THE HISTORY OF OUR SKI CLUBS
Making skiing possible since 1936
Organized skiing in the area dates back to 1935 with the construction of the first ski lift in Montana near Karst Camp in the Gallatin Canyon, the first downhill race in 1936 on Moose Creek, and the founding of the Bozeman Ski Club in 1936. Ski jumping competitions began in 1937 at Karst and drew large numbers of spectators to watch the best jumpers in the country. Organized skiing in the Bozeman area has found its way from those early days to today as the Bridger Ski Foundation. While BSF was formally chartered in 1975 as Bridger Ski Education Foundation and later changed to the Bridger Ski Foundation in 1991, its roots date back into the dreams of early local ski areas like Karst, Bear Canyon, Lyon's Head and the Bozeman Ski Club.
With the birth of Bridger Ski Bowl (to become Bridger Bowl Ski Area), residents volunteered time and materials creating and running the ski area. Spending time together for a common cause, they created life-long friendships, relationships, and business partnerships. Many served on the Bridger Bowl Board of Directors and they or their spouses were responsible for creating the Bridger Ski Club.
With the Ski Club in place, there was an avenue of support for area youth to compete in local school, state, and Northern Division Races. Parents and club members would organize and host races in all kinds of climates and conditions -- from below zero temperatures, and blizzards, to warmth beyond skiing conditions. Coaches were paid by the local high school, thereby limiting instruction to high school students as skiing was sponsored by the State High School Association. The kids participated in Alpine events, slalom, giant slalom and downhill, as Novice, Intermediate, or Expert classes.
Nordic competitions consisted of cross country and ski jumping, with several kids doing both Alpine and Nordic events. It sometimes became interesting as to the actual site or design of ski courses, and jump locations, at different host sites around the state. Dillon was noted for its cross country course through sagebrush, and their home-grown lodgepoles for slalom gates. Helena piled up some hay bales and called it a Nordic Jump. Great Falls had one wicked outrun on their jump.
The last state school meet was held in Dillon (Rainy Mountain) in 1971. When skiing was dropped as a school-sponsored sport, it left quite a void in organized skiing as it was left to the local ski clubs and individuals to provide coaching, entry fees, and travel. At this time the Alpine team stepped up and created the Bridger Ski Education Foundation (BSEF) -- one of the first 501 (c)(3) skiing foundations in this area. Nordic skiing was still operating under the ski club and continued to do so for many more years. Both programs provided a need for skiers at all ages and levels of ability: Buddy Warner (to become Youth Ski League), Nordic Bill Koch League (to become Jim Bridger), the community Langlauf Series, masters programs and weekday team races. Over the years, hundreds of kids went through the ranks of BSEF and Bridger Nordic from recreational competitors to Olympians Heather McPhie, Leif Zimmerman, and Jeff Olsen.
In early 1991, after several meetings and discussions, it was decided that it made sense for everyone's benefit to combine the Ski Club (Alpine, Nordic and newcomer Freestyle) under one umbrella -- the existing BSEF. When the new by-laws were developed, the "Education" name was dropped from BSEF, and the Bridger Ski Foundation was created.