Category Archives: Preparation

Avy Savvy

By: Jack Taylor

A rundown on snow-safety resources.

“If you want to learn about something, going to school is just one way to do it.” —Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC)

Avalanches: the big, bad monster hiding under the bed for backcountry skiers. Every year we hear about avalanche incidents and fatalities in our local area. The cold, hard truth is that death is an inherent risk when backcountry skiing.

Another truth is that avalanche education is widely available. In fact, avalanche-education events happen nearly every day throughout winter in the Bozeman area—many of them for free. Our local avalanche center puts out forecasts every day—also free. And there’s a limitless amount of information accessible on the internet—again, free.

It’s a common misconception that avalanche education is prohibitively expensive. Yes, a formal, accredited course is the gold standard. But if you can’t afford it, plenty of other options exist.

There’s no “one thing” you can do to be safe from avalanches—except for avoiding avalanche terrain altogether. Avalanche safety is an amalgamation of skills such as terrain recognition, snowpack assessment, weather observations, decision-making, leadership, and rescue. So this winter, whether you’re a first-time skier or seasoned vet, take some time to develop, enhance, or just brush up on your avy skills.

Print Resources
These publications are timeless resources, but bear in mind that experts are still learning more about avalanches every year—so pay attention to the publication date.

  • Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
  • Avalanche Essentials
  • Avalanche Pocket Guide
  • Snow Sense
  • Allen & Mike’s Avalanche Book
  • The Snowy Torrents
  • The Avalanche Handbook

Online Resources
The internet has made avalanche education more accessible (and more up to date) than ever. There are tons of resources to peruse: social media accounts, YouTube channels, incident archives, and so on. Here are some places to begin your search.

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Training
From seminars, to organized practice sessions, to field clinics, there are free and low-cost avalanche-training events happening all the time in and around Bozeman. Check with any of the above resources, or your favorite local gear shop, for more info.

Courses
If you want to take a formal, accredited avalanche course, more power to you. These courses can be expensive, but the benefit is long-duration, hands-on instruction by professional instructors. Local course providers include:

  • Beartooth Powder Guides
  • Big Sky Backcountry Guides
  • Montana Alpine Guides
  • Montana Backcountry Yurts
  • Montana Mountaineering Association
  • MSU Outdoor Rec
  • Six Points Avalanche Education

Dos and Don’ts
A comprehensive list of avalanche-safety rules would take up this entire magazine. Here’s a cursory overview.

DO: Ask questions. Avalanche safety is all about gathering information. What safety gear do I need? How do I use it? Where can I ski that’s safe? How do I test the snowpack?
DON’T: Take every answer at face value. Instead, be investigative. Use reputable sources. Email [email protected] with any questions you have.

DO: Practice. Get to know your safety gear. Get to know the snowpack. Get to know your partners.
DON’T: Get complacent. Many accidents happen when the guard is down. Stay on your toes out there.

DO: Read, or listen to, the avalanche forecast. It’s published every morning in text and audio format. Many folks make a habit of listening to it in the car with their ski partners on the way to the trailhead.
DON’T: Hesitate to change plans. Higher wind gusts than expected last night? Dial it back. Warmer temps than expected today? Make a turnaround time. There’s always another day to ski.

Human Factors
Group dynamics and decision-making are critical components of backcountry skiing. Tomes have been written about human factors in avalanche safety. Start by looking up the F.A.C.E.T.S. acronym, which outlines common traps we fall into:

Familiarity – Feeling more comfortable in a place we’ve already been
Acceptance – Wanting to prove our worth to others
Consistency – Tending to stick with decisions we’ve already made
Expert Halo – Assuming that more experienced opinions are more important
Tracks – Rushing to ski a slope before it gets tracked out
Social Facilitation – Altering our risk tolerance when other people are watching

Knowledge vs. Experience
Reading avalanche reports, watching instructional videos, and taking courses will help you learn about avalanches. But at a certain point, you need to get out in the snow to get experience. This does NOT mean diving head-first into avalanche terrain. To the contrary, you can learn a lot about avalanches from well within the safe zone.

So go outside and bury a beacon. Dig a hole and look for weak layers. Look for signs of wind-loading or propagation. Compare a slope-angle map to your inclinometer. Ski powder, get face shots, and high-five your friends. If you’ve read this far, you’re already on your way to becoming a savvy backcountry skier.

Winter Watch-Outs

By Jack Taylor

A little prep goes a long way.

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

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

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

Reading List

By: Jack Taylor

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

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

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

Printed Maps
Even in the age of digital everything, a good ol’ printed map is an invaluable resource. For close-to-home outings, start with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s map, which covers all the trails in and around Bozeman proper. it’s available from retailers around town for $3. (For a free digital version, go to gvlt.org/trails/trail-maps.) For Bozeman’s premier backyard playground, Hyalite Canyon, the nonprofit Friends of Hyalite makes a great fold-out recreation map in two versions: winter and summer. Pick one up around town for $5, or view it digitally any hyalite.org/recreation-maps. Beartooth Publishing is our go-to for detailed topographic maps of southwest Montana, complete with roads, trails, and usage restrictions; order print copies from beartoothpublishing.com or find them in local stories. Our favorite all-around option is Bozeman Area Outdoor Recreation Map, which sells for $16. For general trip-planning throughout the state, pick up a copy of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer. For more detail, order zoomed-in, area -specific, waterproof maps from MyTopo, a custom-mapping outfit in Billings. A large-format wall map of southwest Montana from Basin and Range Mapping will help you see the big picture and make planning that much easier.

