Mad Pow Disease

by Corey Hockett

It’s no secret—at least not anymore—that Bozeman is a fine place to ski. Very fine in fact—two resorts are within an hour’s drive, and four more sit within striking distance for a day trip. Numerous mountain ranges surround the Gallatin Valley, each one holding excellent terrain for all levels of snow-slayer. So whether you’re grabbing laps at Bridger before work or bagging big lines in the Beartooths on a multi-day expedition, winter in Bozeman means skiing and snowboarding. Grab your sticks. You’ve come to the right place.

Gear
As with most outdoor activities, skiing demands a load of gear—some of which isn’t all that necessary. But other items are downright essential. So let’s start from scratch. What does it take to ski or board? First, you need the planks themselves, bindings to slap on top of them, and a pair of boots to connect you to the apparatus.

When it comes to skis and boards, the variety can be overwhelming. My advice for those starting out is to not take it too seriously. Get a size that fits you. If you’re unsure of what that means, consult your friends or the ski shop.

Boots are a bit more intricate, and a piece of gear not worth skimping on. Weight, stiffness, breathability, and comfort are all things you’re going to want to consider, and they will all differ based on your ability and the type of terrain you’re skiing.

Bindings are the same way; though if this is your first pair, don’t spend your next month’s rent on something you “hope will work out.” Play the field first. Rent from the ski hill, try your buddy’s setup, buy a cheap pair at the second-hand store. Learn how different bindings react to your movements, then loosen the purse strings.

If your heart lies in backcountry exploration, of which options are many, you’re going to need to add quite a few items to that gear list, the first of which is an avalanche course (see p. 28). Sign up and take it seriously. It may cost a couple hundred bucks, but the lessons are worth your life.

Other items necessary for backcountry travel are a shovel, beacon, and probe. Assuming you won’t be snowshoeing, you’ll need some skins as well. And if you’re serious about this, your choice of boots and bindings will reflect that. Lightweight boots with a walk mode are worth their weight in gold, and AT bindings will allow you to transition between uphill and downhill travel. Knuckle-draggers should check out Spark R&D splitboard bindings; the company is based right here in Bozeman.

As far as cold-weather clothing goes, layers are your friend. Have a couple layers, a puffy, extra gloves, and a shell. Carry a neck gaiter and goggles for the way down, and as Mama told you, “Don’t forget your helmet!”

Where to Go
Need we even mention this category? I mean, you’re here, aren’t you? You must know about the iconic Bridger Ridge and the tram at Big Sky. Within 60 minutes of town lies the best in-bound terrain Montana has to offer. Go there, friend, and if you’re yearning for more beta, know that you’ll have to find it for yourself.

Outside of Bozeman’s immediate area are plenty of mom-and-pop hills to put on the list. Discovery, outside of Butte, is a perfect weekend trip with terrain for all levels. Other mentionable ski areas are Maverick near Dillon and Red Lodge Ski Hill west of, yes, Red Lodge. Grand Targhee is also three hours away for those looking for more of a road trip.

Skinny Skis

by Jenny White

Bozeman’s Nordic opportunities.

No one cares if you call it cross-country or Nordic skiing, but in these parts, once the snow flies, skinny skis become as commonplace as running shoes. Bozeman’s Nordic scene has a national reputation, and while you’ll likely see both former and aspiring Olympians and Paralympians on the trails, our tracks are filled with people of all ages and abilities. The motto here is to “keep the people skiing.”

In-town trails make it easy to sneak a ski into a busy day, even in the dark, and a short drive will bring you to dozens of mountainous experiences.

For newbies: rejoice that cross-country skiing has a relatively low cost to entry, made even better by free access on many of the local trails and the nonprofit status held by all of Bozeman’s ski organizations. Plus, it is a relatively easy learning curve, even if you’ve never been on skis. The best part: you can shuffle down the trail at an easy walking pace or you can speed it up for a full-body cardio workout.

