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Bridger Bowl’s new lodge

BOZEMAN - Coming off its biggest season ever, Bridger Bowl Ski Area will unveil the newly built 2,400-square-foot Alpine Cabin at a public ceremony Saturday at 11 a.m.

“It was a pet project of mine,” said Kristie McPhie, a member of the Bridger Bowl Foundation, which helped raise about half of the money for the $550,000 building. “It’s always been a long way to get to the bottom and the lodge to get warm, or to go to the bathroom.”

The facility off the Montagne’s Meadow run, located on the far north side of the ski area, will provide a place for beginner and intermediate skiers as well as ski school students to get out of the weather. The cabin is serviced by the Alpine Lift, one of two new lifts (the other is Powder Park) installed in time for last winter’s skiers and snowboarders.

The cabin is the last step in the planned improvements for that side of the mountain, outlined in the nonprofit ski area’s master plan, said Doug Wales, marketing manager for Bridger Bowl. He said the addition of the new lifts was one of the reasons Bridger had such a great season last year.

“It’s definitely provided a boost to our skier visits,” he said. “And with the cabin that has become a destination for a lot of visitors — there’s about 500 acres of terrain over there.”

The 2013-14 winter ended with about 217,000 skier visits to the mountain located northeast of Bozeman. That figure was up considerably from the previous high — 211,000 skier visits two years ago. Naturally, the mountain staff would like to top that figure again in this, its 60th season.

“That was a great winter and all indications suggest there’s plenty of interest this year,” Wales said. “Pass sales were strong, and we’ve got a lot of people excited about the new lifts.”

McPhie, a Bozeman interior designer, said a generous $70,000 donation from the Ric Jonas Foundation helped to kick-start the Alpine Cabin project.

“They transferred their foundation funds, which enabled us to get it built sooner,” she said. “It’s been a great partnership.”

Another $132,000 came from a Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program grant from the Montana Commerce Division. Private donors also pitched in with smaller contributions. The balance of the expense was paid for out of Bridger Bowl’s cash reserves.

Nate Heller’s Studio H Design in Bozeman was the architect for the cabin. He said his company donated “a ton of money and time” to the project because Bridger Bowl is Bozeman’s local ski area and his snowboarding staff wants to see the mountain thrive and grow. He noted that Bridger was able to use locally sourced materials — native rock and beetle-killed pine logs — as part of the construction materials to further reduce costs.

Pat Johnson, Bridger’s mountain manager for six years in the 1980s, also helped cut construction costs when he signed on as project manager for the Alpine Cabin.

“They actually still have some of the same equipment from when I was there,” he said, a compliment to the mountain’s maintenance staff.

With his knowledge of the area and Bridger Bowl’s equipment, Johnson was able to utilize Bridger’s excavators and bulldozers to do much of the site work and save money. It wasn’t all smooth going, though, he said. After pouring the footings in early June, the mountain received about 6 inches of rain, stalling the project until the area dried out at the end of the month. Luckily, a mild fall helped crews finish up in mid-October before snow flew.

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“In June I was starting to sweat bullets,” Johnson said. “If we had an early fall, I wasn’t looking forward to hauling up material on SnoCats.”

The cabin’s design, with large windows looking south toward the rest of the mountain and the valley below, is more contemporary than Bridger’s other buildings. A 9,000-pound, soapstone Tulikivi stove will provide much of the heat for the structure, fueled by the many pine trees thinned to clear runs as well as those killed by beetles, Heller noted.

The cabin is already open to the public and offering limited food service such as sandwiches, soups and bratwursts. Beer and wine are also available.

Because last year was so popular at the ski hill — on some days the mountain staff was turning vehicles away because of a lack of parking — the ski area also expanded its parking by about 250 spaces by moving 45,000 yards of dirt from behind the ski patrol cabin.

From where the dirt was removed, the ski area staff will create a new, beginning ski area to provide a wider run and move some of those skiers away from the congested base area.

“That will give us more breathing room around the lodge,” Wales said.

After opening for the season on Dec. 5, following a large snowfall prior to Thanksgiving of about 15 inches, Wales said the ski area is holding snow well despite this past week’s warm weather.

“Now we’re just biding our time and looking for another layer,” he said, adding with a laugh that he had no idea when that might come. “I swore off forecasts a long time ago.”

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