Bozeman, MT - After years of planning and fundraising, the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) will begin making snow this month at Sunset Hills, a popular cross country ski trail located between Lindley Park and Bozeman Health in downtown Bozeman.
The water pipes, an underground cistern for cooling well water, and a pumphouse were all constructed over the summer, and the energy-efficient snowmaking system successfully produced snow on its first test run in early October. The BSF Trails program intends to begin making snow in late November in order to have high quality, uninterrupted ski conditions through March.
Update: on November 10, experts from HKD Snowmakers began training the BSF crew on the snowmaking system, and they started to make some snow for testing and operational planning only. (While you are welcome to test it out, we're not yet grooming it at this point; and skiers should beware of thin cover and hazards.) Late November remains the goal for snowmaking in earnest!
Generations of Bozeman youth and adults have learned to ski on this rolling trail system of nearly 5km, on land owned by the city. It’s the centerpiece of Bozeman’s 70+km Community Nordic Trails system, which is maintained by the nonprofit Bridger Ski Foundation and maintains free access for the community. (No tax dollars fund the grooming operations. BSF fundraises and sells voluntary trail passes to cover the cost of grooming and maintenance. Community members are asked to contribute as they are financially able, in order to subsidize access for those who can’t afford to contribute.) 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, including the MSU Ski Team, BSF teams, Crosscut teams, Montana Endurance Academy, and the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Team.
BSF Executive Director Evan Weiss says, “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 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.
On October 27, the City Commission unanimously approved a contribution of $150,000 towards the Sunset Hills construction project. The funding is from the cash-in-lieu of parkland (CILP) fund, which developers contribute to during the development proposal process, as required by state law. Those funds are used to benefit local parklands, and the Sunset Hills project meets the long-term strategic plans of the City Parks and Recreation Plan and the Sunset Hills Cemetary Master Plan. It’s an example of a private/public partnership coming to fruition.
In approving the measure, Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus said, “Cross country skiing is something this community loves. As we talk about this wonderful asset that we have, and we talk about how great it is and letting the community know that it is something everyone can participate in, just reminding those folks that can afford to buy those [trail passes] and help support it – that’s something we can help to get the word out there. In using public dollars here, I think it’s really important that there’s equity and that anybody who wants to ski is able to do so.”
The Bridger Ski Foundation still has $130,000 left to raise to pay for the nearly $1-million project. They launched a community fundraising campaign to finish funding. Donate at www.bridgerskifoundation.org/snowmaking.
BSF is also offering naming opportunities, a donor wall on the pumphouse and other incentives for businesses or individuals. Contact Laura Huggins, email@example.com for more information.
BSF began grooming ski trails at Sunset Hills in the late 1960s, and 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 achieved the necessary permits and broke ground in June 2020.
BSF already had a well on the site from a previous snowmaking system installed in 2005, and an underground cistern was added to cool the water for better snowmaking temperatures. With a small pump house in the southwest corner of the property, the new system includes 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 host 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 by last spring, permits were 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. 2020 has reminded us how important outdoor time and movement are, both physically and mentally.”
The Sunset Hills Legacy Project came together as 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. But it was the work of the Sunset Hills Snowmaking Committee, key businesses, and individual supporters that made this 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.
All of BSF’s trail grooming efforts involve partnerships 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.
For more information on the Community Nordic Trails system, visit www.bridgerskifoundation.org/trails.
More information on snowmaking: https://www.bridgerskifoundation.org/trails/sunset-hills-project
Purchase a voluntary trails pass: https://bridgerskifoundation.ejoinme.org/pass