Where to Go

The Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) grooms more than 70 km of community Nordic trails in and around Bozeman that are free and open to the public (but the Bozeman way is to buy a voluntary trail pass from BSF in order to keep their donor-funded groomers running).

In town, BSF has a new snowmaking system on nearly 5 km at Sunset Hills, next to the hospital. Cross the road for nearly 10 km of rolling terrain at Highland Glen.

Beginners often seek out the flatter trails of the Bridger Creek Golf Course, Gallatin Regional Park, or a 1 km loop on the MSU campus.

Just outside of town, Sourdough Canyon is a mecca for skiers, dog walkers, and runners. While the lower miles are often a circus requiring excellent patience, those with endurance can find solitude and miles of groomed trail going all the way to Mystic Lake (20 miles round-trip) and the Moser pass. Hyalite boasts a massive network of both groomed and ungroomed trails, with the loops at the Blackmore trailhead being a favorite place to begin.

Up Bridger Canyon, a day (or season) pass grants you access to Crosscut Mountain Sports Center’s stunning 50 km of cross-country trails, including wide groomers and narrow-gauge trails. You can also explore dozens of ungroomed trails and Forest Service roads around Bozeman.

For those willing to drive longer, the options unfold. Go west on I-90 for trails at Homestake Lodge where you can find more than 35 groomed trails offering majestic views of the Tobacco Roots. Or, head south toward Big Sky for a day at Lone Mountain Ranch’s extensive network. Keep going to West Yellowstone to experience the Rendezvous Ski Trails, which attract skiers from across the country starting in November for early-season skiing. If you’re in the area, make sure to stop in at FreeHeel and Wheel, a top-notch ski shop that can service all of your Nordic needs and more.

If you’ve made it that far, we should mention that the Nordic skiing in Yellowstone National Park is spectacular. You can also enter the Park from the north via Gardiner and ski a groomed loop around the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces for some otherworldly scenery. Also in the area is the esteemed B Bar Ranch. Here, discover an intimate adventure—ski for the day and bed down for the night.

Come spring, there’s a little-known phenomenon called “crust cruising,” in which skate skiers set off across the cold-hardened, sun-crusted snowscape and cruise without a trail, often into remote areas. (The trick, of course, is to go early, so as not to get caught four miles from your car when the snow gets soft and you start to sink in.) Fawn Pass is a popular crust-cruising destination.

You’ll find many types of ski trails around here—some for skiers only, some that allow dogs, and some that allow multiple kinds of trail users. In Yellowstone Park, that may mean you’ll share the trail with a few post-holing bison. Know what kind of trail you’re on and the rules (and safety measures) for that location.

Learning

Good technique makes Nordic skiing infinitely easier and a whole lot more fun. You can find instruction (from a few hours to winter-long sessions) with several local groups: MSU Outdoor Recreation, Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, Montana Endurance Academy, Big Sky Ski Education Foundation, and Lone Mountain Ranch. If you want to combine shooting guns and skiing (a.k.a., biathlon), check out Crosscut’s biathlon programs.

Essential Gear

The most complicated thing about Nordic skiing is the equipment lingo. Sure, you only need boots, poles, and skis, but there are binding-compatibility issues, different ski types, and some confusing terms along the way. Lean on our local ski-shop staff to help you.

There are two types of Nordic skiing techniques; each involves a slightly different boot and ski. Most beginners start with classic skiing, which is a walking or running motion. Your skis either have scales or a grippy wax on the bottom giving you the ability to “kick” yourself forward. (This is your best option if you want to keep it mellow or explore ungroomed trails.) Some classic skis are designed mainly for groomed trails while other classic skis are wider, sometimes with metal edges, and best for ungroomed trails. Then there’s skate skiing, which uses the same motion as hockey skating. It’s faster, a bit addicting once you learn, and a great way to discover your max heart rate. You need groomed trails (or crust) to skate.

