Skiers, snowboarders and at least one snowblader gathered at Bridger Bowl on Saturday morning to support avalanche education, find powder stashes and compete to be crowned King or Queen of the Ridge.
About 95 competitors clad in a mix of glittery costumes and winter attire assembled at a spot above Bridger lift just before 9:30 a.m. A countdown started, then they boot-packed up to the ridge — their equipment slung across their backpacks or hinged over their shoulders.
A few minutes later, skiers and snowboarders began to descend the adjacent slope. They rehydrated, packed up, then made their way back up the hill.
Chad Buckridge, events coordinator for Bridger Bowl, said the King and Queen of the Ridge competition and fundraising event took a hiatus last year due to the pandemic, but participants returned this year in full force.
All money raised through the King and Queen of the Ridge event benefits Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center— a nonprofit that supports avalanche awareness and education in partnership with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
King and Queen of the Ridge competitors must hike up and ski down the Ridge course as many times as they can within a five-hour period. They raise money for Friends of GNFAC through pledges on laps.
This year, Casey Bloomer was crowned King of the Ridge with 30 laps. Jennifer Allen was crowned Queen of the Ridge with 22 laps.
Mike Wolfe, the reigning men’s champion, set the record for King of the Ridge at 32 laps during the 2019-2020 season. Nikki Kimball, the reigning women’s champion, set the record for Queen of the Ridge at 27 laps during the 2012-2013 season.
“Some (competitors) take it seriously and some don’t,” Buckridge said. “Some use it as a social gathering, and some use it to test their physical ability. Some people make costumes mandatory, and others wear breathable attire. It’s really fun.”
Ben Nobel, who is on the board of directors for Friends of the GNFAC, said the King and the Queen of the Ridge competition is one of the nonprofit’s largest fundraising events. Before Saturday’s competition, Friends of the GNFAC had raked in close to $190,000 through past King and Queen of the Ridge events. Nobel expected that by the evening, Saturday’s fundraiser would be the most profitable one yet. By the end of the day, the nonprofit had raised over $29,000.
Dave Zinn, a forecaster for GNFAC, said the avalanche center’s mission is to relay clear and accurate information about avalanche danger to the public. That allows people to make appropriate decisions in the backcountry.
Financial support from Friends of GNFAC allows staff to purchase weather stations and beacon checkers, he said.
King and Queen of the Ridge competitors who raised over $500 for Friends of GNFAC could win a pair of skis, two backpacks or a pair of snow goggles. The top fundraising team could win passes to Bozeman Hot Springs or gift cards to the Co-op.
Chelsea English and Shelby Whitmore competed in Saturday’s race as members of a seven-person team informally called “Disco or Die.” They wore sparkles and sequins, and they said they were fueled by chocolate syrup.
“I love that we’re raising money for the avalanche center because it’s important for the community,” English said. “We’re paying people who save lives.”
Snowboarder Jason Lunden participated in Saturday’s King and Queen of the Ridge competition for the first time. It was important to support the avalanche center since they do good work, he said. The race is also a great community event, he added.
Most avalanche classes are free if not affordable, and receiving avalanche advisories can be life-saving, Nobel and Zinn said. They encouraged people to sign up for the daily advisories online.