Category Archives: Activities

Lines on the Water

by Eli Fournier

Fly-fishing in Southwest Montana.

Welcome to the fly-fishing capital of Montana, if the not entire West. If you come in search of piscine pursuits, look no further. Indeed, the fishing here lives up to its reputation, and come August, the town dress code might as well be quick-dry shorts, a sun hoody, sandals, sunglasses (with Croakies), and a lucky fishing hat. But aside from looking the part, knowing a few basics is also important. Here’s a rundown on a few of the most popular local waters. For more, pick up a copy of the Cast fishing guide, available for free at most fly shops and outdoor stores around town.

Where to Go
Madison River
From the “50-mile riffle” on its upper section, to Bear Trap Canyon and the flat meanders of its lower section, the Madison has plenty of options. A driftboat or raft is the best way to access the upper, but wading is equally effective on the lower. The flows are dam-controlled, but the water can still blow out from high-flow feeder streams. Early summer is caddis; mid-summer, salmonflies; and late-summer, mayflies and terrestrials.

Gallatin River
Perhaps the most famous trout river in the West, thanks to A River Runs Through It, the Gally is worthy of the hype. The river begins as a trickle in Yellowstone National Park and ends at its confluence with the Jefferson and the Madison at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Excellent fishing is to be had throughout, although “the Canyon” is the most-heavily pressured thanks to its fish-laden pockets, cool water temps, and easy access. The river is best fished wading from the banks—in fact, it’s illegal to fish from a boat on the upper section down to the confluence with the East Gallatin River, at Manhattan. If you’re just after a few casts in the evening, the Gallatin is tough to beat.

Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone originates south of the Park in some of the most remote country in the Lower 48. When folks around town refer to fishing on the ’Stone, however, they’re typically referencing the Paradise Valley section, from Gardiner to Livingston, and even further downstream to Big Timber. The fishing is dictated by flows. Springtime pre-runoff can be good, but the real goods are had once runoff subsides in late June. The Yellowstone is primo streamer water early-season, and dry-dropper territory later in the summer. It’s a big river, and wading can be difficult—but it’s not impossible. The best way to fish the Yellowstone is from a raft, stopping at good runs to wade.

Lakes
Both alpine lakes and lowland reservoirs can be productive at the right time of year. Just after ice-off in May, trout tend to cruise the shorelines of Ennis, Quake, Hebgen, and Henry’s lakes looking for easy meals. All these stillwaters can be effectively fished from shore in early spring before the fish move out to deeper waters. Once things warm up, the high-mountain lakes really turn on. But with so many possibilities in the Gallatin, Absaroka, and Madison ranges, narrowing down the options is challenging. Fortunately, there are a couple of good guidebooks, with one of the best being Flyfisher’s Guide to Southwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes. If you’re heading anywhere in the high country, bring a rod along—there are fish in just about every lake, pond, and creek in this corner of the state.

 

Catch & Release vs. Keep & Eat
On heavily-pressured rivers—all the ones mentioned above—catch-and-release is highly encouraged. While it’s legal to keep fish on some of these rivers, if every angler kept a daily bag limit, there would be no fish left. It’s acceptable to bonk a fish for dinner every now and then, especially if it’s unlikely to survive upon release; just try not to make a habit of it. A few standard catch-and-release practices: play fish quickly, keep them in the water, limit handling to a bare minimum, and use barbless hooks.

Bonking fish in reservoirs or at high mountain lakes is less frowned upon. In fact, a lot of folks on big alpine backpacking trips don’t bring much in the way of dinner food, instead relying on trout to fill their stomachs. Bring a packet of Idahoan mashed potatoes, some salmon-rub, and tortillas for gourmet trout burritos.

Etiquette
Fishing etiquette is pretty simple: don’t be a dick on the river. Chat with other anglers, give folks space, share your knowledge with those less experienced, and if floating, don’t dilly-dally and cause a traffic jam at the boat ramp. With some basic courtesy, you shouldn’t run into any issues on the water.

Under the Stars

by Jack Taylor

A guide to camping around the Bozone.

A camping or backpacking trip is one of the easiest, and quite possibly the best, ways to immerse yourself in the outdoors. Spending a night (or multiple nights) in the woods will calm your nerves, humble your mind, and invigorate your soul. When a trip is well executed, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of achievement and satisfaction. If things go awry, you’ll build resilience, learn from your mistakes, and certainly get a good story out of it. Most trips are a mixed bag of solid accomplishment and unplanned adventure. Here are some tips to help with logistics, so that you’ll have greater capacity for exploration. After all, you’d rather come home with a boastful tale about getting lost in the dark and navigating by starlight, than a dejected account of bringing the wrong type of stove gas and eating all your meals cold-soaked.

