Category Archives: Preparation

School’s Outside

by Dawn Brintnall

Here in Bozeman, we are fortunate to have abundant outdoor recreation in every direction. With this good fortune comes a responsibility: to educate ourselves, so that we can stay safe, help others, and connect more deeply to the natural world. Here’s a rundown of a few local outdoor-education organizations.

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Montana Outdoor Science School
At MOSS, adults can study useful subjects like plant identification, animal tracks, and ecology in a Master Naturalist course. For the kids, MOSS offers in-classroom programs and field days during the school year, as well as science camps over the summer.

Montana Wilderness School
This is a great way to introduce your teenagers to multi-day trips, and help them build confidence and skills under the direction and care of outdoor experts. MWS expeditions foster kids’ outdoor ethics by connecting them to wild places for several weeks at a time. With alpine adventures like backpacking, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing, there’s an adventure suited for each child’s interests.

Yellowstone Forever Institute
The official nonprofit of Yellowstone Park has many year-round educational opportunities, from youth- and college-level programs to adult field seminars. You can hone your animal-tracking skills, learn to ski or snowshoe, or immerse yourself in Yellowstone’s rich geologic history.

Crossing Latitudes
This outfit’s niche is combining outdoor education with cultural experience. Crossing Latitudes hosts NOLS wilderness-medicine courses here in Bozeman, as well as programs that take place in Europe and Nepal. These courses—Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Wilderness First Responder (WFR)—teach outdoor-oriented folks the skills to react to and mitigate wilderness emergencies. 

Aerie Backcountry Medicine
Aerie is a Missoula-based company offering experience and training in wilderness medicine to military and medical professionals, as well as outdoor enthusiasts. They offer classes in Bozeman and Missoula, plus semester-long programs for college students going into the medical field. Aerie is another great source for your WFA, WFR, or Wilderness EMT certifications.

MSU Outdoor Recreation
For students, faculty, and staff, MSU’s Outdoor Rec Program is a great resource for clinics and courses offering education in avalanche safety, climbing, paddling, and more. They also have a great stash of rental equipment if you’re trying to familiarize yourself with a sport before committing to buying the gear. MSU graduate? Join the Alumni Association and you too can partake of Outdoor Rec’s offerings.

Try Before You Buy

by the editors

If you’re new to the outdoor scene or just keen on a new activity, you may not know the nuances of gear acquisition. Bozeman’s local outdoor shops can steer you in the right direction, and used gear abounds on Craigslist; but to avoid buyer’s remorse—and a pile of unused items in the basement—we suggest trying out an activity before investing in all the equipment. Here are some ways to get geared up for your outdoor test-drive.

Better Biking
If you’re into singletrack, you probably cry at night, saddened by the $5,000 price tag dangling from the mountain bike of your dreams. Luckily, most of the shops in town host free demo days. You can test entire product lines before going deep into debt. For regular ol’ rentals, several shops will rent a standard mountain bike for around $40 per day; for a little more moolah, you can opt for better suspension and other upgrades. If you’re just looking to bob around town, consider a cruiser for about $20 a day.

Frugal Fishing
If you’re used to chucking lures for bass in Minnesota and want to try your hand at fly fishing, you’ll need the right kit. Lucky for you, a few local fishing shops not only rent gear, but also offer well-priced (and occasionally free) clinics for beginners.

Float the Boat
If flowing water is your thing, rent a watercraft for the day or weekend, then get a taste of river life—including all the associated gear and logistics involved. A raft or driftboat is a huge expense and a few hundo is a small price to pay to avoid a $6,000 mistake.

Motor Mode
There’s no greater fun-machine than a snowmobile—but which one is for you, and what style of riding do you prefer? Find out by renting a sled from a local outfit and tooling around in the snow for a weekend. Then, make an educated decision about where to spend your hard-earned dough.

