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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.