Stoke the Fire

Inspiring a lifelong passion. 

Sure, the terrain around here is incredible for any snow lover, but the secret to winter stoke for so many Gallatin Valley residents may be an unusual collection of nonprofits that are devoted to the hard skills—glide, turn, soar—and the soft skills—confidence, joy, growth, and the upturned grin of a good ski day. 

Three local ski clubs—the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation (BSSEF), and the Bridger Biathlon Club (BBC)—plus Eagle Mount’s adaptive snowsports program and the Big Sky Youth Empowerment (BYEP) winter session, all get local youth involved with various forms of skiing and break down many of the financial barriers for participants. Factor in the nonprofit status of both Bridger Bowl and the new Crosscut Mountain Sports Center that recently bought Bohart Ranch, and don’t forget that Bozeman is home to one of the nation’s best in-town networks of Nordic ski trails, all groomed by BSF and funded solely by grants, voluntary trail passes, and donations.

Whether you’re hiking the Ridge for powder shots or skiing groomed tracks by headlamp at Highland Glen, you understand the glory of a good ski day. But it’s more than that. “I grew up with very easy access to skiing on community trails, and it definitely shaped who I am now,” says Kyle Marvinney, trails manager for BSF, who by night and early morning grooms the community Nordic trail system and by afternoon coaches Nordic skiers. “After sitting in school all day, skiing is a great release for kids. It gets them outside and moving around even on days when they may not want to be out.”

Photo courtesy Bridger Ski Foundation

For the participants at Eagle Mount, skiing is about independence and confidence. “The independence part of it is so huge,” says Vasu Sojitra, Eagle Mount’s adaptive sports director. “A lot of them don’t get to feel like that on a daily basis—it’s therapeutic.” The hoots and giggles generally give it away. “That’s what hooked me on this job,” says Vasu, “seeing kids having the time of their lives going down a green run.”

Pete McFadyen, founder and executive director of BYEP, reminds us that “watching a young person learn something new and cultivate a passion around it creates a powerful metaphor for taking on new challenges which life inevitably throws.”

Ski Fun 101
Let’s face it: winter recreation can go downhill quickly for both adults and kids—the cold toes, the frustration, pileups, and sudden meltdowns. 

A lot of it is about attitude. Vasu says with a laugh. “I tell our volunteers that it’s psychological warfare. It’s not really about the skiing; it’s about how you talk to the kids.”

“I think you can teach and inspire a love of skiing by genuinely loving skiing yourself,” says Kyle, who takes that philosophy to heart—on and off the clock. He often goads his adolescent athletes into a game of tag. “Simply playing on skis is important at all ages,” he says.

Photo courtesy Bridger Ski Foundation

Rebekah Bunting, co-director of BSF’s Intro to Nordic (Youth Ski League) program likes to see younger kids learning to ski without even realizing the lesson part. “Through games and activities that incorporate balance and other skills, they’re learning the fundamentals of skiing while having a blast,” she says. “Before they know it, they're gliding effortlessly on their skis, and they naturally want to continue learning and improving.”

Kelly Kjorlien, executive director of BBC, also relies on games and emphasizes that exercise doesn’t need to be a chore. “Once they’re focused on chasing their friends around a field, they don’t overthink their movements.”

But when all else fails (and it will, eventually), take it from the pros: “Some days can be cold and windy here in Montana,” admits Rebekah, “but there’s always hot chocolate to take care of that. And, as my daughter strongly suggests, ‘send treats to practice!’”

Jenny White is a freelance writer and the marketing and communications director for the Bridger Ski Foundation.