MSU Outdoor Recreation lends and rents skis to students. Arcs Ski and Bike is a great place to stop in town for gear and tunes. They specialize in high-end, race-ready equipment but can provide something for everyone looking to get out on the trail. The general public can rent or buy at Bangtail Ski & Bike, Chalet Sports, and Roundhouse Sports. Both Crosscut and Lone Mountain Ranch offer rentals at their ski centers. Used gear is also a great option. Shop the BSF Ski Swap on the first weekend of November for thousands of items, as well as Play It Again Sports and Second Wind.

For clothing, dress in layers. While the clothing you might wear on a winter run is mostly appropriate, temps drop quickly and windproof layers are your savior (especially on the downhills). If you’re headed out for a longer or more remote route, add proper safety equipment: food, water, warmer layers, a navigation device, and other backcountry essentials.

Etiquette
When using groomed trails, treat those corduroy surfaces as sacred snow that needs to be preserved: Keep footprints out of the trail (unless the trail allows foot traffic) and don’t track in mud. Around here, we use the Ski Kind principles (detailed below). It doesn’t matter who is speeding along, shuffling, or just learning to stay upright, sharing the trail is key.

Ski No Trace

Leave only tracks. Don’t leave poop (yours or your pup’s) or trash near the trail.

Ski Gracious
Share the trail with all speeds and abilities. Yield, slow down, and give a friendly hello to make everyone feel welcome.

Ski Aware
Know what type of trail you’re skiing and the rules for that location. Be aware of terrain, grooming equipment, and other trail users.

Ski Kind
Bring your best self to the trail and spread the joy of skiing. Share your knowledge and help others.

Ski Supportive
Give back to the trails you ski. Volunteer. Donate to local trail organizations, clubs, and groomers. The trails don’t groom themselves, someone has to do the work to make sure the roads are plowed and things are ready for the season. If you’re looking to give back, Friends of Hyalite is a great place to start.

Ski Safe
Technically, downhill skiers have the right of way, but they still need to think of other trail users as yield signs and slow down. Before you pass others, slow down and announce yourself. Give space. Use extra caution on blind corners and downhills.

Literature
The Last Best Ski MT offers a beautifully illustrated and informative look into the nearby skiing options. The book is only half the fun as videos and interviews can be found at the many QR codes throughout the book.

Events
You needn’t be an advanced skier or a speed demon to jump into the local scene around here. Here are a few of our favorite events.

Ongoing
Biathlon Races – Crosscut. Our backyard Nordic center hosts a series of fun community biathlon races throughout the winter. crosscutmt.org.

FUNSKI Community Series – Various locations. BSF hosts one race per month during the winter, usually on weeknights. Themes range from a Santa chase to a lively two-person relay. Costumes encouraged. bridgerskifoundation.org.

Clinics – Bozeman. BSF offers Nordic ski clinics throughout the winter, providing an easy way to drop in and learn a few ski tips. bridgerskifoundation.org.

January
Hyalite Tour – Hyalite. This isn’t a race, just a great day to go ski the trails in Hyalite with friends and finish with free food & hot cocoa. Pick your distance and trail. hyalite.org.

Snoflinga – Butte. This festive three-day event hosts free skiing and and snowshoe lessons along with a plethora of other activities. Sign up here.

Women’s Skate Clinic – Homestake Lodge. Incredible coaches and a fun atmosphere. Need we say more? homestakelodge.com/events.

February
Montana Cup Race, Homestake Hustle – Homestake Lodge. homestakelodge.com/events.

March
Yellowstone Rendezvous – West Yellowstone. A good portion of Bozeman heads to West Yellowstone each March for the final races of the season with a 2k, 5k, 10k, 25k, and 50k. skirunbikemt.com.

Practice Makes Perfect

by David Tucker

Picture this: you and a couple of friends have been touring all morning, leisurely approaching your objective as the sun swings around the southern sky. You checked the report and conditions are moderately dangerous, but the terrain you’ve selected is relatively low-angle, so you and your partners decide the coast is clear, full steam ahead.

Once your team is above the bowl you plan to ski, and ready to drop in, everyone double-checks gear and confirms one final time that the slope is good to go. The gentleman you are, you let a friend drop in first.

