Category Archives: Activities

Get Hooked

by Adam Brown

Congrats, you’ve made it: you now reside among some of the most renowned fishing waters in the world. If you’re new to the sport or the area, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a copy of the Cast fishing guide. This publication is crammed with everything you need to know about angling in these parts. With a little practice—and plenty of patience—you’ll be hooking into beefy browns and beautiful ’bows in short order. in the meantime, here’s some basic information to get you started.

Where to Go

Gallatin River
The valley’s namesake waterway is a great option, thanks to its abundant public access, proximity to town, and high numbers of fish. The lower stretch holds larger fish and can provide good dry-fly fishing, especially on cloudy days. Farther south, Hwy. 191 follows the river through Gallatin Canyon, where numerous pullouts provide access to the river. The salmonfly hatch can be impressive here.

Lower Madison River
Head west and reach the fish-filled lower Madison in less than 30 minutes. Wade in at any one of the dozens of pullouts and work the shallow river, focusing on channels, pocket-water, and weed beds. This section of river can be tougher for dry flies unless you catch it during a hatch, Mother’s Day Caddis being one of the best. However, nymphing can be productive all year long. Spoons and spinners tend to get hung up on weeds, but careful casts can produce fish.

Hyalite Creek
After you’ve tried some of the staple big waters in the area, it’s time to hit a smaller stream. The road to Hyalite Reservoir follows a creek, and there are many pullouts to access it. Small rainbow trout are plentiful, and a well-presented dry fly—or a small spinner pulled through a pool—will often entice a strike. You may even find a grayling or brookie on the end of the line. For larger fish, head up to the reservoir.

Fairy Lake
Want to give alpine-lake fishing a go? Head up Fairy Lake Road. Once you arrive, dangle some midges or strip a streamer to trick a cuttie on the fly. Spin fishers will do well with the classic spoons and spinners here, too. Patience is key because you’ll likely watch the fish close in on your hook while they consider a strike. You don’t want to set the hook too soon or you’ll pull it right out of their mouths.

Essential Gear
To the novice, the quantity, diversity, and variation—not to mention prices—of fishing gear can be overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t need to fill a whole garage with gear or take out a loan to have fun and catch fish.

For fly fishing, you’ll need a rod, reel, line, leader, and tippet. A nice 9-foot 5-weight should handle everything from lightweight dry flies to heavier streamers. Match it with a 5-weight reel and a WF5 (weight-forward 5-weight) fly line. A 9-foot 5X leader and a range of tippet, from 2X-6X, should accommodate most scenarios. Confused? Don’t worry; it’ll start to make sense once it’s all in your hands.

If you plan to fish in late fall, winter, or early spring, you’ll need waders and wading boots. Be sure to use a wading belt, so your waders don’t fill with water in the event of a slip. Polarized sunglasses are great for spotting fish, and for eye protection from the sun and flying hooks.

Get a small pack or vest for your smaller gear, and organize your flies in a fly box. Other useful additions include nippers, floatant, and forceps for removing hooks.

Spin anglers can keep it simple. A medium-weight rod and reel, 6- or 8-pound test, and few spoons and spinners—you’ll be catching fish in no time.

Catch & Release
On most Bozeman-area waterways, it’s legal—and perfectly ethical—to keep a few fish for supper. However, catch-and-release fishing is the norm around here. But this ethic only works if you do it right, and many people don’t. If you’re going to release your catch, make sure to follow the rules, so it doesn’t go belly-up a few hours (or minutes) later.

  • Land your fish as quickly as possible; don’t fight it to exhaustion.
  •  Use a landing net made of soft, smooth material to reduce the time required to land a fish.
  •  Wet your hands before handling a fish. Dry fingers damage a fish’s protective slime layer.
  •  Avoid the gills. Gill filaments are sensitive and easily injured.
  •  Remove the hook quickly. Use forceps or needle-nose pliers for small or deeply-embedded hooks.
  •  Keep ’em wet. A wet fish is a happy fish. You can lift it up for a quick photo, but only for a few seconds.
  •  When you can’t remove a hook quickly or cleanly, cut the line as close to the knot as possible.
  •  Release with care. Hold the fish upright underwater and allow it to swim away under its own power. If necessary, hold the fish out of the current until it revives.
  •  Bag the bleeders. Bleeding fish will almost certainly die. If regulations allow, put them in your creel and enjoy an organic, free-range meal.

