Kurt Kangas was in line at the chairlifts at Bridger Bowl promptly at 9 a.m.
The lifts at Bridger Bowl started spinning Tuesday at 9, marking the opening day of the nonprofit ski area’s season.
Kangas’ first run? The Bobcat, an easy blue square run off the Alpine lift.
“Bobcat is always a traditional starter,” Kangas said. “With football this year, you got to go there first.”
Kangas, a Bozeman resident who has been skiing at Bridger Bowl annually since 1993, said the ski conditions Tuesday were nice — albeit a little windy.
With a high of 31 degrees predicted Tuesday, the sunny day almost felt like spring conditions.
“Snow’s not bad, it’s warming up and is pretty soft,” said Joe Rock, a Wilsall resident and Kangas’ ski buddy. “There’s decent coverage on the trails.”
Whether there would be enough snow to open to skiers has been the question for the past few weeks.
Bridger first projected it would open on Dec. 10. It postponed its opening twice amid an unseasonably warm winter that hadn’t seen much snowfall until this past week.
Last week, Bridger saw about 13 inches of snow bringing its base of snow to about 28 inches on Tuesday.
The snowfall came as a big relief, said Bridger spokesperson Katee Lynch.
“Thank goodness. It was our Christmas gift,” she said.
Most of the mountain was open, aside from Schlasman’s lift and two conveyor belts in the beginner areas, Lynch said.
Both areas were closed because of a lack of snow, she said.
More snow should be on the way by the end of the week, according to the National Weather Service.
Thursday could see about half an inch of snow during the day and about an inch overnight. With a high near 26, NWS predicts Friday could see about 1 to 3 inches of snow.
Overnight Friday, there’s a 60% chance of precipitation and up to 3 inches of snow is possible.
Christmas Day — Bridger is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — may also see some fresh snow.
Speaking early Tuesday, Lynch was unsure how many skiers and snowboarders arrived for opening day.
“It’s been pretty mellow today,” Lynch said, adding that she expects it to get busier over the holiday weekend.
Rock, who was sipping a beer on the patio of the Jim Bridger lodge around noon, said this year he’s hoping to be able to ski every weekend.
Last season, partly because of a reservation system implemented at Bridger, Rock was only able to go about every other weekend.
The reservation system was implemented in Bridger last year in an effort to limit the number of people allowed on lifts daily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This season, the ski area is no longer using the reservation system. Lynch said people are still being asked to buy tickets online to avoid long lines at the ticket windows. Tickets online are $69 for adults. It’s $84 for adults if purchased the window.
Masks are still strongly encouraged while indoors, Lynch said, and extra cleaning is still being done in the lodges.
The challenge this year is finding enough staff members, said Andy Van, the assistant director of food services at Bridger.
Van said his department has about 20 fewer people from two seasons ago. Other departments, including guest services and lifties, are also short-handed.
Despite the allure of working for a popular ski area and getting discounts on tickets and ski passes, Van said few people have applied.
“It’s like everyone in town. You walk into any restaurant and they’ll say ‘we’re really short staffed,’” Van said.
While opening day went off without a hitch, Van said he hoped skiers and snowboarders alike will be patient while the ski area looks to hire more folks.
Oh, and, “pray for snow,” Van said.
A photo caption on this story was updated to accurately reflect the identity of one of its subjects.