And then the slope slides.

Your team is experienced and prepared, so everyone switches quickly into rescue mode. Once you pick up a signal from your buried partner, you hone in on her location. But you got a new beacon for Christmas and haven’t taken the time to learn its ins and outs. You’re now useless. I’ll dig, you think, but your shovel is old and the handle sticks, meaning it’s half as long as it should be and inefficient. As a last resort, you reach into your pack for your probe. But you’re carrying more gear than usual and with gloves on, have trouble removing your probe from your overstuffed pack.

Luckily, the rest of your team was on point. Your partner’s only partially buried, so she’s dug out and safe in a few short minutes—time to debrief. Even though you had all the gear, your lack of pre-trip preparation rendered it useless when the shit hit the fan. Here’s what you should have done.

Practice with New Gear
Or old gear, for that matter. If you upgrade your safety tools, make sure you know how to use them. There are great new options on the market today, but they only work as well as their rescuer. The more you know about your equipment, the better. The Gallatin national Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) buries beacons at Beall Park in Bozeman, and Bridger Bowl ski patrol does the same below the South Bowl. These are great resources to take advantage of. The next time you’re up at the hill, take an hour to practice using your equipment in zero-consequence terrain.

This goes for your shovel and probe as well. Even small changes in materials and design can confuse a new user, costing a buried victim precious seconds. New gear might have features your old stuff didn’t, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, you might be exposing partners to unnecessary risk. Practice, practice, practice.

Dial in Your Kit
This is important and usually overlooked. Even if you are familiar and well-versed in your gear, the way it is arranged in your pack might have consequences. For instance, I recently started taking more pictures in the backcountry, meaning I carry a camera and case now. This takes up a lot of space and impedes my ability to efficiently remove items from my pack. I was recently practicing with some new gear and removing my shovel and probe turned into a total junk-show. I got frustrated and lost focus. When you’re packing gear, make sure the rescue tools slide out easily and are at hand, not buried deep. Most packs have tool-specific pockets now, but even so, a tightly packed bag can make retrieval difficult. Run at-home tests before venturing into the backcountry.

Take a Course
Even if you have already. Do yourself a favor and take refreshers every winter. Even if you just stop by a free hour-long presentation, you’ll get new information and learn about current conditions. Protocols change, technology develops, and trends shift—stay up to date. GNFAC runs seminars all over town, and MSU hosts multi-day intro and advanced level courses for cheap. If you’re ready to take the next step, local guides like Montana Alpine Adventures and Beartooth Powder Guides have courses all winter long.

It’s never too early—nor late—to refresh skills, procedures, and education. We’ll be skiing well into May (hopefully), so you have more than enough time to get the experience you need to stay safe.

Gone Wrong

by Corey Hockett

The air was cold. A chilly breeze wafted through the canopy, expunging the energy of the early-morning sun. I sat against a tree sipping coffee, eyes fixed on Michael, who was nearing the crux. He’d looked smooth and confident for the first part of the route, but now the wall was a lot steeper. He was 15 feet above a ledge on a lengthy runout and getting visibly nervous.

Shifting to and fro, trying to figure out the sequence, his technique crumbled with each passing minute. Pretty soon, with frantic breaths, he clung statically to the wall, clearly unable to solve the problem. Ashley, his belayer, stood firm, attentive, and ready to catch him.

Eh, ahh, shit! He struggled. Then he came off.

His fall ended in an abrupt foot-first collision with the ledge, sending a harrowing crack echoing across the drainage. By the time Ashley lowered him to the ground, both of his ankles were black and blue and abnormally swollen—one was the size of a softball. Aside from his upper body, he was completely immobile.

In a flurry, my mind raced back to the Wilderness First Responder course I’d taken a few months prior. ABCs, check the spine, stabilize the injury. With the help of a few others close by, we splinted his ankles with sticks, shirts, and an ace bandage. Then we created a carrying system to haul him off the mountain. Luckily, it was only a half-mile to a lake with boat access. We called the professionals, and by the time we reached the shore they were there to take him the rest of the way.