Where to Go
Our favorite place to go camping is… wait, did you really think we were going to tell you? Part of the fun in planning a trip is figuring out where to go! There’s nothing so satisfying as the process of discovery. That said, here are some general guidelines as you’re poring over the maps.

U.S. Forest Service land is perhaps the most popular option for overnight outings around here. From established campgrounds equipped with amenities, to vast swaths of unmarred wilderness, you’ll find the full gamut of camping and backpacking opportunities. Most of our nearby mountain ranges are almost entirely designated as National Forest (read: public) land.

State Parks and Fishing Access Sites (FASs) offer state-managed campgrounds, usually adjacent to water bodies or historical sites. Using these lands requires the purchase of an $8 annual Montana Conservation License, which can easily be obtained at fwp.mt.gov. The fee goes directly toward maintaining the sites.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is more sparse around Bozeman, but it offers camping opportunities near some popular recreation sites. The campsites are generally primitive, with no amenities—save perhaps a fire ring. So plan ahead, and have a means of disposing your waste.

On that note, regardless of where you go, practice leaving no trace. Look up the “Leave-No-Trace Principles,” or just follow this rule: leave it better than you found it. That means no trash, a clean firepit, and in general just an attractive campsite for the next person who comes along.

Group Size
The ideal number of people for a camping or backpacking trip will depend on your objective. But whether it’s a solo peak-bagging mission or a river trip with a crowd of two dozen, group size is an important consideration in planning.

When solo, you can make all the decisions yourself with no external conflict. You’ll be less distracted, and will probably feel more immersed in the environment. But solo outings are riskier, as you’re self-reliant. Plus, in a group, you can work as a team and socialize. Conflict is almost inevitable, but working through it is a good skill to practice.

In the backcountry, where we go to experience pristine nature, groups of more than five people can have a significant impact on other travelers. If you’re in a large party, consider splitting into smaller teams while on the trail. You can reconvene at camp, but be especially mindful of encroaching on others’ space.

Food
Meal-planning is one of the biggest challenges of a camping trip. Our best advice is to learn from experience. If you’re happy eating freeze-dried meals, great. If you’re culinarily inclined, camp-cooking can be an excellent outlet for creativity. Don’t be afraid to bring some perishable items for the start of your trip—especially if you’re camping near a car or boat with a cooler. Unrefrigerated meat should be fine for a day; veggies up to a few days. Canned food is heavy, but increases your options. Dehydrating your own food will save weight, and is less expensive than purchasing freeze-dried meals. Pre-made PB&Js are great for a quick lunch.

Cooking
There are two ways to cook while camping: on a stove or over a fire. A stove is easier and more reliable (e.g., it works in the rain), so it’s probably your safest bet. The two most popular types run on butane canisters or white gas. Butane stoves are simple and compact, but can struggle in cold temps or at high elevations. White-gas stoves are more complicated, but they’re versatile and reliable once you learn the maintenance procedures.

But there’s a primal satisfaction in cooking over fire—and an art to doing it right. If you choose this route, be sure to abide by fire restrictions. Don’t burn the forest down, and don’t leave a mess of a firepit—especially if there wasn’t one already established.

Bears
Grizzlies are a real concern when camping in southwest Montana. Hang your food, and cook at least 200 feet away from where you sleep. Bring nothing but water into your tent—even a tube of toothpaste can tip off a grizzly that there’s something tasty nearby.

 

Big Sky Boatin’

by Corey Hockett

Paddling in Southwestern Montana.

Montana’s boating scene often gets shrugged off like a younger brother. Pitted against other western states, its reputation falls short of Idaho’s coveted multi-day trips and the Northwest’s epic whitewater. This may be why river life in the Treasure State is overlooked and underrated. Regardless, it’s all good, because in Bozeman, you’re teed up for just about all you can ask for—and usually without the out-of-state crowds joining you.

Gallatin
A mere 20 minutes from town, the Gally is our closest gem. A low- to medium-volume river, typical flows range from 300-1,000cfs at the gauge at Gallatin Gateway, with peak runoff landing somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000. In June 2022, spring rains and a melting snowpack cultivated a raging torrent over 8,600cfs, the highest ever recorded since the gauge was installed in 1994.

As a shallower river, the rapids on the Gallatin vary in shape and size and are more technical in nature. Rafters are tested with regular rock-dodging, while smaller crafts can pick from a selection of routes ranging from small drops to demanding boofs for kayakers. Most of the whitewater lies between Deer Creek and Lower Storm Castle. Intermediate paddlers should stick to sections above Lava Lake. Below this access is the formidable Mad Mile. At flows above 3,000cfs, this is a continuous Class IV run. If this doesn’t sound like you, and lounging on the raft with a beer and your dog is more up your alley, check out the river between Manhattan and Missouri Headwaters State Park. Appropriate options include canoeing, rowing a driftboat, and floating on an inner tube.