Powder Promotion
Odds are, you’ll spend some quality time at Bridger Bowl in the winter. For most of the season, any pair of skis will do. But once in a while, when the Bridger Bowl Cloud descends on our community ski hill, you’ll want something fatter to keep you afloat. Before shelling out cash for portly planks, rent when the time is right. All the local shops have high-end demos for fair prices—and oftentimes, if you end up buying, they’ll deduct the rental from the purchase price.

Collegiate Concessions
If you’re an MSU student or member of the Alumni Association, you have unlimited access to the on-campus Outdoor Recreation Center. That means rafts, canoes, backcountry skis, ice-climbing kits, and more—all at ultra-low prices. Plus, the center hosts clinics, float-trips, and overnighters for very reasonable fees.

Coveted Courses

by Jack Taylor

Lucky you, to have landed in Montana’s epicenter for outdoor recreation. Soaring ridgelines beckon to be traversed, roaring rapids call for you to make a run, and blankets of cold smoke beg your legs to carve them up. No matter the activity, Bozeman offers the very best, and you’re bound to pick up a new outdoor hobby. But don’t get ahead of yourself—our mountains and rivers take no prisoners. Get started on the right foot with an instructional course, because when shit hits the fan, a little learnin’ goes a long way.

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Wilderness First Aid
If you haven’t taken one yet, a WFA course through a local outfit like Crossing Latitudes is a must. These two-day clinics (typically held on weekends) cover everything you need to keep an injured friend (or yourself) safe until the pros arrive. They’re a bit pricey, but well worth the investment. If you plan on finding yourself deep in the backcountry, hours or even days from help, go all in and sign up for a Wilderness First Responder. This professional-level, week-long course is comprehensive and covers most potential ailments and injuries.

Avalanche Education
Looking to ski in the backcountry this winter? Get some avalanche training. Each fall and winter, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center runs free hour-long seminars all over town, but do yourself a favor and get a more in-depth certification with one of their multi-day Level 1 courses. If you’re after a more immersive experience, Big Sky Backcountry Guides runs Level 1 and 2 courses from its yurt in the Tobacco Roots, and Beartooth Powder Guides offers courses in Cooke City.

Paddling Skills
From lazy meandering floats to Class IV whitewater, southwest Montana’s rivers provide amazing opportunities to progress as a paddler. Check out Wave Train Kayak Team’s programs to hone your skills before diving head-first into the Mad Mile. In addition to clinics and private instruction, Wave Train provides multi-day whitewater trips to members of its summer paddling teams. 

Swiftwater Rescue
For boating enthusiasts, swiftwater-rescue training is a must. The creeks and rivers most folks run in the spring are cold, full of strainers, and downright dangerous. Learn safety skills from the pros at Montana Whitewater to avoid heading up a creek without a paddle. If you plan on leading whitewater trips, Guide School is a great option as well. It’s required for Montana Whitewater employees, but open to interested members of the general public.

Rope Skills
No matter your level of climbing experience, you can always add to your repertoire of technical skills. Whether you’re putting on rock shoes and a harness for the first time, or ogling Hyalite’s multi-pitch ice, you’re certain to find a course that will up your game in the vertical realm. Spire offers a range of instruction from basic lead climbing to multi-pitch techniques. For the next level, check out Montana Alpine Guides’ assortment of rock- and ice-climbing clinics.

Navigation
Technology has made it all too easy to think that you know where you’re going, but for better or worse (read: better), most areas you’ll be venturing to in southwest Montana are devoid of cell service. Keep it simple: learn how to use a map and compass. AIM Adventure U provides online navigation courses to keep you on the right track. Or, check out a book from the library on orienteering—the art is as old as history.

Survival
Maybe you’re content with sticking to day hikes on popular trails close to town. But if you want to experience the unadulterated wilderness, you’ll benefit from picking up some backcountry survival skills. Green University, based in nearby Pony, offers immersive courses on topics such as foraging for edible plants, making primitive tools, hunting wild game, and building shelters. Who knows, maybe you’ll make a home in the mountains, drop out of school, quit your job, and become a bona fide backcountry badass.