It was a humbling experience, a reminder that things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. But all things considered, they could’ve gone a lot worse, and for avoiding that fate, we had our wilderness-medicine training to thank. If you want to maximize safety while off the beaten path, you too will sign up for a backcountry medicine course. In Bozeman, there are plenty.

Wilderness First Aid
If you need to know anything at all, it’s the basics. This quick, two-day course runs the gamut of all outdoor emergencies. Covering everything from spine injuries, to heat illness, to anaphylaxis, a Wilderness First Aid course lays the groundwork for how to act when things go wrong. Additionally, CPR certifications are usually offered with most programs. Local courses are offered through Aerie, Crossing Latitudes, MSU, and the Peak in Butte.

Wilderness First Responder
If you’re looking to gain a little more knowledge than just the fundamentals (and you should) then consider taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). Typically around 80 hours of classroom and field time, a WFR dives thoroughly into patient assessment. Learn how to identify specific types of trauma, deal with medical ailments, and build makeshift litters to evacuate the injured. Aerie, Crossing Latitudes, and MSU provide instruction locally.

Wilderness EMT
If becoming a guide or medical professional sounds enticing, you’ll likely need to take a Wilderness EMT. This intensive 200-hour program covers and combines both urban and backcountry medicine practices ensuring you leave the course a medical expert. Study anatomy and physiology, practice vehicle extrication, and spend full days working through intense backcountry rescue missions. Look for local programs through Aerie and Crossing Latitudes.

In the backcountry, when things go bad, they can go terribly wrong. The best we can do is prepare for the unexpected ahead of time. As Shakespeare said: All things are ready, if our mind be so. If you like to get after it outside, do yourself—as well as your adventure partners—a favor. Get some wilderness medicine education.

Study Up

by Jack Taylor

You’ve made it to Bozeman, and you’re ready to explore southwest Montana’s endless expanses. But where to go first? Start out by doing some research—it pays to have a plan for every excursion. Thankfully, you have a wealth of resources at your disposal to find the best trail, mountain, or stream for your next outing. Here are some of our top picks for getting the lay of the land.

Printed Guides
Nothing beats a quality, dedicated guidebook. Build a bookshelf collection for your favorite outdoor activities, and make sure these are included:

  • Day Hikes around Bozeman (Day Hikes Books, $16)
  • Southern Montana Singletrack (Beartooth Publishing, $30)
  • Bozeman Rock Climbs (High Gravity Press, $25)
  • Paddling Montana (Falcon Guides, $25)
  • Cast: Fishing Southwest Montana (Outside Media Group, free)
  • The House of Hyalite (Joe Josephson, $36)
  • Peaks and Couloirs of Southwest Montana (Chris Kussmaul, $45)

Printed Maps
Even in the age of digital everything, a good ol’ printed map is an invaluable resource. For close-to-home outings, start with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s map, which covers all the trails in and around Bozeman proper. It’s available from retailers around town for $3. (For a digital version, download one for free at gvlt.org/trails/trail-map.)

For Bozeman’s premier backyard playground, Hyalite Canyon, the nonprofit Friends of Hyalite makes a great fold-out recreation map in two versions: winter and summer. Pick one up around town for $5, or view it digitally at hyalite.org/recreation-maps.

Beartooth Publishing is our go-to for detailed topographic maps of southwest Montana, complete with roads, trails, and usage restrictions; order print copies from beartoothpublishing.com or find them in local stores. Our favorite all-around option is Bozeman Area Outdoor Recreation Map, which sells for $14.

For general trip planning throughout the state, pick up a copy of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme, $25). For more detail, order zoomed-in, area-specific, waterproof maps from MyTopo (mytopo.com), a custom-mapping outfit in Billings. A large-format wall map of southwest Montana from Basin and Range Mapping (basinandrangemap.com) will help you see the big picture and make planning that much easier.