Yellowstone
The longest freestone river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone forms deep in the Absaroka Range and flows for nearly 700 miles through mountain gorges and across prairie flats until it joins the Missouri near Williston, North Dakota. Apart from its tumbling cascades inside the national-park boundary, which are off-limits to boaters, the best rapids lie between Gardiner and Carbella Campground. Here, two supreme sections of whitewater await the eager river-runner.

The first three miles downstream of Gardiner yield playful wave trains (Class II-III) all the way to McConnell Landing. The river mellows out for the next ten miles, but picks back up where a narrow gorge constricts near the Joe Brown put-in. The fabled Yankee Jim Canyon is a four-mile stretch with three notable features: Boat Eater, Big Rock, and Boxcar rapids. At low to medium levels, intermediate paddlers and rowers will find it exciting but manageable. When flows crest above 15,000cfs, think twice before going down. While the waves and holes become munchier, the strong eddy fences and unpredictable boils are just as likely to tip an inexperienced boatman.

Below Yankee Jim, the river’s character relaxes significantly. Occasional rapids pop up now and again, but for the most part the Yellowstone is a fishing-float from here out. Downstream from Livingston, one will find more intermediate waves between Springdale and Grey Bear. While the river appears slow from a distance, it’s worth noting that the current is sneakily strong and should be treated with utmost respect.

Madison
Renowned as a destination fly-fishing river, the Madison is more apt to attract anglers than it is paddling enthusiasts. That said, Bear Trap Canyon holds something for everyone. Set in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the river’s remoteness combined with its impressive rapid lineup make it one of the state’s most celebrated whitewater runs.

Below Ennis Lake, one can select from two put-ins. Entering directly below the dam will insert you into the action right away, with Double Drop Rapids (Class IV) right around the corner. For those who want a slower start, drive all the way to the end of the road and launch at the powerhouse. In one quick mile, Whitehorse Rapid provides an excellent warm-up with a steep gradient and a forgiving wave train. The meat of the run, however, is a distinctive S-turn that occurs exactly halfway down. The infamous Kitchen Sink is a string of drops that are demanding and technical at all water levels. Scout (or portage) on river right, and make sure to watch for rattlesnakes along the way. The second half of the canyon offers plenty of Class II rapids, as well as the unmistakable Green Wave, an exciting Class III to keep you honest.

For folks less interested in whitewater, the lower Madison provides a number of great scenic floats all the way to Headwaters State Park, with Warm Springs to Black’s Ford being the most popular tubing stretch.

Gear
Like many other outdoor activities, boating can take up a sizeable portion of the gear closet (actually, you’ll probably need a garage). If you’re new to the sport, the one thing you can count on needing, no matter when you go, where you go, how you go, is a PFD. Montana law mandates that you have one in the boat with you, and if you’re going to be running any sort of whitewater, we recommend not skimping on the quality.

No matter what type of craft you’ll be taking, drybags are handy. To keep an extra set of clothes, your phone, sunscreen, etc., a 20-30L bag will do just fine. For multi-day trips, look for an additional large bag (70-100L) to hold your tent, sleeping bag, and other big items. Summer is a mere three months here, and if you like to be on the water any longer than that, expect unpredictable temps. Wetsuits and drysuits allow people in small crafts to paddle comfortably throughout the spring and fall. Same goes for pogies; they can be a saving grace for your hands on a cold day. Last but not least, we’re not here to police you on risk-taking, but if you intend to dabble with some faster water, it’s a good idea to have a helmet. Yours truly has bonked his head numerous times in the Mad Mile alone. Without the brain bucket, I may not even be around, or at least coherent enough, to pen this article.

Etiquette
River manners are not hard to follow; all it takes is some self-awareness and a bit of planning. Rule number one: do not clog up the boat ramp. If you’re launching a driftboat or raft, put on sunscreen, rig up your fishing rod, and pack the cooler away from the ramp, in a manner that does not impede or prevent any other party from accessing the water. You should feel anxious every time your truck is on the ramp. Get in, get out.

While on the water, give people space. Don’t pull out from an eddy directly in front of a group that’s in the main current, and grant people fishing from the bank a wide berth. In essence, it’s the Golden Rule—follow it and the river will treat you right.