Etiquette
We all hate it when someone beats us to our favorite fishing hole, but it’s a part of the game and there’s plenty of water for everyone. If it happens to you, take the long way around and hop in the next pool. If you’re wading and think you might be getting too close to someone, you probably are. But busy days on the water are inevitable, and a little courtesy goes a long way. Ask which way a fellow angler is working on the river and go the opposite direction.

Fishing by boat comes with its own set of rules. Number one: don’t dilly-dally at the put-in. Rig up the boat and rods while out of everyone’s way, not in the middle of the boat ramp. Once you get on the water, be aware of everyone else, including wade fishermen. Yield to anyone casting from the bank or wading. If you stop, look upstream before pulling the anchor.

Events
The fishing calendar is full year-round, but certain events are crowd favorites. Below are a few highlights; for more, check out outsidebozeman.com/events.

Ongoing
Fly Tying – various locations. Several shops in the area offer free classes, so you’ll be whipping up woolly buggers in no time. Among others, check out Sweetwater Fly Shop for Tuesday-evening Open Vise Night and Willie’s Distillery in Ennis for Bugs & Bourbon on Wednesdays.

Second Wednesday, Monthly
Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited Meetings – Bozeman. Good fishing starts with healthy rivers and healthy trout populations. Learn more about how TU is ensuring both locally. mgtu.org

February
TroutFest Banquet – Bozeman. The Madison-Gallatin chapter of Trout Unlimited hosts its annual fundraiser every February. The local TU chapter is instrumental in fighting for access, keeping rivers clean, and keeping trout healthy. mgtu.org

June
Women’s Fly-Fishing School – Bozeman. If you’re going to learn to fly fish, why not do it with other enthusiastic ladies? Take this three-day course to get set up with all the skills you need to be successful on the water. montanawomensflyfishingschool.com

Beginner Fly Fishing School – Bozeman. Designed for beginner anglers but also great for intermediates, this course delves into essential skills, from casting technique to fly selection. theriversedge.com

August
Gallatin River Clean Up – Bozeman. Help keep our local river clean and clear with Gallatin River Task Force and the Gallatin Watershed Council. gallatinrivertaskforce.org

September
Fly Fishing & Outdoor Festival – Ennis. If you fish, odds are you’ll be spending lots of time in Ennis, about an hour southwest of Bozeman. Celebrate the end of summer with vendors, fly-tying demos, casting clinics, and more. ennischamber.com

Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

Everybody Must Get Stoned

by Jack Taylor

Climbing has a storied history in Bozeman’s outdoor culture. The adventurous ascender will find a lifetime of opportunities to explore different types of stone in a variety of environments, from roadside limestone clip-ups to soaring granite ridges in the alpine. And despite our northern climate, the season here runs relatively long—we even have a few crags that are warm enough to climb on a sunny day in mid-winter. You’ll find solitude at all but the most popular crags, so don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path. Just make sure you’ve got a good pair of approach shoes or hiking boots—our cliffs are known for having long approaches, but the walk is always worth it.

Where to Go
No matter what kind of outing you’re after, you’ll find it within a short drive from town. If you’re looking for boulder problems, in the warmer seasons, check out the Nunnery and Cascade Creek up Gallatin Canyon, or the Overhangatang boulders in Hyalite Canyon. For the colder seasons, a near-limitless expanse of boulders spans between Pipestone and Homestake Pass.

For sport climbing, Allenspur and Bozeman Pass offer a wide selection of routes from 5.7 to 5.12 on quality limestone, highlighted by hard climbs on the Training Wall like Black Russian (5.11d) and Byline (5.12b). Scorched Earth is also easily accessible, and while you won’t find anything easier than 5.10 here, it’s a great place to soak up some sun in the colder months. If you’re willing to walk a bit farther, Wolverine Bowl in the Bridgers has the best limestone around, and a bit farther north, Ross Peak offers soaring multipitch sport climbs on rock of variable quality, such as Trial by Fire (5.11a, nine pitches). Just make sure you’re up for the challenge—this can turn into a big day.