Apps
For hunters and anglers, there are only three apps you need on your smartphone or GPS: Montana Fishing Access, Montana Hunting Access, and OnX Hunt. The first two are activity-specific and produced right here in Bozeman by Mountainworks Software (emountainworks.com); the latter is the leading map for property-ownership boundaries and is based in Missoula (onxmaps.com).

Websites
You’ll find plenty of information online to learn about local outdoor opportunities. For a collection of general resources, head to outsidebozeman.com and poke around—all day, if you’re not careful. Looking for specific trail descriptions? Check out outsidebozeman.com/trails, hike.wildmontana.org, gvlt.org/trails/featured-trails, or trailforks.com. For updates and news in the world of mountain biking, including suggested rides, take a look at southwestmontanamba.org. Climbers, head to swmontanaclimbers.org for access information and stewardship projects. If you’re heading for the rivers, check out waterdata.usgs.gov for water levels, bigskyfishing.com for angling info, and fwp.mt.gov for fishing regulations. In the winter, if you plan on heading into the backcountry, stay updated with avalanche forecasts from mtavalanche.com. For general tips & tricks regarding outdoor safety and skills, check out outsidebozeman.com/skills.

Stores
Nothing beats a well-stocked retailer for hands-on gear comparisons, along with free advice from local professionals. Southwest Montana teems with outdoor shops; stop in and hit ‘em up for tips and guidance. Just be sure to buy something while you’re there; Montanans are a friendly, helpful lot, but nobody likes a freeloader.

Hyalite Expectations

As Bozemanites, we have our pick of the litter when it comes to public-land access. If we feel like fishing, there are five rivers within an hour of Main Street. Hiking? We can see five ranges from our downtown office. Biking? Hundreds of miles of trail jet off from town into vast expanses of forest. But our crown jewel is Hyalite. The access is unparalleled, the sights unrivaled, and the recreation endless. And in order to keep it that way, it takes a little bit of chipping in. From everybody. Here’s how.

Pack It In, Pack It Out
There are no garbage services in Hyalite, meaning you should come out with just as much as you went in with, if not more. By all means, take advantage of the fire rings, campsites, and trailheads. But realize that this isn’t your bedroom, and Forest Service employees aren’t your servants. Pick up your trash.

Respect Other Users
Hyalite supports hikers, bikers, climbers, anglers, and campers. Whatever your passion, leave the judgment at home and realize that everyone enjoys nature differently. Bikers, slow down on busy trails and yield accordingly. Fly anglers, get off your high horse and acknowledge that some folks just want to spin-fish from a slow-moving boat with a motor.

Respect Wildlife
Even with all the human pressure, wildlife still abounds. Elk, deer, bear, coyote, and moose are all common, along a plethora of bird species—and most of the animals are pretty comfortable around people. Give them space, keep campgrounds clean, and obey speed limits.

Adhere to Regulations
Due to the high pressure, Hyalite has specific regulations to mitigate problems. The latest is a restriction on target shooting. The short of it: it ain’t legal. There are also timeshare regulations for specific trails, and some are closed to bikes and motorcycles certain days of the week. Another one to note is that Hyalite Canyon Road closes for a month in the spring. For all the beta (that means information), visit hyalite.org.

Become a Steward
Friends of Hyalite (FOH) is an all-volunteer nonprofit that raises awareness about the area’s current issues. They also pay for winter plowing of the road, which means the fun doesn’t stop once the snow flies. Donate some money, or if you’re broke, consider giving some time. FOH hosts cleanup days, and several local nonprofits organize trail-maintenance outings.

Winter Watch-Outs

by Jack Taylor

Winter in Montana is magical. Our landscape takes on a beautiful frozen stillness that beckons us to venture out among frosty firs, blanketed meadows, and frozen waterfalls. Even as temperatures plunge below zero, we catch glimpses of wildlife adapted to survive in the snowglobe. But as humans, we’re not so adept at enduring the cold. We depend on warm clothing, heating, and shelter to make it through. The margin for error in the outdoors is thinner during winter, and a mishap can quickly turn dangerous if you’re not prepared.