Events
May-August
Kayaking Lessons – Bozeman. Whether it’s a six-week class or a single-day private session, Wave Train Kayak offers a fleet of courses to help you work on everything from basic paddling technique to advanced whitewater mechanics. wavetrainkayakteam.com

June
Gallatin Whitewater Festival – Bozeman. Suit up for a rip-roarin’ time in high-water season. Participate in one of (or all) three whitewater races including a slalom, individual timed, and a mass start. gallatinwhitewaterfestival.com

Wednesdays
Community Paddle Day – Bozeman. Meet like-minded folks and paddle a section of choice on the Gallatin after work. wavetrainkayakteam.com

July
Annual Yellowstone River Boat Float – Livingston. Join an annual tradition that stretches back nearly 60 years and float from Livingston to Columbus on a hot weekend in July. facebook.com

 

Hard-Rock Life

by Jack Taylor

A guide to rock climbing in and around Bozeman.

Rock climbing is a hallmark of outdoor recreation. Seriously—carabiners and ropes have essentially become the universal signals of people who like to spend time outside. Oh, you’ve got a spring-loaded metal device affixed to your water bottle? Where did you go camping last weekend?

Joking aside, climbing is fun for pretty much anyone. And for some folks, it becomes an all-absorbing obsession. Perhaps there’s a primal urge hard-coded in our DNA inherited from tree-swinging apes. We have an impulse to climb. It feels good.

And fortunately, there are plenty of spots to rock climb around Bozeman. For beginners and experts alike, our mountains and valleys are dotted with cliffs of all different rock types—granite, limestone, and sandstone alike. So whether you’re an expert or neophyte, here’s what you need to know about climbing in southwest Montana.

Where to Go
Beginner
For easy sport climbing, Bear Canyon is the go-to. There are tons of bolted routes in the 5.6-5.10 range. It’s also one of the closest climbing areas to downtown Bozeman—just a 20-minute drive and 10-minute approach.

Allenspur is another great beginner-friendly zone (albeit a bit farther from town), and has some more difficult climbs to be found—it’s a good spot if you’re looking to appease climbers with a variety of skill levels.

Intermediate
When it’s time to notch it up, Practice Rock offers a selection of climbs from 5.6-5.12. There aren’t any sport climbs per se, but it’s possible to hike to the top and set up a top-rope on a bolted anchor for nearly every climb.

Another popular area is Bozeman Pass, with a variety of sport-climbing crags offering routes across a broad range of difficulty. The Training Wall is known for having some local test-pieces.

Advanced
Gallatin Canyon is the beating heart of Bozeman-area rock climbing. With hundreds of routes ranging from moderate multipitch romps to nails-hard crack climbs, there’s enough to keep a zealous climber entertained for years on end.

Wolverine Bowl has the best limestone sport climbing in the area. It’s bullet-hard, very sharp, and dotted with long pitches in the 5.11-5.12 range. Not to mention, its setting in the Bridgers is quite serene.

Far-Flung
Looking for a weekend road-trip outside the immediate area? Natural Bridge has some of the best sport climbing in the state. Pipestone has a plethora of boulders and cracks, with nice camping. The Humbug Spires offer tantalizing faces and cracks, and are steeped in climbing history.

Tying In
Around Bozeman, you’ll find lots of places to climb—and fortunately, not too many other people out there. Still, there are some important pieces of etiquette to keep in mind.

First and foremost, give people space. With plenty of room to spread out, there’s no need to be crowding another party on a route. Wait patiently for a pitch to open. There’s surely something else nearby.

On the other hand, don’t be a hoarder. Spending two hours working the most popular route at the crag on a busy weekend is pretty inconsiderate.

Music is a polarizing topic. At the end of the day, though, it’s presumptuous to think that other people are okay with you blasting tunes out there. Some of us are trying to enjoy nature for all that it is—sound (or lack thereof) included.

And then there are dogs. Lots of them around here, in fact. If you bring your dog climbing, it is absolutely imperative that you consider the impact on other people. Well-trained dogs who lay at your feet or stay out of the way are perfectly fine. But if you’ve got a four-legged nuisance on your hands who is running amok, stepping on ropes, and bothering other climbers, you’re not going to make any new pals.

Events
One of the coolest parts about climbing in Bozeman is that we have such a tight-knit community of climbers. You’re bound to start seeing familiar faces within just a few outings. On top of that, we’ve got a smattering of year-round events where you can brush up on skills, help with crag maintenance, and meet like-minded folks.

Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays
Climbing Clinics – Bozeman. Learn the fundamentals of belaying, communication, rope management, and climbing movement, then progress to more advanced skills such as leading and anchor-cleaning. spireclimbingcenter.com

Thursdays
Speaker Series – Bozeman. Swing by Uphill Pursuits on select Thursdays throughout the year for talks by local experts on everything in the mountains, from first aid to expedition reports. uphillpursuits.com

March
Spring Fling – Bozeman. Before you head outdoors for the summer, have one last hurrah at the indoor wall to celebrate climbing and watch the best throw down. spireclimbingcenter.com

May-August
Crag Maintenance – various locations. Help maintain the climbing areas we love and their access trails with the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition. As a bonus, you’re bound to meet some like-minded folks to rope up with. swmontanaclimbers.org

June
Montana Women’s Climbing Festival – Helena. Going into its fourth year, this festival is a fun-filled gathering for lady-crushers in the area. Sign up for a clinic to learn some new skills, or just go out to enjoy the climbing and company. mtwomensclimbingfest.com

September
Tour de Hyalite – Hyalite Canyon. A classic friendly competition in an iconic setting: race to the top of Hyalite Peak and back, then climb pitches at Practice Rock to take time off the clock. swmontanaclimbers.org

 

Pedal to the Metal

by Adam Brown

Biking around the Bozone.

Take this for a spin: when it comes to mountain biking, Bozeman’s got it all. Countless alpine rides meander through lush forests and across rocky mountainsides, while fast, well-built, downhill-specific trails get the adrenaline flowing. We also have great desert-style riding just outside of town, as well as low-angle logging roads for leisurely jaunts. And when you don’t feel like driving, you can get your biking fix right out the back door.

Where to Go
Beginner
In town, hop on the Main Street to the Mountains trails at any point and go until the sun sets. Explore gravel paths through subdivisions in every direction, or pedal down the Gallagator to Peets Hill as you get your steering and balance dialed. Next you can tack on Highland Glen and Painted Hills. These trails are popular options for folks to rack up some convenient mileage before or after work. You can even ride all the way up Triple Tree if your heart and legs can handle it.

Now that you’ve gotten a feel for your bike, pedal up the old logging road alongside Bozeman Creek—also known as Sourdough. This all-dirt path climbs steadily for miles, and you can turn around whenever you’d like, to coast back down. If you take the left fork just before the bridge (about five miles in) toward Mystic Lake, the trail shrinks to singletrack and increases in difficulty—this route is called the Wall of Death.

Intermediate
Once you’re comfortable riding singletrack, head over to Crosscut for one of the area’s best trail systems. Here you’ll find a web of great single- and double-tracks for many different riding styles. Make a cross-country style loop from Loggers to the East Bridger North trail, or hop on the What Goes Up climbing trail to the Must Come Down trail for a flowy downhill experience.

Up in Hyalite, the Moser Creek area has several loop options, all of which feature shorter climbs than some of Hyalite’s burlier rides like History Rock. Although Moser’s trails are on the map, there are some confusing junctions, so do your research and figure out which loops you like most.

Advanced
South of town in the Gallatin foothills is Leverich, Bozeman’s most popular mountain-bike trail and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest’s first dedicated bike trail. During the summer, the parking lot overflows with vehicles, so make some biking friends to carpool with or park down at Nash Park and ride the road up. Leverich is meant to be ridden clockwise. Hop on the uphill-designated trail straight out of the parking lot, then climb a series of tough switchbacks and steep, rocky sections before finally topping out. Enjoy a stellar downhill with plenty of berms, jumps, hootin’, and hollerin’.

For more bike-specific trails, head to Copper City for a 20-mile network with something for everybody. Keep in mind that hikers and runners are also welcome here. You’ll find everything from a fun skills park and mellow beginner trails to rough and rowdy descents, including massive jump lines.

Saddle Up
First things first: you need a bike, and bikes are expensive, so you’ll need to overcome the initial sticker-shock. But consider yourself lucky, because our town runneth over with deals on gear. If you’re looking to spend as little as possible, start at a second-hand store, online marketplace, pawn shop, or the annual GVBC Bike Swap. If you’re willing to shell out for a new set of wheels, hit the bike shops. Remember that full-suspension is often preferred, but will be significantly more expensive to purchase and service. For some, especially casual bikers, buying a hardtail can save a grand or more.

Next, you’ll need a helmet, pack, and repair kit for those inevitable mechanical failures on the trail, plus the standard outdoor equipment: extra layer, rain shell, first-aid kit, and bear spray. Padded gloves are a great option, as are sunglasses to keep wind and debris out of your eyes while riding. You might also want some knee and elbow pads, because the crashing never stops, even after you improve.

Bikes are fun because they are freeing. How else can human power alone get you so far out there? But a malfunction is inconvenient at best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Knowing how to make a few fixes on your own will prove beneficial when something goes wrong out on the trail, and you’ll save some money because you won’t need to shell out cash every time you need work done. There are lots of great bike classes and resources in the area. Check in with local bike shops, or head to outsidebozeman.com/biking for more reading.