Options open up even more for trad climbing. Practice Rock has climbs of all difficulties, with sun or shade, and is the closest crag to Bozeman. Depending on your ability, check out Pinnacle Standard (5.6)The Fiver (5.8), Wizard’s Well (5.9+), Theoretically (5.10c), Tough Trip Through Paradise (5.11c), or Cardiac Arete (5.12c). Any of these climbs can be top-roped by hiking to the top of the cliff and rappelling down. Next up, Gallatin Canyon is the crown jewel of Bozeman rock climbing. With hundreds of single- and multipitch climbs on solid gneiss, this is a great place to progress as a climber. Make sure to start out easy—grades here are often sandbagged. Not to be missed are Skyline Arete (5.6, six pitches), Sparerib (5.8, two pitches), Standard Route (5.8, three pitches) on Gallatin Tower, Orange Crack (5.9), Diesel Driver (5.9+), Tigger (5.10a), Blackline (5.10b), Too Hot to Tango (5.10c), Sky King (5.11b), and The Fugitive (5.12b). For shoulder-season climbing when the Canyon can have cold temps and wet rock, head out to Spire Rock in Pipestone for tons of crack climbing in a drier environment.

If you’re after an alpine experience, southwest Montana’s high peaks offer tons of big climbs in remote settings guarded by burly approaches. Be prepared to encounter route-finding challenges, loose rock, and complicated descents. Beehive Peak has a few routes that’ll test your skills. The Cowen Massif has some serious alpine rock climbs if you’re feeling up to it, including the Standard Route (4th class with one pitch of 5.4) to Mt. Cowen’s 11,206-foot summit, and the Montana Centennial Route (5.11b, 12 pitches) on Eenie Spire—regarded by many to be the best rock climb in Montana. Beyond that, the Beartooth Mountains hold many obscurities that’ll challenge even the savviest alpinists—we’ll leave the research to you.

Essential Gear
To start out, you’ll need a well-fitting pair of rock shoes. For new gear, Uphill Pursuits is our premier climbing retailer, while Spire Climbing Center has a full pro shop and lots of consignment shoes. If you need a cheap chalk bag, Spire sells lost-and-found languishers for pennies on the dollar. With these two items, you’ll be ready to tag along with a buddy who has more gear—though having one’s own harness is an important step on the way to self-sufficiency.

If you want to take things to the next level, there are a few different options to consider. For bouldering, pick up a crash-pad or two and you’re all set. If roped climbing is what you’re after, get a rope around 9.5-10mm in diameter—relatively thick for extra durability as you figure things out. Next, pick up a comfortable harness and helmet; it pays to try them on before you buy. A belay device, cordelette, and a couple of locking and non-locking carabiners will let you set up top-ropes at crags where you can walk to the top such as Practice Rock, Pipestone, and some cliffs in Gallatin Canyon. Add in a dozen quickdraws and you’re ready to tackle all the sport climbs on our expansive limestone cliffs.

When it’s time to get more adventurous, invest in a selection of cams and stoppers for traditional climbing. These can get spendy, but you can save by splitting the cost with a climbing partner.

In general, be cautious of buying used climbing gear. Metal items like carabiners, cams, and stoppers are generally okay because they last a long time and are easy to assess for damage, but never buy a used rope, harness, cordelette, or quickdraws unless you trust the previous owner with your life and know that the gear has been well taken care of.

Etiquette
We all have an obligation to care for our recreation spaces, and climbing areas are no exception. Though overcrowding is generally not an issue at most of our crags, some places such as Practice Rock, Gallatin Tower, and Allenspur can get busy. If you find yourself at a busy spot, be courteous to fellow climbers and respect their space. If a climb is occupied, politely wait for the party to finish, or find another route—no one wants to feel pressured. Don’t play music if other people are around. As with any outdoor activity, follow “Leave No Trace” principles to keep our crags as close to their natural states as possible. If you have a dog, make sure he’s well-behaved and isn’t bothering any other climbers—or other dogs, for that matter. And please, for the sake of us all, have a plan for when nature calls. Keep human (and canine) excrement far away from the base of climbs. If there isn’t an outhouse at the trailhead, take a long walk and dig a hole, or pack it out.

Events
Climbers form a tight-knit community in Bozeman, and if you get out regularly, you’re bound to start running into familiar faces. Here are some events where you can get involved in the happenings of our climbing world.

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

May-August
Crag Maintenance – various locations. Help maintain the crags 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

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

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

Run to the Hills

Lace ‘Em Up

by Corey Hockett

Bozeman-area trails are a treasure, no matter where you come from. Like a spider web from city center, hundreds of miles of dirt paths lie at our fingertips—we only need to hop on and take off. Our town’s trustworthy trail whisperer—the Gallatin Valley Land Trust—manages 80 miles (and counting) of foot and bike routes, connecting in-town locations to deep wilderness settings. There are options for all seasons and all inclinations, so no matter your passion, Bozeman’s got you covered. 

