lap I’m on, and I’ve found that eating or drinking something every other lap works well for the competition,” he says. His favorite Ridge snack is a Snickers bar, though they sometimes freeze. He also likes fruit gummies.
Want some of that type II fun for yourself? Curious to see how many laps you can scrounge up while earning money for a good cause? All you need to do is to collect pledges for the most laps you can accomplish in five hours. Sign-ups end at noon on February 4. All competitors are required to have an avalanche beacon, a way to secure skis or snowboard while hiking, and a retention device or brakes. Helmets are recommended.
Winners and door prizes are announced at 4pm in the Jim Bridger Lodge. The post-event party typically includes live music and tasty local beer. Visit bridgerbowl.com for additional details.