Etiquette
It’s always important to consider other trail users—whether they’re on foot, horseback, or motorized equipment. Use your discretion and pay attention. Spot approaching hikers as early as possible. They have the right of way, regardless of conditions, but still, there’s a good chance they’ll step off the trail to let you pass without interrupting your ride. If not, pull off to the side, give a polite nod, and carry on. Always give horses a wide berth to avoid spooking them, and when possible, pull off on the downhill side of the trail. Greeting the rider in a friendly voice often helps ease a spooky horse, too. If a biker comes upon another biker, the one going uphill has the right of way. If you’re traveling with a four-legged friend, make sure to keep her under control. And be prepared to clean up if she makes a deposit on or near the trail.

Trail preservation is the name of the game when on wheels. Since bikes damage the trail more than boots, it’s a rider’s responsibility to limit the impact. Don’t go out when trails are muddy. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re leaving deep marks in the dirt, you should consider walking that section instead of riding. If the conditions persist, turn back and try a different ride. Avoid biking off-trail, which damages vegetation and can create incidental and unwanted walkaround trails. If you come across a pool of water, take a few minutes to dig a little trench and drain it.

 

Winter Wonderland

by the editors

A guide to a winter paradise. 

Skiing might be the classic winter activity around here, but there are plenty of other things to do when the temperature plunges. Whether your legs are sore from hitting the slopes, or you’re just looking to try something new, here are a couple of our second-string favorites.

Sledding
Who said tearing down a hill on a sled is just for kids? Some folks say it only gets better with age. The bottom line is that it’s fun for anyone with a pulse. As affordable as it is accessible, sledding is a Montana pastime, and Bozeman has a number of popular spots worth checking out: Snowfill Recreation Area, Peets Hill, the Regional Park, and Langohr Campground up Hyalite are just a few. Really, any public land with a rising slope will do—just make sure the hill has a decent run-out.

Snowshoeing
If you can walk, chances are you can snowshoe—and have fun doing it. To get started, pick a trailhead. While packed snow offers easy walking, your best bet is to veer off-trail and make your own path. One of the major joys of snowshoeing is finding solitude and serenity in the winter woods. A beginner setup (shoes & poles) runs about $200 brand-new; if you’re on a budget, pick up a pair of hand-me-downs and use your ski poles.

Snowmobiling
With the power of a snowmobile, there’s a lot you can see. Whether flying around the mountains of West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Cooke City, or Island Park, a high-speed adrenaline rush is hard to beat. There are many guide and rental services scattered throughout southwest Montana, and most places that rent snowmobiles supply snowsuits, helmets, and other accessories.

Skating
Every winter, three outdoor ice rinks pop up at Bozeman parks: Bogert, Southside, and Beall. Once the ice sets up for the season—normally in late December—the rinks stay open until 10pm every day. Southside and Bogert have warming huts for cozy cups of hot chocolate and a comfortable abode to put on and take off skates. Additional skating is offered at the Haynes Pavilion, home of the local hockey league; they rent skates for $5, plus a $5 entry fee.

Ice Fishing
Don’t knock it ’til you try it—ice fishing is a classic winter activity out West. Bring an ice auger, a fishing rod, warm clothes, and a sixer to stay true to the deep-seated roots of this activity. Hyalite Reservoir is a good option for trout, but the Bozeman Pond next to the mall is a little closer to home and has a plethora of bass and panfish. Just remember to check the ice thickness before venturing out too far. It takes four inches to support the weight of an adult human.

Events
The great thing about Bozeman is that no matter your taste, there’s always something going on. Here are a few noteworthy events for you non-skiers out there.

Ongoing
Learn to Skate – Bozeman. Get tips from the pros on how to slide smoothly on ice. Classes offered for ages four and up, from beginner to advanced. gallatinice.org

October
Hocktober Scramble – Bozeman. This fun hockey series gives players of all levels a chance to test their skills—and have a blast doing it—in competitive pickup games. bozemanhockey.org

January
SNöFLINGA – Butte. There’s something for everyone here. We’re talking snowshoe tours, fatbike races, avalanche-awareness classes… the list goes on. snoflinga.org

January
Wild West Winterfest – Island Park. Join cheery folk for a winter celebration complete with a parade of snowmobiles, sleigh rides, and a kids’ carnival. islandparkchamber.org

February
Skijoring – Big Sky. If you don’t already know what skijoring is, you’re in for a treat. Head to Big Sky for an old-time wild-west showdown. bigskyskijoring.com

Editor’s note: dates are subject to change. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

Charging the Slopes

by Adam Brown

Downhill skiing around Bozeman.