If you’re new—and we won’t judge—you’ve got a lot to learn. But even more importantly, you’ve got a lot to explore. One of the best things about being in Bozeman is that you’re likely never further than 10 minutes from the nearest trail. Once you get ‘em mapped out, you’ll be commuting to work, biking at lunch, and going on ridge runs at sunset. And believe us, it’s just as great as it sounds.

In Town
The Gallagator
Every good town has a trail that runs through the heart of it, and the Gallagator is Bozeman’s. Named after an old railway line, the Gallagator is one of our finest commuter trails. Located on the east side of town, with access to both the top and bottom of Peets Hill, this path will take you from downtown through Langhor Park and up to campus. Along the way, you’ll pass community gardens, a climbing boulder, and many a smiling citizen.

East Gallatin Rec Area
On the north side of town, the East Gallatin Rec Area offers a web of trails and amenities starting from its centerpiece, Glen Lake (a.k.a., East Gallatin Pond). For solitude, meander through cottonwoods and willows along the river. If you don’t mind some company, saunter around the pond for a lap or two. When the weather’s nice, so is the water—Glen Lake is great for paddleboarding, fishing, and a good ol’ fashioned swim. Near the parking area, you’ll find beach volleyball and a climbing boulder.

West-Side Trails
While the west side of town is seeing the fastest growth, patchy trails weave through the sprouting neighborhoods and offer a quiet escape to what the locals refer to as the Bozeman bustle. Follow them intermittently from the Bozeman Pond down Cattail Creek to Oak Street. From there, the Gallatin Regional Park is just a stone’s throw away with more trails, water bodies, and a sledding hill during the winter. Other trails shoot through neighborhoods in all directions.

On the Outskirts
M Trail
Like many Montana towns, Bozeman boasts an emblematic hike leading to a popular overlook. It’s a bit over a mile (via the easy route) from the parking lot to the big white M. For folks who want a more demanding hike, take the right fork at the trailhead and head straight up the right side of the slope. Cutting off half the distance, as well as all of your shade, this route will get your heart pumping.

Drinking Horse
On the opposite side of Bridger Canyon Rd. from the M, Drinking Horse is another close-to-home classic. The mostly-shady jaunt (around 2.2 miles) takes you up through lodgepole pine and Douglas fir to a knoll with panoramic views of the valley and up into Bridger Canyon. This one’s great for an after-work run, or, if you happen to be on a first date, our advice is to head here near sunset.

Triple Tree
Just south of town, with parking off of Sourdough Rd., Triple Tree is a favorite with hikers, runners, and bikers. The trail to the overlook and back is around 4.5 miles, with great views of the Bridgers and Tobacco Roots at the top. Along the way, you’ll pass through prime habitat for deer, elk, moose, and bear, as well as a number of bird species. A fair stretch of trail zigzags Limestone Creek, a handy water source for your canine companion.

Higher Ground
Sacajawea Peak
The Bridger ridgeline is home to a number of named peaks, but the one that trumps them all (in elevation at least) is Sacajawea, or Sac as the locals call it. Drive the long, bumpy track up to Fairy Lake, in a vehicle with high clearance, and start your hike at the end of the road. You’ll be greeted with great views at the pass and even better ones at the summit. Give a wide berth to the mountain goats you’re sure to encounter along the way.

Storm Castle
From Hwy. 191, Storm Castle is arguably the most prominent feature rising above Gallatin Canyon. The trail begins near Storm Castle Creek and climbs 2,300 ft. over 2.5 miles through forest and sage to the top of the multi-tiered rock formation. It’s a Bozeman staple, and on a good day will grant you a dramatic perspective of Gallatin Peak, as well as the flowing river below.

Lava Lake
On hot summer days, nothing beats working up a sweat on a hike and washing it off with a swim in a mountain lake. Around Bozeman, you won’t find a better place to do so than Lava Lake. The trail begins at the 35mph bridge on Hwy. 191 in Gallatin Canyon (slow down as you approach the bridge or you’ll miss the turn-off). Hike three forested miles to a rocky basin filled with emerald-green water. A good cliff-jumping spot can be found on the north side of the lake.

For more local trails, visit the outsidebozeman.com/trails-tours webpage.

