Charging the Slopes

by Adam Brown

Downhill skiing around Bozeman.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Great Divide                              120                                                 Helena, MT

Discovery                                     130                                                Philipsburg, MT

Red Lodge                                    150                                                Red Lodge, MT

Maverick                                       160                                                Dillon, MT

Lost Trail                                        190                                                Sula, MT

Grand Targhee                           190                                                Driggs, ID.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Winter’s Delight

by Corey Hockett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shouldering the Burden

By: Corey Hockett

Making the most of the in-between time.

Whatever the activity, nothing beats being in the swing of the season. Skiing deep powder in February, paddling roaring whitewater during peak runoff, riding tacky dirt in the dog days of summer—you get the idea. Conditions are at their best and (theoretically) so are our bodies. We’ve had time to build muscles and adjust joints to meet the demands of the sport, all while the natural environment has grown into the fullest version of itself. Primo, as they call it.

Thing is, the swing of the season doesn’t last very long around here.

You’ll find that in Bozeman, weather and conditions are so frequently changing, it can be hard to know what to expect in any given month. Sometimes—and this is no exaggeration—the whole freakin’ year can be one giant shoulder season. Even predictable years have entire months of inconvenient transition. There will always be periods where it’s either too rainy or not snowy enough. And how as outdoor recreators do we handle this time of limbo? Luckily, there are plenty of options.

Head to Drier/Warmer Climes
When the weather turns salty in either spring or fall and heading to the mountains is no longer an option, shift your gaze west of the Gallatin Valley to the rocky bluffs of Copper City. The Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association (SWMMBA) and the BLM teamed up to make this area a standout biking destination for riders of all levels. From cross-country cruisers to expert-only downhill, there’s something for everyone. There’s even a kid’s pump track in the parking lot. The trails are foot-friendly, too, so hikers and runners are welcome as well.

Head south another half-hour along the banks of the Jefferson River, and you’ll come to Lewis & Clark Caverns. The limestone cave system is one of the most unique features in all of southwest Montana. Apart from offering a spectacular tour, the state park hosts several trails for hiking and biking, as well as campsites to boot.

Further west, but still on this side of the Continental Divide, lies the mini-Moab of Pipestone. One of the first places to dry out in the spring—and last to stay dry in the fall—this trail network is both expansive and diverse. A labyrinth of four-wheel, doubletrack, and singletrack offer both mountain and dirt-bikers their pick of the litter. Dispersed campsites are around every bend, so find one with a good view. And if you’re not planning on staying, you’re a measly one-hour drive back to town. That’s nothing in Montana.

Make it a Multisport
Sure, it’s easy to shrug off shoulder seasons with an attitude of, Welp, the trails are wet, might as well stay home. But why not go the other direction? Trail ethics in mind, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. And there’s a lot of potential when multiple seasons are acting together. Combining two or more outdoor activities in a single day can be as easy as trail running your raft shuttle or biking to a hunting spot. We’re lucky that it’s easy to get pretty creative without straying far from town.

Fairy Lake Multisport
In late spring, when the foothills have shed all of winter’s snow but a few ski lines still remain in good condition, pick a morning with promising weather and head toward Fairy Lake. The upper road is closed from December to June, which makes it a great ride when the gates are locked. Load your skis, boots, and poles to the outside of your pack and start pedaling. When you hit the trailhead, stow the bikes and take off on foot. You’ve got 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet of vertical to reach the pass where you’ll be greeted with a sweeping view of the Gallatin Valley. Turn south toward the high point of the Bridgers (Sacajawea) and climb another 1,000 feet over the next half-mile to just below the summit. Tag it if you wish, but the way down is Sac’s sister summit, Naya Nuki, another quarter-mile south.

The prominent ribbon of snow running down into the basin is known as the Great One, and it reliably holds snow ’til the Fourth of July. Ski it in shorts or be prepared to change into them at the bottom. A short hike from where the snow ends brings you to Fairy Lake. Welcome summer with a dip in its chilly waters before retrieving the bikes and enjoying the ride back down to your rig.

Hyalite Cast & Climb
Come late fall / early winter, on a day when the weather is warmish but unpredictable and getting too far from the car seems like a bad idea, head up to Practice Rock for some easy-access climbing. The pullout is on the right, three miles after the turn for Hyalite Canyon. The cliff is a couple hundred yards uphill from the parking area. Routes range from 5.6 to 5.12, with options to set up a top-rope on several climbs.

