Skiing Schlasman

Background

Bridger Bowl's new Schlasman Lift is designated as a back-country lift: there is no grooming (the machines can't navigate the terrain), avalanche beacons are required, hours of operation are limited by conditions and runs are not marked or rated (everything is double black diamond). This is a boon to those who thirst for challenging skiing but don't like to hike up the slopes they ski.





Saddle Peak and Schlasman Lift (Telephoto from Bridger Canyon Road)
Saddle Peak at Left (South)
Schlasman Lift at Right (North)

The new lift makes access to Saddle Peak easier – and legal. Although that area is out of bounds, the Forest Service now allows skiers to leave Bridger Bowl and hike along the ridge for some great open slope powder skiing. One must take care to avoid the major cliff system seen in the center of the picture above. There is a very long traverse to get back to the Schlasman Lift. The avalanche hazards are obvious (note the warning signs in this picture taken at the beginning of the hike to Saddle Peak).

Zooming out and panning to the right (north), we can see the inbounds area of Bridger Bowl in the picture below.




The Ridge at Bridger Bowl (Telephoto from Bridger Canyon Road)
Schlasman Lift at Left (South)
Pierre's Knob Lift Left of Center
Other Lifts Extend Right, Behind Trees


We visit Schlasman

On a calm, sunny day in early February, I strapped on my avalanche beacon and accompanied Arthur to Schlasman. After riding up two lifts and passing through a control gate, there are a number of ways to get to Schlasman, all involving traverses unpleasant enough to convince most skiers they don't belong here. Once past the traverse, we skied nice steep slopes to the bottom of the Schlasman lift.

Before the operators allow you onto the lift, you must wand yourself with a device to detect a working avalanche beacon. If you fail, they take your pass away and it is one mile back to the base area, carrying skis and post-holing uphill before reaching a skiable traverse.

Getting onto the lift, it appears the chairs are spaced twice as far apart as other lifts. I presume they did this to limit the load on the cable and make it possible to stretch the lift out for longer runs.

The No Marked Obstacles signs we passed getting to the lift seemed vaguely reassuring, but on the ride up it was apparent a better wording would be Obstacles Are Not Marked. There are plenty of obstacles, consisting of tree stumps, rocks and cliffs. There had been little new snow for weeks, so the obstacles were clearly visible from the lift and caused me to ponder the consequences of running into (or off of) them on a powder day.

Approaching the top, those with any trace of acrophobia or agoraphobia will experience discomfort. The top is very near the crest of the ridge and the view is sky in all directions, so the feeling of exposure is great. There are steep rocks below and steep moguls to the sides, so thoughts of embarrassing skiing mishaps on descent will surface. According to the ski patrol: "A lot of the runs that look good from the top end up in cliffs. We've had a few injuries, but fortunately nothing life threatening."





Schlasman Lift (Telephoto from Bridger Canyon Road)

Upon exiting the lift, one must circumvent cliffs by traversing either left or right, then descending steep moguls before traversing back toward the relatively open slopes. Arthur headed left (south) off the lift, traversing into terrain not readily visible while riding up. I foolishly followed and soon found myself in a dead end, with rocks ahead of and below me and no room to turn. My body isn't up to skiing moguls in such confined spaces! Besides, the powder skis I was on are ill-suited for mogul skiing (mogul skis are in a class by themselves). I got out of the predicament without falling into the rocks and suffered only minor embarrassment. I think we approximated run 11 in this picture (take note of the two skiers). Once below the terrain that channels skiers into limited paths we cruised the open slopes; few people ski this lift, so even after over two weeks of no snow, there were few tracks in the open areas.

On our next ride up the lift, Arthur exited left again and I exited right (north). The initial mogul descent was much easier than going left, though still not for the faint-hearted. Before getting to the bottom, I took a low traverse (below the cliffs right of center in the picture) back to the "front-country" area, resolving to practice mogul skiing and be ready for a day when there are powder snow conditions on the Schlasman Lift.


UPDATE: When March brought new powder, the parking lot at Bridger Bowl quickly filled. But there were no lines at the older lifts — so many skiers had headed to Schlasman there were one-hour waits there. Perhaps we'll just keep skiing the older lifts and get in more runs!