Essential Gear
One of the best parts of hitting the trails with your own two feet—be it walking, running, or hiking—is the dearth of necessary gear. For the most part, so long as you’ve got a solid pair of shoes (or tough feet) and proper clothes (read: layers) you should be good to go. Of course you’ll need to bring food and water; other considerations should include sunscreen, ball cap, a first-aid kit, and bear spray. There’s griz in these hills—learn where to expect them, how to avoid them, and how to fend off an attack.

Etiquette
We’ve all seen the triangle signs: bikers yield to hikers and the both of them yield to horse riders. This is a good starting point, but do not let it fly in the face of rationality. As hikers, it’s often easier to jump off the trail to let a biker pass. Use discretion and be respectful.

The issue of loud music is becoming more prevalent in our outdoor spaces. Remember, trails are shared by all. If you like to listen to music while outside, keep in mind that many of us do not. Don’t be the guy who blasts music on an exterior speaker on your hike up Sourdough. Other folks are looking for quietude—don’t ruin their experience.

Finally, the dog poop thing. Pick up after your pooch. Period. And putting it in a bag and leaving the bag on the trail does not count—you’ll forget and someone else will have to deal with it later. Bozeman’s outdoors are great because everyone does their part in looking after them. Do yours.

Events
Bozeman’s outdoor calendar is full of trail-related events year-round. There are always ways to get involved and give back, not to mention dozens of races, community hikes, and weekly fun runs. Here are some highlights (a comprehensive calendar can be found at outsidebozeman.com/events).

May
Cleanup Day – Hyalite Canyon. After a long winter, Hyalite needs some love. Pitch in for a morning, bagging trash and tidying trailheads. hyalite.org.

May-June
GVLT Discovery Walks – Bozeman. Meet new people and make new friends on these one-hour guided walks along the Main Street to the Mountains trail system. 80+ miles await, all of which are right here, in and around town. gvlt.org.

June
Summer Trails Challenge – Bozeman. Every mile you log on area trails earns real money to support GVLT and its mission. gvlt.org.

June 5
National Trails Day – Bozeman. This is the best day to give back to the trails that give us so much. Almost every trail-related nonprofit in town has a workday scheduled, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. gvlt.org.

June-August
MWA Wilderness Walks – SW MT. When you’re ready to go deep, sign up for a guided hike into a Wilderness Area near Bozeman. Naturalist-led, these outings instill a greater appreciation for our protected landscapes while imparting useful information about wild nature. wildmontana.org.

August
Hyalite Fest – Hyalite Canyon. Head up to Bozeman’s favorite backyard rec area for a fun run, day hikes, and a general celebration of all things Hyalite. hyalite.org.

September 24
National Public Lands Day – Bozeman. Around here, we use public lands all the time, which means they need a little TLC every year. Use this last Saturday of the month to go for a hike, do some trail maintenance, or find a new trail run. gvlt.org.

October
Cleanup Day – Hyalite Canyon. Summertime is hard on Hyalite, so help give the place a facelift by picking up trash at trailheads. hyalite.org.

Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

 

 

 

Slip-Slidin’ Away

by Cordelia Pryor

Winter in Montana is long, and while alpine skiing might be its most famous activity, Nordic skiing is another great way to get outside and actually enjoy the cold. It also helps you stay in shape and is simple enough for anyone to learn. Classic connoisseurs can enjoy both groomed and ungroomed trails, while skate skiers will find plenty of luxurious corduroy on which to push and glide. There’s a huge variety of terrain in and around Bozeman, and a really cool community to dive into—the backbone of which is the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), which maintains many of our local trails. Consider buying an optional trail pass to support their efforts.

Gearing Up
One of the great things about Nordic skiing is that there’s less gear and it’s (mostly) cheaper than a downhill setup. All you need are skis, boots, poles, and some comfy layers you can move in. Buying used gear is a great way to save cash, and you can always find a setup at a secondhand store or BSF’s annual Ski Swap. Or, rent equipment from somewhere like Chalet Sports or Round House, then buy once you know the style of skiing and type of ski that suits you best.

When it comes to clothing, anything warm, breathable, and waterproof will work for classic skiing. Use what you have before buying activity-specific items. For skate-skiing, breathability and freedom of movement are more important than warmth, as you’ll likely be sweating up a storm. Racers wear spandex and other form-fitting apparel, but that’s overkill for the recreational skier.