When your arms are pumped or you’ve had your fill, mosey back down to the car for a change of pace. Swap harnesses and chalk bags for fishing poles and flies or lures. The creek is a stone’s throw from the climbing access, so no need to drive anywhere if you don’t want. Explore up or downstream as your heart desires. Alternatively, if you’ve got a human-powered watercraft, make the 10-minute drive up to the reservoir, launch your vessel, and fish the deep waters of the lake. All this can be done in half a day, and retreat remains easy the whole time.

Suck it Up
Your third option is fairly straightforward. Head to one of our many local gear companies and support them (and yourself) by investing in a good fleece, a reliable rain jacket, a warm beanie, quality gloves, and some thick skin. Retailers may not be able to help with the latter, but in all fairness your well-being is up to you. Conditions here are inclement. This is Montana, by God: no place for pansies. People have been enjoying themselves outside year-round for thousands of years. If you really want, you’ll find a way, too.

Nordic Nuts

by Eli Fournier

Nordic skiing around the Bozone.

Getting outside and staying fit during the warmer months is a breeze around here, but doing so in the winter is more challenging. The short days and long nights don’t make it any easier. Fortunately, Bozeman is a Nordic skier’s haven. On any given day, you’re apt to see Olympians, child prodigies, weekend warriors, and avid recreational aficionados all on the same trails. And with bountiful options both in town and just a few minutes’ drive away, getting out for a quick jaunt is easy.

Classic vs. Skate
Nordic skiing can broadly be broken down into two general styles: classic and skate. The two differ in several key ways. Classic skiing is more beginner-friendly, and is done with a walk-kick technique similar to running, while skating is more of a moving duck-walk.

The skis used for each technique differ as well. Classic skis have distinct “kick” and “glide” zones on the bottoms that are waxed differently. As a lower-maintenance alternative to wax, a “fish scale” pattern on the kick section can provide traction and prevent backwards slippage.

The base of a skate ski, on the other hand, is consistent across the entire ski, coated entirely with temperature-specific glide wax that make the entire ski slippery. Good luck “walking” with these—you won’t make it far. Instead, a “skating” pattern (similar to ice skating) propels you forward.

Where to Go
Classic skiers can use both groomed and ungroomed trails, while skate skiers are limited to the former. We’ll touch on groomed trails first.

Right in town are the Sunset Hills and Highland Glen trail systems. Thanks to snowmaking and grooming operations by the Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), these two tracks are among the first to come into shape, usually in early December. Hit them in the morning, or practice your agility on skis by navigating around gaggles of kids at afternoon ski lessons. Also in town is the Bridger Creek Golf Course. Park at the clubhouse and warm up on the flat lower loops before doing a few intervals on the upper, hillier section.

A 20-minute drive from downtown is the Sourdough Trail. This track is also groomed by BSF, but is open to shared use. Realistically, most hikers, snowshoers, and runners only make it up to “the bridge,” around mile four. Beyond that, the track is in much better shape, and continues another five miles to Mystic Lake, or over Moser Pass to the Moser trailhead up Hyalite Canyon.

Speaking of Hyalite, there are several groomed trails stemming from the main parking lot at Hyalite Reservoir. These trails snake around the lake and surrounding forests, and are groomed intermittently at best—usually just a few times per season—making them a better option for classic skiers.

For classic and skate skiers alike, Crosscut Mountain Sports Center is far and away the best locale for Bozeman-area Nordic nuts. The grooming is immaculate, with all trails being hit by the snowcat once or twice per day. Check their detailed forecast for hour-by-hour weather and snow reports.

A little farther away, and more suited for a weekend trip, are the West Yellowstonetrails. These tracks are a few thousand feet higher in elevation than those around Bozeman, and are the first to load in with snow every winter. In a typical year, college Nordic teams from across the country descend on West Yellowstone over Thanksgiving for an early-winter training trip. For serious skiers looking to test their skills (and endurance), there are a couple of annual races on the West Yellowstone trails.

For classic skiers looking to get off the beaten path, backcountry singletrack trails like Brackett Creek, Goose Creek, and Bear Canyon are good options for more solitary excursions.

Etiquette
The single largest Nordic-skiing faux pas is damaging a ski track—be that snowshoeing on a singletrack or walking on a groomed trail (with the exception of Sourdough—and even then, it’s important to minimize the damage by sticking to the side of the trail). Nordic skiing on a lumpy track is no fun at all.