Before you take on the snowy roads, make sure your vehicle is capable. Snow tires are highly recommended and will make your life easier—and safer—all winter long. Yes, it’s a big investment, but with two sets of tires for summer and winter, each will last twice as long. If you must go without, a set of chains in your car will get you out of a pickle. Make sure they fit your tires, and practice installing them so that you can do it quickly when the time comes. If you have a front- or four-wheel drive car, put them on the front tires; if rear-wheel, put them on the back. A few more items to keep in your car include a shovel for digging yourself out, jumper cables in case your battery dies, and gloves plus warm jackets (or even a sleeping bag) in case you get stuck for a long time.

Extra warm layers are also essential when venturing away from your vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to bring one layer more than you think you’ll need—better safe than sorry. When planning your layering scheme, start with a moisture-wicking baselayer made of synthetic fibers or wool. Never wear cotton for warmth in winter; if it gets wet, it won’t dry out until you’re back in a warm environment. Fleece makes a great midlayer for top and bottom, and the same rule applies for materials. A waterproof shell usually isn’t necessary given the dryness of our winters, but a windbreaker will add protection without taking up much space in your pack. On top of that, an insulated jacket with synthetic or down fill gives you lots of warmth with little extra weight to carry. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio, but like cotton, it will not dry in the cold, so synthetic is always a safer bet.

Summer Scaries

by Corey Hockett

In Montana, summer is about as splendid as it gets—hot enough to make jumping into the river feel refreshing, and cool enough to fall asleep at night. The mountains and water call us to the backcountry, and it’s a wonderful time to answer. But heading out half-cocked isn’t a good idea. Weather can turn quickly here, and not every critter you run into is friendly (e.g., griz and mama moose). Just because the sun’s shining doesn’t mean you needn’t take precautions.

Bozeman isn’t the hottest place on the planet, but the past few summers have been scorchers. Dehydration and heat stroke should be considered on most outings. If you’re going out for more than half a day, have a plan for water, both for drinking and cooling down. There are many creeks from which to fill your bottle (purification recommended) and dunk your head, but if you run out on a sun-baked ridge, don’t count on finding any until you hit the valley floor. I keep a full jug in the truck at all times.

If you do any fishing or wandering around river bottoms, keep an eye out for poison ivy. We have it here, and if you expose your skin to it, it will suck. Learn how to identify the plant and areas where it’s likely to grow. In general, you can’t go wrong with the old adage: leaves of three, let it be.

Up in the high country, your main watch-out is electricity, and no, I’m not talking about that radio tower marring the view. Thunder and lightning storms are common. They usually arrive in the afternoon, but look for signs early, like shifting winds and cumulus cloud build-up. If you happen to get caught in a storm, move to lower ground, take off all metal objects (watches, belts, keys), and assume lightning position (squat with hands behind your head) until it passes.

If one of those bolts connects with dry fuel, say a dead tree, it oftentimes ignites. You’ve probably heard the news—come summertime, we get forest fires. Getting caught in one while you’re out and about is not a primary concern. Start one, however, and consider yourself pilloried, plus fines and potential jail time. There are often campfire mandates during the hotter months, but if you have one when permitted, make sure you keep it contained with a rock ring, monitor it constantly, and extinguish it completely. Many a smoldering cooking fire has led to a wildfire with devastating consequences.

 

Between the Leaves

by Jack Taylor

When I first landed in Bozeman, I had boundless ambition to get out and explore, but no idea where to go. The immense volume of trails, hills, and mountains had my head spinning—how could I choose from so many options? To get a better lay of the land, I took up a job with Bozeman Parks & Recreation as a camp counselor, and learned an invaluable lesson: one doesn’t even need to leave Bozeman’s city limits to have an awesome adventure.

