Wet Winter

A skier rides above the clouds after taking off from the Ridge at Bridger Bowl Ski Area.

Bozeman-area ski hills are rolling out new features and programs for the 2019-2020 season like triple-black diamond runs, a women’s ski club and a line-free ticketing system.

Big Sky Resort opens Thanksgiving Day, Bridger Bowl Ski Area is shooting for a Dec. 6 opening and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center will be open for season passholders on Dec. 7.

Between the three, people can find alpine and Nordic skiing, a host of kids’ lessons and educational programs and family-friendly events.

Big Sky Resort

As visitation to Big Sky Resort increases nearly every year, so does its offerings and services. The resort occupying 5,850 acres of skiable terrain on Lone Mountain is about an hour from Bozeman. It has 36 lifts that can transport 38,300 skiers per hour up the mountain.

The resort has made changes from the very top of Lone Peak to the base area this year.

Big Sky has decided to designate its steepest trails and terrain running from the highest points on the mountain triple-black diamond. Up until now, the most extreme rating was a double-black diamond. The newly designated runs, including Big Couloir and Firehole, are accessible from the Lone Peak Tram and the Headwaters lift.

The trails themselves have not changed, just the signs that indicate their intensity and risk.

According to Big Sky’s website, designation changes from double- to triple- black diamond were made based on exposure to uncontrollable falls along a steep, continuous pitch, route complexity, and high consequence terrain.

Spokesperson Stacie Mesuda said the change was spearheaded by the resort’s ski patrol in an effort to “educate guests on the risks and encourage conservative skiing.”

A new, blue-rated trail has been added to the southern face of the mountain. Lupine starts midway down the Shedhorn Lift Line and connects to Cow Flats and loops back to the bottom where the Shedhorn 4 lift takes off from.

At the base of the mountain, Big Sky has installed a new ticketing system, leaving behind one-use paper receipts. Axess smart gates equipped with Radio Frequency Identification technology are in place at lifts that serve as access points to the rest of the mountain. The technology is able to read a one-day lift ticket or season pass through a coat pocket.

Lift tickets and passes will be loaded onto plastic Sky Cards, which are reloadable, allowing card holders to purchase tickets in advance online and avoid lines. Big Sky does note that it’s important to keep Sky Cards separated from cell phones as they can interfere with the Axess gate signal.

Sky Card replacements cost $5.

Staff at the resort also spent the summer renovating the Mountain Village base area. A new, larger dining area will have 350 more seats than last year, an expanded deck and an outdoor fireplace. Dining options have been expanded to include a ramen station, sushi, specialty coffee, a taqueria, a crepe station, a deli and a grill.

Bridger Bowl Ski Area

Nonprofit Bridger Bowl Ski Area, just 30 minutes from town, put most of its resources into installing 160 solar panels over the summer that will power the Snowflake chairlift, two conveyor lifts, the patrol building, and offset 50% to 65% of the ski hill’s snowmaking operation.

The panels are located behind Deer Park Chalet and visible from the Virginia City lift.

In another effort to be environmentally conscious, Bridger will increase the regularity of its free bus service this winter. The nonprofit ski area has offered a free shuttle to and from the ski hill for years. It makes two stops in town about every 30 minutes at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds and at Montana State University in front of the Strand Union Building.

Bridger partners with Streamline and First Student for the bus service, so riders may be picked up in a yellow school bus. The service runs from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Bridger offers a wide variety of classes and added new classes this year. Beginner skiers aged 4 to 6 will have the opportunity to take an intro to moguls camp in December. Intermediate and expert level workshops will cover hiking the ridge, skiing bumps, steep terrain and carving.

Bridger Bowl and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center will also be busy in March when they host the NCAA skiing championships. The events scheduled for March 11-14 will be open to spectators.

Crosscut Mountain

Sports Center

Formerly Bohart Ranch, Crosscut Mountain Sports Center is located a couple of miles north of Bridger Bowl and will open for its third season this year. Crosscut grooms more than 35 kilometers of trails each day for cross-country skiers, snowshoeing and fat biking.

Fat biking will be allowed for the first time this year on the Narrow Gauge trail seven days a week with a day ticket or season pass. Crosscut advises that fat biking is condition dependent and not allowed on classic, cross-country ski trails.

Crosscut will offer a new Tuesday Women’s Club for women and non-binary people to ski together on guided trail tours. It’s included in the cost of day ticket or season pass. Sam Atkins, operations manager for the center, said the club is designed to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable participating in outdoor recreation.

Finally, backcountry skiers will be able to access U.S. Forest Service land west from Crosscut’s trails this year. The Uphill Skiing pilot program will have its own day pass but will also be included in the standard season pass. Atkins said a prime destination will be the south fork of Brackett Creek.

The National Weather Service predicts that December, January and February will have above average precipitation as a neutral El Nino sets in, meaning more powder is to come.

Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.