Winter in Bozeman is magical. Town turns into a winter wonderland adorned with lights and sparkling snow in every direction. And the most celebrated way to enjoy the season is on skis or a snowboard. Whether you’re looking to descend wild steeps, or just keep to the greens, there’s something here for you.

Where to Go
This corner of the Rockies is sprinkled with ski areas big and small, giving you a variety of options. To start, Bridger Bowl is Bozeman’s home mountain. It’s where most of us point our cars when the snow starts to fly. There’s plenty of mountain to go around, from the iconic Ridge to bunny hills and progression areas. It’s truly a fun spot for folks of all ability levels.

If you’ve got a lush bank account, splurge on skiing at Big Sky Resort. The terrain is epic, but ticket prices are cost-prohibitive for most folks.

But beyond Bridger and Big Sky, there are plenty more places to ski. These small-town ski areas offer a charming feel, low costs, and all-around good vibes.

 

Mountain                     Distance from Bozeman (miles)  Nearest Town
Showdown                                 110                                                  White Sulfur Springs, MT

Great Divide                              120                                                 Helena, MT

Discovery                                     130                                                Philipsburg, MT

Red Lodge                                    150                                                Red Lodge, MT

Maverick                                       160                                                Dillon, MT

Lost Trail                                        190                                                Sula, MT

Grand Targhee                           190                                                Driggs, ID.

 

Backcountry
Once you’ve got your chairlift fix, it’s time to set off on some human-powered outings. There are backcountry ski options in every direction.

Hyalite Canyon is a gold mine of opportunity. Lick Creek and History Rock are great options to get your footing in the area. Once you have those in the bag, you’ll find plenty more to discover up there.

The Mount Ellis area is another popular close-by touring area. The gentle slopes of Little Ellis can be accessed via a short skin from a trailhead not 20 minutes from downtown Bozeman, while the Ellis Burn offers a longer descent that catches plenty of east-blowing snow.

For route descriptions and other inspiration, visit outsidebozeman.com/ski-tours.

Gearing Up
On paper, skiing and snowboarding gear is pretty simple. But when the metal meets the snow, things can get more complicated. It’s easy to get lost in the fine details like sidecut radius, effective edge, chamber height, blah-blah-blah. If you’re new to everything, no need to drive yourself crazy with all that. Just worry about length and waist width.

Aim for skis that are about the same height as you are. If you’re a beginner, go a bit shorter; advanced, go a bit longer. 100mm is a good, versatile waist width around these parts. Narrower is better for groomers; wider is better for powder.

Snowboards should be somewhere between your chin and nose in height, and your boot’s toes and heels should barely hang over the edge when centered on the board. If they hang too far, look for a “wide” model board.

Boots are the most crucial part for a positive experience on snow, but are oftentimes overlooked. Get something that fits snuggly, comfortably, and strikes the right balance between supportiveness and flexibility.

When it’s time to hit the backcountry, you’ll need a ski-touring setup. You’ll want boots with a walk mode, and lightweight AT bindings to make the uphill more enjoyable—after all, that’s where you’ll spend about 95% of your time. Snowboarders will need a splitboard with special bindings, but can typically use regular boots for this endeavor. Don’t forget poles for the way up, too. Finally, grab some skins and you’re just about there.

Avalanche safety gear is the last (but certainly not least) component. For baseline knowledge on snow safety, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain is the backcountry enthusiast’s bible. But if you’re going to be out in the backcountry often, take an avalanche-safety course. There are many organizations that offer field classes in the area, and our local avalanche center schedules free seminars throughout the season. Visit mtavalanche.com for a rundown. Lastly, pick up a beacon, probe, and shovel to round out your backcountry kit.

Etiquette
When out on the slopes, there are many official rules, and just as many unofficial ones. After all, everyone’s a critic. But at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to have fun at our own pace. We sometimes get ahead of ourselves or forget what we should be doing. Just try to be patient with people and help them out when you can. However, there are some important guidelines to ensure the safety of yourself and others on the mountain (a.k.a., the Responsibility Code). In fact, these duties are actually written into our state law, so it’s best everyone knows them well. Look ’em up online or review the posters at local ski areas.

When venturing out of the ski areas and into the backcountry, there is a different set of rules to follow, some more dire than others. To start, consider that most people head into the woods for solitude, so try to keep your volume to a minimum. Everyone has a right to experience the quietude of nature. Therefore, group size can be an issue—and is a matter of both impact and safety, because managing larger groups is difficult. Two to four people is a common sweet spot. Plus, it’ll put less strain on already limited parking areas. Furthermore, if another group has beaten you to a particular ski line, let them have it. It can be dangerous to pack too many people in a small area. Finally, skintracks are sacred, so don’t trash them with boot prints and postholes. Make sure to keep your pup’s waste off the track, too. And if you don’t like the pre-existing skintrack—or you’ve got a pack of dogs pockmarking a popular one—set your own, off to the side.

