BOZEMAN, Mont. — The glowing letters on the movie marquee silhouetted the cowboy-booted crowd in the falling snow. The film "Yentl," about a woman's dream of becoming a Hebrew scholar, was showing.
It seemed curious that this ethnic subject was playing in these parts. But Bozeman is a dream come true for many who have settled here.
"One of the wisest moves I've ever made was to come to Bozeman," said Paul Kink, 42, an investment adviser who relocated from Wisconsin.
"I don't need to go anywhere else. This is the place for me. Everything I'd ever want is right here."
Everything includes Kink's 28 Clydesdales and black Belgian draft horses that he stables on his ranch 15 miles north of town.
Bordering Kink's homestead in Bridger Canyon is the historic Crosscut Ranch, which he bought and refurbished in 1982, then sold to his partners. Set on 200 acres surrounded by forests, meadows and creeks, Crosscut was built as an Army timber camp in the 1860s.
The original log cabin, used as command headquarters, is intact and is the manager's office for the seven-unit lodge. Adjoining is a lounge with stone fireplace, library and counter bar. Down the corridor is the dining room serving breakfast and dinner to the public as well as its guests.
Crosscut's 22-kilometer Nordic ski trails wind through serene pines and pastures, down easy hills along running streams. Starry nights at Crosscut are especially quiet. Horse-drawn sleighs take guests for a pre-dinner ride to a warming hut for hot mulled wine. (European plan costs $45 a day, $40 if the guest stays more than three nights.)
During the day the same team of horses, provided by Kink, shuttles skiers the quarter-mile to Bridger Bowl ski area.
With an average yearly snowfall of 400 inches, Bridger Bowl's 38 runs offer packed slopes, gullies, chutes, open bowls, powder runs and glade skiing from mid-December to mid-April. Seventy percent of the runs are for beginners and intermediate skiers, most of whom are residents or students at Montana State University.
Not the Usual Resort
Bridger Bowl is not a destination resort. It is a county-owned, nonprofit, down-home ski hill that charges $15 for a lift ticket. With 450 acres of skiable terrain, Bridger is uncrowded and offers great Montana hospitality.
Montana has fewer people than San Diego, and Bozeman boasts only 33,000.
Named for Georgian John Marion Bozeman (1837-1867), the town in Gallatin Valley is surrounded by mountain ranges, with canyons and blue-ribbon trout rivers. Settled in the 1860s, Bozeman served as a major supply center for the gold mines 70 miles southwest.
Bozeman saw this site as an ideal way station for wagon trains to stock up for journeys. The town grew, businesses expanded, flour mills were built.
The wagon trains are long gone, as are threshing machines and steam tractors. But the houses built by the successful businessmen still stand along South Wilson Street, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Districts in 1978.
Sprawling around this quaint residential area is Montana State University (enrollment, 12,000), some of whose students are inscribed in the record books.
A Record Breaker
Former Bobcat football player Jan Stenerud, now 42, is the National Football League all-time field goal kicker who broke the long-standing record of 335.
More recently, there's Dan Brannaman, 23, and current finance major, who jumped through a three-foot loop while spinning a rope that measured nine feet long. Brannaman epitomizes the Montana cowboy image.
Professionally known as "Buck Brannaman, Trick Roper," he's been performing in rodeos and worldwide tours since he was 3 years old. Brannaman is straight from the mold of Will Rogers, America's foremost roper. Buck has mastered more than 150 tricks, some of which only he and Rogers have done, such as the "double merry-go-round."
"It's a very difficult movement. I spin a rope in each hand, then exchange the ropes to the other hand behind my back without losing a beat, then bring the ropes back in front," explained Brannaman, who practiced this trick for two years before getting it down pat.
When Brannaman isn't spinning or studying the books, he breaks and trains horses for many of the ranchers living near Bozeman.
This Is Horse Country
Horses are everywhere in this region of southwestern Montana, and some aren't even real. Bozeman artist Deborah Butterfield specializes in equine sculptures made of metal that are shown in museums and galleries nationwide. Outside the entrance to the Museum of the Rockies, on the MSU campus, is another artist's horse sculpture, fastened by welded steel links.
The Museum of the Rockies has an array of permanent displays of barbed wire, saddles and tools from the early years, as well as historical exhibits of archeology, ethnology, geology, paleontology, painting and photography.