Barney Rankin is famous in Bozeman for having the idea of starting Bridger Bowl. Most people recognize him as “The Robin Hood of Bridger Bowl.”
Barney Rankin was born December 30, 1904 in Ohio. When he was young, his dream was to travel out West, which he did after he went to college at Case Western in Cleveland. He caught a train to Glacier Park in 1926 and ended up working there for nine years and made trails. During this time he met a lady named Doris and soon got married in September 1932.
After this, he accepted the job of developing state parks in Montana. He had many projects. For four years he worked on a cave now known as Lewis and Clark Caverns. Soon his projects got interrupted by World War II. He joined the National Guard and served for five years, earning the rank of colonel and getting a Purple Heart. When he returned he volunteered to head the Montana Park system without being paid. Two years later the Montana legislature approved the proposal for the State Park system, providing a salary of $4,200.
After that Barney Rankin joined a crosscountry ski trip through the Bridger Mountains led by Gus Gnehm. On the grip he saw the perfect mountain to start a downhill ski area. The only problem was he needed access from Bridger Canyon Road. There was a family that owned right before Forest Service land. He had a chat with them and they were planning to cut the trees down and sell them. He told them to wait and try to sell the land to the state, which they did in 1947.
With barely enough money but skilled workers he oversaw a road built up to steep slopes with fantastic bowls of powder snow that was to become Bridger Bowl. One of his quotes is, ”To this day, I think the blood, sweat and ulcers that that project cost me was worth it because it opened up a recreation area that today must be seen to be believed given its turbulent beginnings.” After years of hard work he finally completed the task of building Bridger Bowl.
Sadly, Barney Rankin and his wife died in a car accident on December 19, 1983 near Twin Falls, Idaho. His gravestone is an engraved picture of him and Doris showshoeing; if you want to see his grave, you could go to Soldier’s Chapel on Big Sky Canyon Road.
“There remains one outstanding monument to his diligence, industry and integrity: the marvelous area north of Bozeman known as Bridger Bowl.” (1) Without Rankin I wouldn’t be able to ski High Traverse!
1. “Barney Rankin: The Robin Hood of Bridger Bowl” by Edna Bert, 1996.