Bozeman’s Parks & Recreation department manages 77 parks and 67 miles of trails spanning 900 acres within city limits. You could spend years exploring these spaces and still make new discoveries every day, from the vibrant flowers of Langhor Gardens to the riffled streams of Story Mill Park and the beautiful winding trails linking it all together. With a dozen amped-up, curious kids in tow, I set off on a new journey every day. It wasn’t about logging miles or bagging peaks; it was about how much we could discover just by looking around. We built stick forts in the woods of Glen Lake Park, caught bluegill from the shores of Bozeman Pond, told ghost stories in the rain at Lindley Pavilion, and scaled climbing boulders all across town. I still go back to these places and let my imagination wander—it’s a way to relax, reflect, and draw inspiration, even if I just have an hour or less to get outside on a busy day.

In addition to self-led discovery of Bozeman’s outdoor spaces, Parks & Rec offers year-round activity programs for adults and kids alike. You can learn to swing dance or jam with musicians at Story Mansion, join organized leagues for badminton and pickleball, learn new skills like archery and ice skating, and even take free avalanche-awareness classes. Many Parks & Rec facilities are rentable and make great locations for birthday parties, family functions, cult meetings—whatever you’re into. As a bonus, the rental fees are reduced for Bozeman residents.

You can learn more about what Bozeman’s parks have to offer at bozeman.net/parks. Here, you’ll find a detailed, interactive map of all the city parks and trails maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. But take my word for it: the real joy comes in exploring these spaces with little direction or agenda. Ditch your phone and leave the fancy gear at home. Ride your bike or take a stroll and you’re bound to stumble on a park or trail before too long, and here, your Bozeman adventure begins.

Seven Wonders of the Bozone

In Bozeman, it’s impossible to do it all, but if you’re like us, you strive to. Every season presents its own set of outdoor challenges and opportunities, but there are a few activities so renowned that they bear repeating on a near-annual basis—classics, you could call them. Below is a list of seven. Do them all and you’re one step closer to becoming a true Bozemanite.

Ski the Ridge
By this we mean the ridgeline above Bridger Bowl. The Bridger Lift drops you off 600 feet from the top, where you can bootpack the rest of the way. You’ll need a beacon, and once on the Ridge, keep your wits about you—get off-route and you’re bound for serious amounts of undesired airtime.

Swim in Hyalite Reservoir
The most accessible activity on this list. You may have heard of Hyalite for any number of reasons, including, but not limited to: fishing, running, biking, and ice climbing. While each of these has its place, nothing beats a cold refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day, with the craggy peaks of the mighty Gallatin Range towering above.

Paddle the Mad Mile
Ever since A River Runs Through It became a box-office hit, the Gallatin River’s reputation has been one of fly fishing. While trout do in fact fill its waters, come spring runoff, all attention is on the foamy rapids between Lava Lake Trailhead and Upper Storm Castle. Navigate this section successfully in a watercraft and earn a badge of Bozeman honor.

Fish the Madison River
You came to Bozeman, but did you remember your fly rod? We can’t guarantee you elbow room, but there’s a reason this river is so highly sought-after. Whether it’s casting from the banks, moving to and fro in your waders, or drifting slowly down in a boat, fishing the Madison is a staple Bozeman experience.

Climb Gallatin Tower
There are a number of routes by which to do so; which specific one you choose, we don’t care. The point is, get to the top. Why? Because it is there (said someone famous). And because you’ll be rewarded with views of the river, and a charcoal grill, in case you brought hot dogs. But most importantly, because you will feel alive.

Bike the Bangtail Divide
On two wheels, you won’t find a more quintessential ride. Starting from Stone Creek, the trail climbs high above Bridger Canyon and contours north to Grassy Mountain for a beautiful descent down to Brackett Creek. Or do it in reverse. Either way, you’re looking at 23 miles of pure mountain-biking glory.

Hike or Run Mount Baldy
By now, you know where the “M” is. But have you traveled above the big white letter to the broad prominent peak in the distance? If not, do so. Grunt your way past false peaks to summit one of Bozeman’s most famous. Then, look out at the sweeping Gallatin Valley below and give thanks that by some stroke of fortune you ended up where you did.