Classic skiers should keep in mind that they have two very different options: in the track and out. Track skis are generally skinnier and longer, and tend to perform poorly outside the groomed trails. Non-track skis vary widely in terms of width, length, and suitability for different terrain. Some of them will fit in the track and do just fine, while others are meant for off-trail travel. A little homework, online and at your local outdoor shop, will help you determine which type of ski—and which type of terrain—is best for you.

MSU students (and Alumni Association members) can rent a range of Nordic gear from the Outdoor Rec Center, for great prices.

Where to Go
While skate-skiers need a groomed trail, many classic skiers prefer snowed-over hiking paths and logging roads to a groomed track. These off-track options can be found in nearly every direction. What follows here is a list of groomed trails in the area, for skate-skiers and classic track-skiers. For tips on off-track outings, check out the Trails section on outsidebozeman.com. 

Bridger Creek Golf Course
Level: Beginner
Cost: Free (but consider buying a trail pass)
The Trails: This is a great spot for Nordic novices. With its easy, sweeping loops, you can hit the trails on both sides of the road and really get your footing. The northern side features slightly more varied terrain than the southern side, but the whole area is pretty mild and allows you to get your technique down without struggling (too much).

Highland Glen & Sunset Hills
Level: Intermediate, Advanced
Cost: Free (but consider buying a trail pass)
The Trail: Highland Glen and Sunset Hills have several different loops for you to twist together in a variety of combinations. Close to town, these spots are an easy mid-day hit. They have a few steep climbs to get your heart pumping, and the fast descents are always a blast.

Sourdough Canyon
Level: Intermediate
Cost: Free (but consider buying a trail pass)
The Trail: Sourdough is a Nordic nut’s paradise—it’s groomed for miles and climbs steadily at a mild incline along Bozeman Creek. Whether it’s a quick mile or a half-day haul, you can customize the length to your liking. Dogs are allowed, but scoop the poop and keep Bridger under control, lest you ruin the skiing experience for everyone else. 

Hyalite Canyon
Level: Intermediate, Advanced
Cost: Free (but consider buying a trail pass)
The Trails: Hyalite has a great mix of almost 20 miles of groomed and ungroomed terrain. The groomed trails traverse unused logging roads, hiking trails, and connector trails with terrain for most skill levels. Dogs are allowed as well. 

Crosscut Mountain Sports Center
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Cost: $20 adult day pass, $250 season pass
The Trails: Crosscut is basically a small Nordic resort, and you’ll be dazzled by the well-maintained and seemingly endless trails. With the wide, flowing, and color-coded trails, skiers can find the right trails for their skill level. Throughout the season, Crosscut hosts events and races, so keep an eye on the calendar.

Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Cost: $25 adult day pass, free to overnight guests
The Trails: Whether you head down the canyon for just a day, or stay at the ranch for a luxurious mountain getaway, over 50 miles of trails await. If you’re up for it, tackle the big leg-burning climbs and fast downhills.

Rendezvous Ski Trails, West Yellowstone
Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
Cost: $8 adult day pass, $45 season pass
The Trails: The Rendezvous trail system is worth the drive. On these peaceful wooded trails, it’s easy to spend a whole day exploring, and there are handy maps and well-marked signs to guide you.

Events
Tuesdays, December-February
Funski Nordic Series – Bozeman. Get together with friends and neighbors for a fun evening race or a mellow glide. These timed events always conclude with post-race refreshments, including local beer. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday. bridgerskifoundation.org

February 16
Taste of the Trails – West Yellowstone. This fun event combines picturesque Nordic skiing and delicious food. Race the 5k, or take it slow, and stop at the four food stations along the way. skirunbikemt.com

March 7
Yellowstone Rendezvous Race – West Yellowstone. This is the big one. Head down the canyon to tackle this beautiful, winding 25k or 50k. With a nice steady climb on the way up, and fun, fast downhill to the finish, this race is a Montana classic. skirunbikemt.com

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.

Gone Fishin’

by the editors

The Bozeman area has some of the best trout water in the world, and you have the privilege of being less than an hour from three world-renowned rivers, plus dozens of other fishing options. From alpine lakes in the backcountry to valley streams near town, southwest Montana is truly is an angler’s paradise.

If you’re new to the sport or the area, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a copy of the Cast fishing guide. This local publication is crammed full of everything you need to know about fishing around here. With a little practice—and plenty of patience—you’ll be hooking into beefy browns and ‘bows in short order. Here’s some basic information to get you started.

Essential Gear
To the novice, the quantity, diversity, and variation—not to mention prices—of fishing gear can be overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t need to fill a whole garage with gear or take out a loan have fun and catch fish.