Additionally, don’t be a snob. Nordic skiing ain’t a cheap sport, and especially in the competitive world, it can be a touch elitist. Do your part to counter that by being friendly at the trailhead and on the trails. If someone asks you a question about wax or conditions, share what you know in a non-condescending way to encourage more participation in the sport. And on Sourdough, be nice—a friendly request to keep the dog out of the track is way better than a nasty comment as you ski past. Honey catches more flies than vinegar.

 

Ice, Ice Baby

The guide to an ice-climber’s paradise.

by Jack Taylor

Bozeman has some of the best ice climbing in the Lower 48, from easy top-rope crags in Hyalite to grueling alpine routes in the Beartooths. Many folks arrive in this town having never even considered ascending a frozen waterfall using sharp metal spikes, only to find themselves fully hooked on the sport just a few years later. Once considered the realm of extreme alpinists, ice climbing is now an avocation for the masses. Clinics are offered all winter by various guide services, so you can safely learn the ropes. And in case you haven’t already heard about it, the annual Bozeman Ice Festival is not to be missed.

Where to Go
Beginner
Though Hyalite has a good selection of easy climbs, as a starting place, one crag is more popular than all the rest: G1 (formally Genesis I). It’s the closest cliff to the Grotto Falls parking area—just a 15-minute walk up the hill—and you can easily set up a top-rope by scrambling around to the right. Once you’ve mastered the movement here, check out nearby Lower GreensleevesFat Chance, and Mummy I.

Intermediate
A logical progression, the next step up is G2, about twice as far up the hill as G1. It’s longer, more difficult, and more exposed, but you can still hike around (left, this time) to set up a top-rope if you’re not yet ready for lead-climbing. Other excellent intermediate climbs in Hyalite include HangoverThe Fat OneMummy II, and Twin Falls.

Advanced
Hyalite has hundreds of ice and mixed climbs, and if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide, check out Joe Josephson’s guidebook The House of Hyalite. The Unnamed Wall has dozens of moderate to difficult single-pitch routes. Dribbles, considered by many as the best climb in Hyalite, tackles three long pitches of pure ice. Cleopatra’s Needle is a breathtaking, difficult line near Twin Falls that’s sure to draw a crowd.

Outside of Hyalite, notable climbs include Hydromonster near Cooke City, California Iceup East Rosebud Creek, and the Lowe Route on the Sphinx—a popular early-season route with a burly approach that becomes dangerous once the snowpack builds up.

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Dress the Part
It can be awfully cold scaling a frozen waterfall, and proper layering is essential. Start at skin-level: thick wool socks to prevent cold feet and bruised toes, and synthetic or wool long underwear on the top and bottom. Next, don a fleece sweater that you’ll be comfortable in all day, and perhaps fleece pants if it’s cold out. At this point, start piling on upper layers (too many lower layers will restrict movement in your legs). A synthetic insulated jacket will keep you toasty. Throw on a waterproof shell and rain pants to keep dripping water on the outside—even if it’s below freezing, ice climbs can still be wet. Carry two or three pairs of gloves, at least one of them waterproof, and a hat or balaclava that fits under your helmet. For really cold days, bring a big down parka, but be sure to only wear it when you’re belaying. If you wear it on a climb, it’s sure to get wet from sweat or dribbles, which will render those down feathers cold, heavy, and possibly damaged.

Make sure to bring enough food and water—your body burns a lot of calories when it’s cold. Some nice extra touches include a thermos of hot soup, tea, or cocoa; a package of handwarmers; and perhaps a nip of whiskey if you’re feeling frisky. Most importantly, take safety seriously: carrying a satellite-communication device is always a good idea, and if you’re going into avalanche terrain, carry a beacon, shovel, and probe. Always let somebody know where you’re going, and when you expect to be back.

Sliding High

by the editors

Of all the outdoor activities available around Bozeman, downhill skiing is among the most celebrated. When that first dusting of snow comes in late fall, the upcoming ski season becomes the talk of the town. People come from all over the country to ski our famous cold smoke—fine, dry powder that stacks up by the hundreds of inches. It takes a hardy soul to get outside in the dead of winter here, but a fun day on the slopes with good friends makes it a whole lot easier. So whether you’re a lifelong skiing addict or a magic-carpet-riding neophyte, you’ve come to the right place.

Where to Go
Look around you—there are mountains in every direction, and every range offers good skiing. You’ve probably heard of Bridger Bowl and Big Sky Resort, and you can spark debate at any bar by asking which mountain is better. Go find out for yourself.