Apps
For hunter and anglers, there are three go-to apps you’ll want on your smartphone or GPS: Montana Fishing Access, Montana Hunting Access, and onWater. The first two are activity-specific and produced right here in Bozeman by Mountainworks Software; the latter is a leading map for fishing access, flows, and reports all in one place.

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

Stores
Nothing beats a well-stocked retailer for hands-on gear comparison, along with free advice from local professionals. Southwest Montana teams 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.

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.

Try Before You Buy

by Jack Taylor

With so many activities to try around the Bozone, it’s hard to get fully outfitted for everything. Not to worry—there are plenty of stores in town (and in our surrounding towns) that can set you up with rental gear. This way, you can see if the activity is worth investing in, or try out a specific piece of equipment, before committing to a purchase. Sometimes, you can even apply the cost of the rental toward a purchase from the same store.

Want to try mountain biking? Check out Chalet SportsRound HouseOwenhouse Cycling, or Arc’s Bike & Ski. In Livingston, Dan Bailey’s also rents bikes.

Heading for the river? Round House rents watercraft, as do Northern Lights and Big Boys Toys. Dan Bailey’s, Montana Troutfitters, and River’s Edge can set you up with fishing gear.

If you’re seeking a high-octane outing, Big Boys Toys rents ATVs and UTVs; or try Yellowstone Adventures down in West Yellowstone. Both of these outfitters also rent snowmobiles in winter.

Speaking of winter, of course we’ve got plenty of options for ski rentals. Bridger Bowl has its own rental shop, and Round House has a satellite shop on the mountain. Dan Bailey’s and Uphill Pursuits have top-of-the-line backcountry-skiing equipment if you want to venture beyond the resort. Chalet Sports and Round House stock the full gamut, from basic rentals to high-end demo skis—the latter you can also find at Ph.D. Skis.

Most of the aforementioned ski shops rent Nordic skis, too. You can also get set up at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky or Freeheel & Wheel in West Yellowstone.

If you want to get your feet wet (read: cold) with ice climbing, Montana Alpine Guides can set you up with ice tools, boots, and crampons.

Though not outdoor equipment per se, for some, camera gear is an essential part of the kit. Bozeman Camera rents professional-grade cameras and lenses at friendly prices, plus it offers a 20% discount for students and military. It also has an extensive inventory of used equipment, when you’re ready to make a purchase.

No matter what new activity you want to try, Bozeman has it all. The beauty of renting is you can hang it up after one go, or dive down the rabbit-hole of a new hobby—we can’t say it hasn’t happened before. Get out there, be safe, and have fun.

Bargain Bins

by Jamie Rankin

Self-control. Responsibility. A savings account. If you live in Gallatin County, aren’t a trustafarian, and have a gear closet, you’re probably lacking one of these former attributes. Outdoor recreation can be expensive. Take a stroll around town and you’ll likely come across a garage where the value of the gear inside exceeds your net worth.

But if you’re just starting out, it builds character (and even skill) to make use of budget-friendly equipment offerings. To spare yourself the inevitable hit from buying brand-new gear, Bozeman has a great selection of places to pick up secondhand outdoor items.

GVBC Bike Swap
In May, the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club hosts its annual fundraising swap. With hundreds of bikes for sale and local experts volunteering their services, this is a great spot to find the right bike or accessories.

BSF Ski Swap
Update your winter-sports arsenal while simultaneously supporting a local nonprofit. In November, Bridger Ski Foundation holds its annual ski swap. Local skiers and snowboarders clean out their gear closets, selling all manner of snow-sliding equipment—alpine, backcountry, and Nordic.

MSU Outdoor Rec Sale
If you’re an MSU student, staff, or alum, head to the MSU Outdoor Recreation Center’s annual sale. Every October, they retire gear from their rental fleet. You can score hefty discounts on gear for camping, climbing, boating, skiing, and more.

MSU Bike Auction
Believe it or not, some poor bicycles really do get left behind. MSU Parking Services makes the rounds after spring semester to scoop up abandoned bikes, and auctions them off the following September.

Play It Again Sports
Water sports. Snow sports. Land sports. You name it and you’ll probably find it. This is a great spot to pick up new or used gear year-round. The shop is well organized, so you won’t spend hours searching around. They also buy gear if you’re looking to put some cash in your pocket.

Second Wind Sports
Entering Second Wind is like beholding the ultimate gearhead’s garage. They’ve got just about everything, and you’ll most likely leave with something you didn’t come for. If you’re looking to refresh your outdoor wardrobe, this is a solid spot.

Pawn Shops
These small, local stores often have great selections of outdoor gear. Debos on N. 7th Ave is one of our favorites—they take the cake with used guns, but they also have a wide assortment of other equipment.

Thrift Stores
Don’t overlook Bozeman’s thrift stores. Finding outdoor apparel, shoes, and accessories is a breeze at Four Corners Thrift and Cash 4 Clothes, among others. It’s hit-or-miss, so don’t be dismayed if you strike out. Head back in a few days and try again.

Study Up

by Jack Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone Wrong

by Corey Hockett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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