Clubs: Bridger Ski Foun­da­tion

Heart of Cross-coun­try Ski­ing in Gal­latin Val­ley, Mon­tana

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Jonathan Wiesel

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.

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