If the deals go down, two legendary ski areas in Bozeman, Mont., could merge into a single, state-of-the art nordic center that would also offer dryland recreation opportunities as soon as fall 2017. The Bridger Biathlon Club (BBC) has acquired exclusive options to purchase both the 276-acre Bohart Ranch and the adjacent, long-dormant 259-acre Crosscut Ranch.
All it takes is money — and a vision. Established in February 2014, the non-profit BBC will launch a fundraising campaign later this year with a goal of raising $10 million dollars over the next three years to buy the two properties. Once raised, a portion of the funds will go toward renovating existing facilities and upgrading infrastructure to make these historic ranches more accessible to the public, according to BBC Director Eric Love.
“This [would be] a legacy transaction,” Love said in a phone interview. “We’re aiming to unite those two properties into a single expanded recreational resource.”
BBC Marketing Director Katie Smith cited the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as a spur to interest in biathlon in Bozeman. Smith added that biathlon has deep roots in Bozeman, as it is the home of Kari Swenson, a bronze medalist with the U.S. women’s relay team at 1986 Biathlon World Championships.
In a year, Smith said the BBC was able to raise enough money to renovate its biathlon range at Bohart. According to Love, the new Kurvinen range, made and shipped from Finland, cost about $36,000 dollars.
Smith credited generous donors and volunteers who helped assemble the 12-station range when it arrived. BBC’s fundraising success got them thinking big. The club’s goal is to raise enough money to exercise the options on Bohart and Crosscut in three years.
If and when BBC buys the two ski centers, the purchase prices will remain confidential, Smith said.
Sixteen miles from Bozeman, Bohart Ranch has 30 kilometers of trails on 276 acres of fee-title land. Situated between Bohart and the Bridger Bowl alpine ski area, Crosscut Ranch is an additional 259 acres. The combination of the two could make for 50 to 60 kilometers of total trails.
Last December, Bohart was the scene for the second weekend of the U.S. SuperTour, hosting a classic sprint and distance race. Bohart has also hosted NCAA events and the 2002 U.S. nationals prior to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Various people approached us, but we were waiting to find the right person to carry on our vision and philosophy,” said Bohart co-owner Jean MacInnes. She and her son, Chris Myers, have co-owned and run Bohart Ranch for 27 years.
“It’s a community service,” she continued. “We have excellent trails here. We help the MSU [Montana State University] ski team, Bridger Ski Foundation. We have something called Eagle Mount that takes place here.”
According to Eagle Mount Executive Director Mary Peterson, Eagle Mount is a Bozeman-based nonprofit that “provides therapeutic recreation to people with disabilities and children with cancer.” Two seasons ago, 37 participants and 46 volunteers took part in cross-country skiing and snowshoe programs at Bohart.
MacInnes said that the original Crosscut Ranch ski center was about 80 acres and went out of business in 1987 after five years. What is now referred to as Crosscut Ranch is the original ski area packaged with additional land parcels to attract developers, she said.
“It’s a bit of a misnomer,” she said of the Crosscut name that now includes the entire 259-acre tract.
Unsuccessfully marketed by a realtor with an asking price of $16 million, Crosscut was sold at auction to the Jackson Financial Group in March 2014. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle cited a local person who speculated that it sold for $4.1 million dollars. That figure is unconfirmed.
More Than a Nordic Center
In December 2014, Myers opened about 15 k of Crosscut’s trail system, which hadn’t seen grooming or maintenance in more than 20 years. While these trails were wide enough for skating, some needed additional work in order to accommodate a snow cat.
For 2015/2016, BBC hopes to reopen additional Crosscut trails and establish connectors between the two networks. Last winter, it re-established and groomed about five kilometers of Crosscut trails, and is currently aiming to add at least another 5 k next season. According to Love, the trails will be open to the public for activities like mountain biking this summer.
“There’s really interesting terrain at Crosscut,” Smith said. “It’s perfect for beginners and for experienced skiers who want to train a specific skill.”
By contrast, Bohart is hilly. “Combined, the two ski centers will give a lot of terrain variation,” Smith said.
“Historically, this [Crosscut] area has been used as a nordic center,” Love said. “The bones are all there.”
Asked about possible improvements, Love explained that the stadiums could be expanded. “On the Crosscut property, there’s potential to put in a world-class stadium,” he said.
In a follow-up email, he wrote, “We recognize the potential of re-locating BBC’s current new 12-point range at Bohart to Crosscut and perhaps even expanding it to 24 or 30 points.”
At present, BBC is studying options for improving the combined ski centers. Its board, made up of Swenson, Carol Smith, Stuart Jennings, and Brian Wadsworth, assembled a design team to illustrate what a green venue would look like. The team consists of nationally renowned architect Jonathan Foote, sustainable-green-building designer Kath Williams, and Ben Lloyd and Trip Lewton of Comma-Q Architecture in Bozeman.
Love expects the design study to be complete in late May, after which BBC will reach out to the Bozeman outdoor community for input and finalize a fundraising plan.
The properties will be available for more than just skiing: BBC is looking to provide year-round recreation opportunities. Some of these are already in place: Bohart already offers Frisbee golf and mountain biking in the summer. Love was excited about the possibility of offering side-by-side cross-country and alpine venues within 30 minutes of a major airport.
While Smith acknowledged that $10 million is an ambitious number, she’s optimistic because of BBC’s success in raising money to purchase the biathlon range.
“We’re going to rely on more than the cross-country community,” she said. “People see a lot of value in preserving these two pieces of land that are so important to Bozeman’s culture.”
“Once assembled, this will be a nordic ski destination unlike anywhere else in the U.S.,” Love said.