In the Loop

by Jack Taylor

With mountains and rivers in every direction, where should you go first? To school, that’s where. Before heading into unfamiliar terrain, it’s important to be armed with the proper knowledge, skills, and equipment. Make a plan for every adventure, no matter how big or small, and always have a backup plan. Here are some essential outdoor resources to get you started:

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Guidebooks
Nothing beats a quality guidebook when plotting an excursion. Build a bookshelf collection for your favorite outdoor activities. Here are some of our top picks:

Day Hikes around Bozeman (Day Hikes Books, $16)
Southern Montana Singletrack (Beartooth Publishing, $30)
Bozeman Rock Climbs (High Gravity Press, $25)
Paddling Montana (Falcon Guides, $22)
Flyfisher’s Guide to Montana (Wilderness Adventures Press, $30)
The House of Hyalite (Joe Josephson, $36)
Backcountry Skiing Bozeman and Big Sky (WS Publishing, $40)

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

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

For general trip planning throughout the state, pick up a copy of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme, $24). For more detail, order zoomed-in, area-specific, waterproof maps from MyTopo (mytopo.com), a custom-mapping outfit in Billings. A large-format wall map of southwest Montana from Basin and Range Mapping (basinandrangemap.com) will help you see the big picture and make planning that much easier.

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

Websites
You’ll find plenty of information online to learn about local outdoor opportunities. For a collection of general resources, head to outsidebozeman.com/directories. Looking for specific trail descriptions? Check out outsidebozeman.com/trails. For updates and news in the world of mountain biking, including suggested rides, take a look at southwestmontanamba.org. Climbers, head to swmontanaclimbers.org for access information and stewardship projects. If you’re heading for the rivers, check out waterdata.usgs.gov for water levels, bigskyfishing.com for fishing info, and fwp.mt.gov for regulations. In the winter, if you plan on heading into the backcountry, stay updated with avalanche forecasts from mtavalanche.com. For general tips & tricks regarding outdoor safety and skills, check out outsidebozeman.com/skills.

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

Deep Thoughts

by the editors

A guide to Cold-Smoke College.

From many a window on campus, no matter what direction you’re facing, you’ll be staring directly at a snow-capped mountain range. Seven are visible from the Gallatin Valley, and during the school year, they’re more than just snow-capped—they’re snow-covered.

Whether you’re getting in a run or two at Bridger Bowl between classes, splurging on a weekend at Big Sky Resort with the family, or busting out skate-skiing laps on Lindley Park, if you ski, you’ve come to the right place. If you don’t ski, you will soon. Bozeman is centrally located for the winter-sports enthusiast; but before you hit the slopes, get the information you need to maximize your stoke.

Skiing with a view.

Skiing with a view.

Essential Gear

If you’re skiing at the resort, you’ll need all the basics: skis, boots, poles, helmet, outerwear, and accessories. If you’re starting from scratch, hit up the second-hand stores like Second Wind and Nu2u, especially for big-ticket items such as skis, poles, and outerwear. If you’re going to splurge on one item, make it your boots. Used boots are fine for beginners, but the right fit is key once you’re aggressively skiing more technical terrain. Also, buy a new helmet—lice are gross. All of the same advice applies to snowboarders, although you won’t need poles for resort riding.

For the backcountry enthusiast, gear is a bit more complicated. The first thing you should buy is an avalanche course. There are a few fully certified guide operations nearby, such as Big Sky Backcountry Adventures at the Bell Lake Yurt and Beartooth Powder Guides in Cooke City. Courses are pricey, but your life is worth a couple hundred bucks. Once you’ve booked a course, you’ll need safety gear like a shovel, beacon, and probe. (This safety gear is also required for Bridger Bowl’s more technical Ridge terrain, so you’ll most likely be purchasing it regardless.) This safety gear goes in a pack, so you’ll need one of those as well. For day tours, something between 25-35 liters will do.

Beacon search practice during an avalanche safety course.

Beacon search practice during an avalanche safety course.