Outside of Bozeman’s immediate area are plenty of mom-and-pop hills to put on the list, most of which offer cheaper lift passes than Bridger, let alone Big Sky (got an extra $200, anyone?) Discovery, outside of Butte, is a great weekend trip with terrain for all levels. Other noteworthy ski areas are Maverick near Dillon and Red Lodge Mountain west of, yes, Red Lodge. Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole are also three hours away for those looking for a slightly longer road-trip. And don’t forget Showdown, the laid-back hill near White Sulphur Springs.

Backcountry adventures are near-limitless around here, and we’ll leave it to you to discover the hidden gems. But if you’re just getting started, check out Lick Creek, Goose Creek, or Telemark Meadows (full route descriptions can be found at outsidebozeman.com). All of these places have low avalanche danger and will let you get dialed in with your equipment before delving into snow science and risk assessment.

Essential Gear
There are no two ways about it: skiing is gear-intensive and it can be expensive to get started. Our local retail shops are top-notch, though, and several big sales happen throughout the year. And because Bozeman has so many skiers, there’s always a huge used market, too. Every fall, Bridger Ski Foundation hosts a ski-swap that draws in thousands of folks to buy and sell gear. If you miss the swap, you’ll still find plenty of offerings on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and secondhand stores around town.

So what exactly do you need? Of course, skis, bindings, and boots are the foundation. Skis come in all different shapes and sizes, and have changed a lot over the past 20 years. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, aim for a pair of skis about the same height as you are, and around 90-100mm wide underfoot. Don’t buy some old clunkers that your friend’s dad grew up skiing on; they’ll be much harder to learn on than modern skis. Look harder for something newer—they’re out there. If you’re buying used, the skis will likely already have bindings on them. If you’re buying new, take the shop’s advice on bindings.

Boots are the most important—and most oft-overlooked—part of the ski setup. They’ll make or break your skiing experience. Poor-fitting boots are the most common reason why new skiers don’t stick with the sport, but a good fit will keep you comfortable all day long. Ski boots come in many different shapes, and what fits one skier perfectly could be disastrous for another, so don’t buy boots based on recommendations or reviews. There’s no substitute for a professional boot-fit at a shop.

If you’re interested in backcountry skiing, things get a bit more complicated. First off, there are many more nuanced options for backcountry bindings compared with the generally-universal models for pure downhill skiing. Many folks are tempted by heavier, more-secure touring bindings that mimic the safety mechanisms of downhill bindings, but keep in mind that the extra weight is going to tire you out in the skintrack. If it’s your first pair, go for something middle-of-the-road.

The same pattern goes for backcountry boots. Heavier boots offer better downhill performance, but lighter boots—often built with a smoother walk-mode—will take less effort when skinning. A good boot-fitter will point you in the right direction.

Touring skins come in lots of varieties these days. Skins designed for SkiMo racing are the lightest and most compact, and are usually cheaper than other models due to their minimalist design. These skins will also glide the most efficiently—again, saving you energy. You can opt for bigger skins with more grip, but as your technique improves, you won’t need it.

You’ll also need a beacon, shovel, and probe for venturing into the backcountry—and some training to learn how to use them. There are avalanche-safety courses offered all winter long around here—consider the course tuition just as important as any gear purchase. And last but not least, don’t forget your helmet!

Etiquette
For better or worse, skiing has a myriad of unwritten (and some written) rules. Some are arcane, but others are worth keeping in mind to ensure you don’t piss anyone off—or worse, put yourself in danger. First and foremost, remember that we’re all out there to have a good time. Keep a positive attitude, gab with strangers, and don’t hesitate to whoop and holler from the chairlift. Ski areas have a universal “responsibility code,” which many a skier, beginner and experienced, would benefit from studying up on. Know the code and it’ll be smooth sailing at the resort.

The backcountry has its own etiquette. Within your group, make sure that everyone’s voice is heard when making decisions. You’ll learn how to render informed judgements in an avalanche class, but a less-experienced person’s opinion is no necessarily less valuable. Keep your group size small—four or fewer is ideal, not only to ease decision-making, but also to lessen your impact on other groups. People are out there to experience nature, and no one wants to reach a hard-earned summit to find 10 other people hanging out. In a similar vein, give folks plenty of space. If another group is getting ready to ski an untracked line, don’t cut in front of them. A few other pointers: don’t pee or let your dog pee (or, God forbid, defecate) in the skintrack, don’t boot-pack up the skintrack (leaving annoying pockmarks for those behind you), and make sure to let people pass if they’re skinning faster than you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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