For fly fishing, you’ll need a rod, reel, line, leader, and tippet. A good 9-foot, 5-weight, fast-action rod should handle everything from lightweight dry flies to heavier streamers. Match it with a 5-weight reel and a WF5 (weight-forward 5-weight) fly line. A 9-foot 5X leader and a range of tippet material, from 2X-6X, should accommodate most scenarios. Confused? Don’t worry; it makes sense once it’s all in your hands.

Next, you’ll need waders and wading boots, especially if you plan to fish in late fall, winter, and/or early spring when the water temps are chilly. Be sure to use a wading belt so your waders don’t fill with water in the event of a slip. Polarized sunglasses are great for spotting fish.

Get a small chest-pack, butt-pack, or vest to keep your smaller gear, and organize your flies in a fly box or sleeve. Be sure to carry nippers for trimming line, floatant to keep your dry flies on top of the water, and pliers or forceps for removing hooks.

Spin anglers can keep it way simpler, with a medium or medium-light spinning rod, a light or medium spinning reel, and some 8-pound monofilament. Grab a few spoons and spinners and you’ll be catching fish in no time. 

Where to Go
Hyalite Creek
The road to Hyalite Reservoir follows this creek and there are plenty of pullouts. Small rainbow trout are plentiful, and a well-presented dry fly—or a small spinner pulled through a pool—will almost certainly entice a strike. For slightly larger fish, head up to the reservoir.

Gallatin River
The valley’s namesake waterway is a great option, thanks to its abundant public access, proximity to town, and high numbers of fish. Whether you fish the upper river in Gallatin Canyon or the lower section out in the valley, take the time to walk a ways away from your car for better, more peaceful fishing. The lower stretch holds larger fish and can provide good dry-fly fishing, especially on cloudy days. Cameron Bridge, Axtell Bridge, and Williams Bridge are all great starting points. Further south, Hwy. 191 follows the river through the canyon on the way to Big Sky and numerous pullouts access the river. Spin fishermen can find plenty of action from the mouth of the river all the way to its terminus at Headwaters State Park.

Lower Madison River
Head west and reach the fish-filled Lower Madison in less than 30 minutes. Wade in at any one of the dozens of pull-outs and work the shallow river, focusing on channels, pocket-water, and weedbeds. Although this section of river is not the best for dry flies, nymphing can be productive. Spoons and spinners tend to get hung up on weeds, but careful casts can produce fish. If you’re after voluminous small rainbows and the occasional big brown, the Lower’ Madison’s your spot.

Catch & Release
On most Bozeman-area waterways, it’s perfectly legal—and moral—to keep a few fish for supper; however, catch-and-release fishing is the norm around here. Problem is, the ethic only works if you do it right—and many people don’t. If you’re going to throw your catch back, make sure to follow the rules, so that it doesn’t go belly-up a few hours later.

  • Play fish quickly: land your fish as quickly as possible and don’t play it to exhaustion.
  • Use a landing net: it reduces the time required to land a fish and keeps it from thrashing about; try to use one made of a soft, smooth material.
  • Dunk your mitts: always wet your hands before handling a fish: dry fingers damage a fish’s protective slime layer.
  • Avoid the gills: gill filaments are sensitive and easily injured.
  • Remove the hook quickly: use forceps or needle-nose pliers for small or deeply-embedded hooks.
  • Keep ‘em wet: a wet fish is a happy fish. You can lift it up for a quick photo, but only for a few seconds; otherwise, keep it submersed.
  • Cut ‘em loose: when you can’t remove a hook quickly or cleanly, cut the line as close to the knot as possible.
  • Release with care: hold the fish upright underwater and allow it to swim away under its own power; if necessary, hold the fish out of the current until it revives.
  • Bag the bleeders: bleeding fish will almost certainly die; if regulations allow, put them in your creel and enjoy an organic, free-range supper.

Events
The fishing calendar is full year-round, but certain events are crowd favorites. Below are a few highlights; for more, check out outsidebozeman.com/events.

Fly Tying
Several shops in the area offer free classes, so you’ll be whipping up Wooly Buggers in no time. Among others, check out Sweetwater Fly Shop for Tuesday evening Open Vise Night and Willie’s Distillery in Ennis for Bugs & Bourbon on Wednesdays.

Second Wednesday, Monthly
Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited Meetings – Bozeman. Good fishing starts with healthy rivers and healthy trout populations. Learn more about how TU is ensuring both locally. mgtuorg.