Events
Bozeman loves skiing. Here are some popular events to prove it.

November
Ski Swap – Bozeman. Out with the old, in with the new(ish). Don’t miss this one. Bridger Ski Foundation’s annual swap at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds offers huge discounts on quality gear. Drop your old gear off the day before. bridgerskifoundation.org

November
Opening Day – Big Sky. 36 lifts, 4,350 feet of elevation, and 5,800 acres to play on. Have at it—if you can afford to. bigskyresort.com

December
Projected Opening Day – Bridger Bowl. Weather permitting, chairs will start spinning for another season of winter fun at Bridger Bowl. Whether you’re first in line or last to leave, opening day is always a party. bridgerbowl.com

January
Community GS Racing – Bridger Bowl. See how you stack up against the rest of the local crowd in this series of two-run GS races. Categories for ski, snowboard, and telemark. bridgerbowl.com

February
King & Queen of the Ridge – Bridger Bowl. Think you have what it takes to hike the Ridge more times than anyone else? Give it your best shot at this annual fundraiser for the Avalanche Center. bridgerbowl.com

Editor’s note: dates are subject to change. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

Winter’s Delight

by Corey Hockett

Some of the greatest moments of winter outings come as anticipation before and ravishment after. Indeed, fueling up and winding down is a big part of what makes these excursions so attractive. What beats raising a glass with your buddies at the end of an epic powder day? How good does that first sip of coffee taste before a weekend road trip? These periods of transition provide your getaway with wholesomeness. And in Bozeman, where there is no lack of adventures to choose from, après (and avant) is no different.

Fueling Up
In winter, it’s hard to leave the coziness of the comforter and strike out into the cold. Get started with hot drinks and warm sandwiches from one of our standout coffee shops and delis. If you’re headed up Bridger Canyon to the ski hill, Crosscut, or Brackett Creek, hit Ghost Town for smooth-sipping coffee and a hefty breakfast burrito. If you’re eastbound on the interstate toward Paradise Valley, pick up a warm cup o’ tea at Townshend’s. Going west, you say? Fill up at Wheat Montana at the junction of Hwy. 287 and score a serious bang for your buck with a Belt burritos. The classic rendezvous locale south of town is Slider’s Deli at the mouth of Big Sky. Grab a coffee on your way through, or, if you’re ending the day early, stop in for a sandwich or burger before your trip home. Last but certainly not least: if you’re planning a half-day at Bridger, pick up a giant Pickle Barrel sandwich and chow down on your way to the hill.

Winding Down
Ski hills are the quintessential locales for après. If you’re wrapping up a day at Bridger Bowl, you’ve got options. It’s always worth having one (just one, if you’re driving) on the hill, and for this I recommend the Grizzly Ridge Station (aka, the Griz). We’re talkin’ $3 pints here. Of Olympia, that is; but let’s face it, you’re looking for something light anyway. Face Shots in the Jim Bridger Lodge is also tried and true. Got a designated driver with you? Have one at each.

If Big Sky is your choice of exploit, you have plenty of choices as well—just be prepared to loosen the purse strings. Scissor Bills is a local favorite. Amongst the mass of infrastructure, this homey saloon overlooks the base area and has plenty of room to spread out. Have a round by the window where an upper-level perspective grants great views of the base area.

Beers are fine and dandy, but if you’re itching for something with a little more zip—something that burns the throat and warms the belly—Bozeman has an exceptional spread of distilleries. Check out Wildrye in the Cannery District and Bozeman Spirits downtown. On the way back from Bridger, stop into Valhalla Meadery for a unique, historic libation to warm your frozen insides. If you happen to be passing through Ennis, don’t miss Willie’s on the main drag—their Bighorn Bourbon rivals any whiskey in the West.

Speaking of small-town spots, some of the most pleasant après experiences are away from the Bozeman bustle—wood-door saloons, old-time taxidermy bars, and venues with no dress code whatsoever. On your next trip to Yellowstone, stop in at the Antler Pub & Grill for a western Montana meal at its finest. Heading north? Hit Canyon Ferry Brewing in Townsend after ice fishing the reservoir. In Ennis, you’ll find great beer and delicious food at Burnt Tree Brewing, across the street from Willie’s.

These are just a few of our favorite places—there are plenty more. But don’t take our word for it, get out and try for yourself. The more places you try, the better notion you’ll have of all the options to suit your winter’s day. Bozeman is a mountain town, and its après reflects that. Experience it wearing your ski pants, laughing with friends, and repping a goggle tan—the rest of us will be out there doing the same.