The 2010-11 ski season is off and running at Bridger Bowl. Mother Nature has been kind with excellent early season snow. And Bridger Bowl has unveiled another year of improvements at the hill just 16 miles north of Bozeman.

Veteran skier Bob Crayton has nothing but praise for the $23 million in improvements that have been made to Bridger Bowl Ski Area in the past 15 years.

"I'm thrilled that the new management has a mountain focus," Crayton said last week as he donned his helmet after lunch in the Deer Park Chalet to venture onto the slopes. "I think every improvement has been great."

About 20 minutes northeast of Bozeman, Bridger Bowl has been able to funnel money into numerous improvements recently for one simple reason — it's a nonprofit ski area. There are no stockholders to please with ever-increasing returns. And as a nonprofit, the ski area gets a tax break.

A few other Northwest ski areas are in the same boat. Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area on the Idaho-Montana border and Bogus Basin north of Boise are examples.

"The more public ski areas are, the better they are doing," said Jerry Johnson, a professor and head of the political-science department at Montana State University who has studied ski areas for 20 years. "You have to wonder if the old business model is viable anymore."