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Bridger Ski Foundation Breaks Ground on Sunset Hills Legacy Project
June 13, 2020
Jenny White
Providing the community with more reliable in-town skiing


Bozeman, MT - This week, Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) broke ground on a project that has been years in the making. Construction began on a new snowmaking system at Sunset Hills in Bozeman, with plans to blow snow on the popular cross country ski trails between Lindley Park and Bozeman Health by December 2020.

Sunset Hills provides approximately 5km of recreation on land owned by the city and is the centerpiece of Bozeman’s 70+km Community Nordic Trails system, which is maintained by the nonprofit Bridger Ski Foundation. Just a few blocks from Main Street in downtown Bozeman, the trails are a local favorite for kids, families, visitors, students, the MSU Ski Team, BSF, Bridger Biathlon Club, Montana Endurance Academy, and the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Team. 

“The mission of BSF’s Community Nordic Trails is to keep skiing accessible and affordable for the entire community,” explained BSF Executive Director Evan Weiss. “Snowmaking at Sunset Hills is a transformative project that will guarantee quality in-town skiing from Thanksgiving until March. This project also fits within the needs of a growing Bozeman community and will improve overall community liveability.” 

The rolling terrain is ideal for everyone from beginners to experts, and it sees constant ski traffic from the early hours of the morning, through lunch breaks, after-school programs, and long past sunset. It’s home to a sledding hill, local and regional races, and a growing community of skiers. And it’s one of the few groomed winter trails in the country that does not have a mandatory trail pass fee; BSF fundraises and sells voluntary trail passes to cover their costs. “If someone can’t afford a pass,” says Weiss, “they can still ski.”

Mitch Overton, Parks & Recreation Director for the City of Bozeman, noted, "We enthusiastically support the efforts of Bridger Ski Foundation to create and expand winter recreational activities within the City’s boundaries. This project required a significant amount of preparation and technical expertise, but it is a simple measure to ensure the length of the season despite our unpredictable weather."

Since BSF began grooming ski trails at Sunset Hills in the late 1960s, winter trail use has increased an estimated 5,000%. A 2014 assessment of community priorities and Nordic ski trails, conducted by the SE Group, identified Sunset Hills as having the highest value for the Bozeman community. BSF developed a comprehensive winter site plan for the trails based on that report, with plans for upgraded snowmaking. After several years of planning and approaching individuals, businesses, and foundations for support, the project is coming to fruition.

The new snowmaking system will provide a buffer against unpredictable weather patterns, provide consistent skiing, and extend the season. In the last 15 years, in-town ski days have varied wildly, from 100-plus to as few as 17 and one year when there was no skiing at all. Preserving the winter experience at Sunset Hills will ensure that kids and adults have easy (and free) access to healthy winter activities while reducing driving and carbon emissions.

BSF already has a well on site from a previous snowmaking system installed in 2005, and an underground cistern will be added to cool the water for better snowmaking temperatures. With a small pump house in the southwest corner of the property, the new system will include underground pipes along the perimeter of the trail system, with twelve underground snowmaking stations. HKD Impulse snowguns are low-energy use and portable.

With most of the system being underground, the Sunset Hills trails will still be host to a diverse array of uses: from harvesting hay to hiking, running and cycling in the warmer months.

“BSF did reevaluate the timing of this project this spring due to COVID-19, and we decided to proceed,” said Weiss. “Seventy percent of the funds had already been raised, permits are in hand, and the planning work had already been done by dozens of volunteers and staff. It seemed right to proceed and invest in our community, as promised. These trails are more than just valuable recreation; they are part of the public health infrastructure of our town. The last few months have reminded us how important outdoor time and movement are, both physically and mentally.”

BSF has already raised $708,115 of the $979,690 needed for the project through grants, in-kind donations, sponsorships, and private donations. They hope to raise the remainder through a public campaign that launched this week:

The Sunset Hills Legacy Project is a true community project. BSF is responsible for the operations, maintenance, and financial management of the Community Nordic Trails systems and the Sunset Hills Legacy Project. "The work of the Sunset Hills Snowmaking Committee, key businesses, and individual supporters have made this project a community group effort," says Weiss. BSF worked closely with the City of Bozeman Parks and Recreation Department on the project. Many local businesses and Nordic ski supporters collaborated with BSF to shape the project and provide services, in-kind donations, and consultations. Construction partners and contributors to the project include C & H Engineering, Becker Concrete, HKD Snowmakers, Liberty Electric, Kenyon Noble, Martel Construction, Sime Construction, Simkins-Hallin, Stefan Associates, T&L Painting, and Williams Plumbing.

The City of Bozeman Parks and Recreation Department, Montana Office of Tourism & Business Tourism Grant Program, Bozeman Health, Livingston Healthcare, and Yellowstone Bank have been on-going supporters.

BSF grooms and works in partnership with landowners and local agencies, including the City of Bozeman, Bozeman Health, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Custer-Gallatin National Forest, Bridger Creek Golf Course, MSU, and Sacajawea Middle School to provide access to community winter trails.

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