The Girl Next Door

Brittany Wiser’s laughter echoed through the snowy woods of the Bridger Mountains as I lay there with my skis and poles wedged beneath my tangled limbs. The original plan was to do something like ice climbing up Hyalite or maybe going to Spire, but then the plan changed to Bohart Ranch. She told me that she loved cross-country skiing. I lied and told her I’d been a few times. Now I was eating snow and couldn't get up.

“No, roll onto your back first!” she called out. “Now line your skis up underneath you!”

As I floundered, trying to right myself back onto my skis with the finesse of a newborn giraffe, Brittany effortlessly glided down the hill. Flipping her long brown hair off her shoulder with her ski glove, she offered a hand.

“Wow, that was some fall!” she said, looking down with her big Miss Montana smile and laughing. “People usually don’t crash that hard Nordic skiing.” She was trying to maintain her royal poise and professionalism, but I could tell it was a bit of a struggle.

This was how I got the chance to meet Brittany Wiser, the state's reigning beauty queen who happens to live just down the road in Bozeman. She was just back from the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas (she was eliminated in the first round), and between her countless interviews, appearances, and commercial shoots, I decided to find out whether a bona fide Montana beauty queen can cut it outdoors.

“As a kid, I really loved fishing with my Dad, hiking the M, all that Bozeman stuff,” she told me. Born and raised in Bozeman, Wiser attended Headwaters Academy (see profile on page 20), where she got a chance to experience the outdoors firsthand and fell in love with it. “Every semester we’d do a trip, like backpacking in Yellowstone, or cross-country skiing to a cabin in some remote area. It was really fun,” she remembered as she gracefully kicked her way along the track at Bohart, completely in her element.

Wiser explained that her skiing developed at Bohart over the last two decades or so. ”I’ve done it my whole life with my Mom, that was the activity we did… because I wasn’t allowed to go downhill skiing till I was in high school,” she said with a laugh. “So I volunteered at Eagle Mount for cross-country skiing every year, and that’s always really fun. I couldn’t do it this year because I’ve been gone too much.”

After graduating high school and college, she was on the fast track to medical school. Then, on a whim, she decided to give the Miss Montana program a try.

At the weeklong event in Glendive, Brittany competed against pageant veterans. As the competition rolled along, more and more people approached her and showed their support. “Especially when I got into the top five, people were really rooting for me.” On the final night, the votes were tallied and, to her surprise, she won. “It was one of the most fun things I’ve done in my whole life. The entire week was great. Winning was really just a bonus.”

Now that she’s been crowned, her days are spent with seemingly endless appearances and scheduled visits, leaving little time for leisure activities. On the same day as our trip to Bohart, she had already been to Whittier Elementary, and was then slated for a meeting and another interview.

“I’m super busy anymore… When I can, I like kayaking, and I really like hiking and camping," she explained. "I do most of that around my parents’ cabin outside Lincoln, Montana, but also around Yellowstone too.”

Back on the slopes, we decided to stay on the flatter, less threatening trails. “See, you’re getting it!” Brittany continued to encourage me as I waddled along. “If it makes you feel better, this is one of the best interviews I’ve had. Normally we just sit and talk; I never get a chance to go skiing,” she said as she took in a deep breath and admired the surrounding woods.

I proposed that for our next interview we snowshoe up Hyalite and top-rope some easy ice climbs, and she burst out laughing. “When it comes to the outdoors, I’ll try anything. I’m really into doing new things, but I think I’d die if I tried ice climbing.”

Other than affixing razor-sharp implements to all four limbs and dodging bricks of ice, I reassured her, ice climbing is a very safe sport. “Oh, right,” she said. “And I’m pretty sure there’s something in my contract that says I can’t do anything life threatening. Plus, then you would get to watch me look like an idiot.” I laughed, looked down at the snow still caked to my pants from Nordic skiing’s most epic crash, and thought: Right. Just leave that to me.