Going up 

Three Montana ski areas have uplifting news

This winter, Montana skiers and snowboarders can look forward to a better ride at three of the state's ski areas. Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, Discovery in Philipsburg and Teton Pass near Choteau are offering new lifts and makeovers for the 2010-2011 season.

Bridger Bowl's main lift, the 46-year-old Bridger chair, is being replaced with a swanky modern triple chair, and the similarly decrepit Deer Park lift has been removed. The new Bridger lift will offer a loading zone located slightly downhill from the old one, providing easier access from the Deer Park Chalet. Skiers will unload in the same spot as before.

General Manager Randy Elliott says the change promises more reliable access to the upper mountain by reducing the number of shutdowns due to high winds and mechanical troubles. Strong gusts at the Bowl could bat around the old 80-pound chairs like kitty toys, requiring lift closures for safety reasons—and occasionally flipping empty chairs over the cable.

The new Bridger lift should be able to run in winds of up to 40 miles per hour. Having a dependable ride will also ensure that ski patrollers can reach Bridger's renowned ridge to do avalanche control that "gets the rest of the area open," Elliott says.

At Discovery, the Silver Chief triple chair will expand the skiable acreage on the backside of the area by at least 300 acres. The 1,000 vertical feet of newly accessible intermediate terrain is primarily below the Granite lift, located at 6,480 feet on Rumsey Mountain.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER

The base of Silver Chief is also strategically positioned to serve as an additional base area if the resort eventually succeeds in opening a new access road from Philipsburg. The road is "a key piece, in terms of being able to tie the whole mountain together," says Ciche Pitcher, Discovery's vice president of resort operations. But skiers shouldn't count on seeing it any time soon; the project is currently shelved due to opposition. Pitcher says there are enough obstacles to make it impossible to even speculate on a timeline.

In July, New Zealand entrepreneur Tom Wood snatched up Teton Pass Ski Resort for $270,000 and commenced heaping money into the operation. The Choteau area attraction had been shut down last ski season, but it now reopens with a remodeled lodge, a new Poma lift that accesses 11 new runs, and a boost in size from 115 to 320 skiable acres. Other improvements include a terrain park and "carpet conveyor" for the bunny slope.

The future could be whiter for another ski area, as well: Lookout Pass on the Montana-Idaho border has submitted a 20-year plan to the U.S. Forest Service that would add eight new lifts and 2,000 acres to the terrain. If all goes as planned, the area would expand over two additional peaks.

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