February
TroutFest Banquet – Bozeman. The Madison-Gallatin chapter of Trout Unlimited hosts its annual fundraiser every February. The local TU chapter is instrumental in fighting for access, keeping rivers clean, and keeping trout healthy. mgtu.org.

May
Chica de Mayo – Bozeman. Join the River’s Edge for this females-only celebration of all things fly fishing. theriversedge.com.

June
Gallatin River Festival – Bozeman. Celebrate the waterway we all love with neighbors, friends, and fellow fishing fanatics. All proceeds go toward ensuring the Gallatin stays clean, cold, and clear for generations to come. gallatinrivertaskforce.org.

August
Fly Fishing & Outdoor Festival – Ennis. If you fish, odds are you’ll be spending lots of time in Ennis, about an hour southwest of Bozeman. Celebrate the end of summer with vendors, fly-tying demos, casting clinics, and more. ennischamber.com.

September
TwoFly Benefit – Bozeman. At the end of the summer, 30-some boats set out with 60-some donors, slinging their favorite two flies in support of the Museum of the Rockies. A fun event for a great cause: our local museum. museumoftherockies.org.

Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

Extra Credit

by Cordelia Pryor

While skiing may be the crowd favorite of Bozeman’s winter scene, it’s not all the area has to offer. There’s a variety of wintertime activities to partake in, no matter your inclination or experience. Here’s a partial list of alternative cold-weather activities.

BeallParkHockey-CraigHergert_LR

Sledding
Tearing down a hill on a sled isn’t just for kids—it’s quite the thrill for anyone with a pulse. Throw in affordability, and an afternoon of sledding becomes an even more attractive pastime. Bozeman has a number of popular sledding spots, including the Snowfill Recreation Area, Peets Hill, and the Langohr Campground up Hyalite. Outside of town, suitable slopes rise in all directions. If regular sledding seems too mundane, you can always step it up a notch and go Clark Griswold–style, hitting light-speed on a greased trashcan lid.

Want to show off your sledding skills? Head to Red Lodge Winter Carnival in March. Construct a sled made only ofcardboard, tape, and glue, and race down the slopes for glory.

Snowshoeing
If you can walk, chances are you can snowshoe—and have fun doing it. To get started, just pick a trailhead and go. Once you’ve got your balance, veer off-trail to find your own path, enjoying the quiet solitude of the winter woods. A beginner snowshoeing 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.

Once you’ve got your technique down, grab your furry four-legged friend and join Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter for the Snowshoe Shuffle, a torch-lit group snowshoe and raffle with all proceeds benefitting the shelter.

Snowmobiling
With the power of a snowmobile underneath you, there’s a lot you can see. Whether you’re flying around West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Paradise Valley, Cooke City, or Island Park, you’ll have incredible access to some beautiful, remote places without having to work for it—and you’ll get a pretty killer adrenaline rush, too. Most places that rent snowmobiles have snowsuits, helmets, and other required accessories.

To expand your snowmobiling knowledge and explore deeper into the backcountry, take a snowmobile-specific avalanche-education course. Riders trigger almost as many slides as skiers, and it’s just as dangerous—don’t put yourselves or others at risk. 

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

If you like hockey, or want to give it a try, register for the Hocktober Scramble at the Haynes Pavilion. This fun series gives players of all levels the chance to test their skills—and have a blast doing it—in competitive pickup games.

Ice Climbing
If you’re new to mountain country, it may seem that ice climbing is for hardened experts and crazed adrenaline junkies. But in the last few decades, ascending giant icicles has become a pastime almost anyone can enjoy. Whether you have some climbing experience already, or have only ever summited a ladder, you too can tool up and tackle the ice. Mix in a few hot-cocoa breaks and a knowledgeable friend to show you the ropes, and your once-intimidating adventure becomes both pleasant and safe. You don’t need to go far, either. Some of the world’s best ice is right down the road in Hyalite Canyon. As with other climbing equipment, avoid buying used gear from pawn shops or Craigslist. Instead, borrow from friends, rent, or invest in a setup of your own.

AtMissmeghanyoung-VisitMT-IceClimbHyalite_0965

This one’s a no-brainer: attend the Bozeman Ice Fest! Every winter (except this one), climbing enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Hyalite to celebrate the sport. There’ll be gear demos, clinics, and tons of resources to help you learn and grow, not to mention meet some pretty cool folks.