To get uphill, you’ll need some skins, touring boots or boots with a walk mode (unless you snowboard), and some AT bindings. Snowboarders should check out the splitboard-binding company Spark R&D. They’re the best in the business and their headquarters is right here in Bozeman. For skiers, if you get tech bindings, make sure your boots are compatible. If all this has confused you, go to a shop and talk through your options with a sales associate. Because you’ll be traveling uphill in varying terrain, adjustable poles are nice, though not required.

If Nordic skiing is your thing, you’re lucky—there’s less gear and it’s much cheaper. To get started, you just need skis, boots, and poles. Again, buying used skis and poles is a great way to save a lot of money. Better yet, rent equipment from somewhere like Chalet Sports or Round House, then buy once you know the style of skiing you like. For classic skiing, softshell outerwear works great. Use what you have before buying activity-specific items. For skate-skiing, you’ll want something that breathes well as you’ll be sweating up a storm. Racers wear spandex, but that’s overkill for the recreational skier.

Remember that all these items and more are available for rent at the MSU Outdoor Rec Center, for great prices.

Mile Creek

Cross country skiing Mile Creek.

Where to Go

For downhill skiers and snowboarders, the obvious choice is Bridger Bowl. It’s 20 minutes from campus, meaning you can get in a half-day between morning econ and your afternoon physics lab. They also have a great rate for students, and it’s a good place to land a part-time job. That way you can ski for free.

If you’re feeling the need for some serious big-mountain skiing, pick a weekend or two and splurge on Big Sky passes. They’re expensive, but the amount and quality of the terrain is worth the price of admission. Save a few bucks on gas by taking the bus, and pack a lunch instead of gorging at the resort.

For a completely different experience, hit the road and make your way to any of the small-town ski areas within a few hours of campus. Red Lodge, Maverick, Lost Trail, and Discovery are some of our favorites, but there are several others that are worth a visit. Most are closed Monday through Wednesday, so watch the weather and head out after an early-week storm.

Making the most of Bridger Bowl's closing day.

Making the most of Bridger Bowl’s closing day.

Outside the Treasure State, other options abound. Grand Targhee is about three hours away and gets hammered with snow, and about four hours away is the legendary Jackson Hole.

If you cross-country ski, Bozeman has more options than you’ll be able to cover in four winters (or seven, as the case may be). Right in town, there are the hospital trails, groomed by the Bridger Ski Foundation and perfect for a lunch-lap or three. Out Bridger Canyon, check out CrossCut Ranch. This Nordic center has trails for all skill levels and even features biathlon. More on the wild side, the trail network in Hyalite is periodically groomed and nestled deep in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

Backcountry enthusiasts can cut their teeth in Bradley’s Meadow on the north boundary of Bridger Bowl. It’s a short skin from the ski area’s Alpine chair and offers a few safe, mellow turns. Up Hyalite, History Rock and Lick Creek are local favorites, and if conditions are right, Mt. Ellis is another close-by standby. Obviously, the options are endless, but we can’t do all the work for you. Go explore—safely.

Cross country skiing, Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Yellowstone Country

Cross country skiing

 Events

As students, your schedules are jam-packed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make some time for fun. Skiing is inherently social, and the following events are the highlights of the season.

Bridger Bowl hosts weekly community events, ranging from freeride competitions to telemark costume races. Check out their event calendar once the season starts for more details. Big Sky also hosts daily events, most notably excellent live music and several bigger festivals. Big Sky Big Grass is a highlight every February, as is the Pond Skim in April.

November 26
Big Sky Opening Day – Big Sky. Give thanks for overhead pow turns and steep terrain at Big Sky’s opening day. Services will be limited, but this is a great way to get the season started. Details here.

December 4
Projected Opening Day – Bridger Bowl. Chairs start spinning for another season at Bridger Bowl. Get your place in line, even if it means procrastinating during finals week. Details here.

For an up-to-date list of events around the Bozone, check out Outside Bozeman’s event calendar.