Clubs: Bridger Ski Foundation
Heart of Cross-country Skiing in Gallatin Valley, Montana
Whether you're a racer or a recreational skier, Montana has some of the finest cross-country destinations in North America. Bozeman, just north of Yellowstone National Park in the Gallatin Valley, is a Nordic epicenter, with a half-dozen groomed systems right in town or within a 20-minute drive, at only approximately 4,800 feet/1,465 metres, so you don't have to manufacture excuses to catch your breath.
Not yet recognized nationally as a Nordic destination, Bozeman may become exactly that if the proposed Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, bordering Bohart Ranch, develops year-round recreation and lodging.
Over the past 40 years, thousands of youth in the Gallatin Valley have participated in cross-country skiing with the guidance of the Bozeman-based non-profit Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), which also has highly successful alpine and freestyle programs.
BSF is kind of a hyperactive Nordic focal point for the valley. Since 2010, it's had a core of paid staff working closely with program directors. To locals, it's the heart of the heart of cross-country skiing in the region.
In addition to grooming up to 70 kilometres of trails, BSF runs programs for anyone five years and older. In 2016-2017, there were almost 200 youth in the ages five-12 beginner Youth Ski League, while other groups ranged from just-learning to high-level competition. Recently hosts to the 2017 Para Nordic Skiing Noram Championships, BSF has begun working with the U.S. Olympic Committee to provide coaching for some of the top U.S. para-Nordic athletes.
Fun, instruction, year-round training, clinics, local- and national-level events and social options – they're all part of BSF, which generates as many as 70,000 skier visits in a good winter. Trails are free, though you're asked to donate to help cover grooming costs. A combination of land partnerships, gifts and grants helps make the entire effort possible.
Dragan Danevski, Nordic head coach/program director, has been one of the driving forces behind BSF'S cross-country success since he and his family arrived from Macedonia in 1996. A former a Yugoslav National Team member and World Cup racer, he has a Masters in exercise physiology and was selected as USSA Domestic Coach of the Year in 2002.
Danevski is stocky, perpetually fit, gruff-voiced, with a five-clock shadow like actor John Hamm's. Together with his coaching team and volunteers, he's invigorated the entire range of Nordic programs. BSF communications specialist Jenny White told me, “He changed the culture, how the community views cross-country. . . . It's now a year-round lifestyle sport.”
At one time, 15 of his athletes had become Division 1 NCAA collegiate racers. He mentored Olympic competitor Leif Zimmerman and former Dartmouth coach Kristina Trygstad-saari. More recently, BSF skier Jennie Bender has won multiple National Championships and competed in World Cup races. Erika Flowers, who races for the strong SMS T2 team out of Stratton Mountain, is another BSF success story.
The biggest problem facing Bozeman's Nordic future is weather. Low-altitude trails in town are sometimes in great shape, but sometimes unskiable.
Patrick Flowers, president of BSF'S board of directors and father of Professional cross-country skier Erika Flowers, says the club has been working with HKD Snowmakers to create a cutting-edge snowmaking system on some of the most popular trails. He adds, “We're still in negotiations with the city” about location and water source; next comes fundraising.
Flowers adds that BSF'S priority isn't to increase kilometres, but to “maintain in-town skiing – keep doing what we've been doing, but get better at it, maintaining a strong role, relationships and partnership in the community.”
Plan, nurture and build the skier base – that's BSF'S formula for Nordic success. It works spectacularly.