Tag Archives: preparation

Go Easy

by Jack Taylor

It doesn’t take a whole garage full of gear to make the most of southwest Montana’s outdoors. In fact, some of our favorite activities and outings require little to no specialized equipment whatsoever. So if you’re tight on cash, or just want to keep it simple, here are some ideas.

State Parks
Many of Montana’s state parks serve as one-stop destinations for recreation, camping, and culture. They’re usually located at historic sites, and most have visitor centers where you can learn about the cultural significance of the area. For example, see how the natives hunted bison at Madison Buffalo Jump, take a subterranean stroll at Lewis & Clark Caverns, or explore the lush floodplains of Missouri Headwaters. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes.

Swimming Holes
Especially in the heat of summer (or other times of year for the masochistic), taking a cool dip is a great way to immerse in the outdoors. There are rivers and streams all over the place around here, plus a healthy handful of lakes and ponds, and finding your favorite swimming hole is a fun adventure—so we won’t spoil the goods. But some of the most popular places to swim near town are Glen Lake Rotary Park (a.k.a., Bozeman Beach) and Hyalite Reservoir.

Tube Floats
Speaking of water, you don’t need to invest hundreds or thousands in a watercraft to go for a float. In fact, when the weather is warm, hordes of Bozemanites will take to lazy stretches of river aboard cheap inflatable inner-tubes to relax and soak up the sun. The lower Madison River from Warm Springs to Black’s Ford is by far the most popular destination for this type of float; in other words, if you want any inkling of solitude, go elsewhere.

Dirt Roads
There are hundreds of miles of Forest Service roads in the mountains of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, and hundreds more miles of ranch-access roads out in the plains. Some of them may require a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, but many will accommodate any ol’ sedan just fine. Take a drive and see what you find. Moser CreekLittle Bear Canyon, and Springhill are good places to start.

Town Trails
Thanks to conservation easements maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), you don’t even need to leave the Bozeman city limits to explore the out-of-doors. There are nearly 100 miles of trail in the Main Street to the Mountainstrail system that will take you back and forth across town, and even plug you into Forest Service trails in the Bridger and Gallatin ranges. So lace up your shoes and hit the dirt—there’s nothing holding you back.

Plein Air
Artistic talent be damned—grab some watercolors, colored pencils, oil pastels… whatever suits your fancy, and post up with a canvas or sheet of paper outside. You don’t need to be the next Monet to appreciate the experience of creating outdoor art. It’ll surely help you notice previously unforeseen details in your surrounding landscape, and who knows—maybe you’ll get hooked on a new hobby.

Prepped for Anything

by Jamie Rankin

Southwest Montana offers outdoor pursuits of all difficulty levels—and some that walk a fine line between risk and reward. But regardless of the challenge and level of expertise (or lack thereof), accidents happen. Every outdoor-goer should have knowledge on how to optimize safety, and how to handle an unexpected turn for the worse. Here’s a rundown on some courses we recommend for safety, survival, and for growing your outdoor skillset.

Wilderness First Aid
No medical experience? No problem. Wilderness First Aid (WFA) preps students on basic medical practices in an outdoor setting. From assessing a patient to improvising splints with outdoor gear, this course will prepare you to stabilize a situation until a trained medical professional can step in. There are many local course providers; a web search should lead you to a course that fits your schedule. For students, check out MSU’s outdoor-activity classes.

Wilderness First Responder
If you’ve mastered the basics and want more medical preparation, take a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. These 80-hour courses are a mix of classroom time and accident scenarios; they teach students the skills needed stabilize a patient for an extended period of time. The same organizations that offer WFAs typically teach WFR courses as well.

Belay Certification
If you want to get into climbing but aren’t sure where to begin, Spire Climbing Center is a great place to start. As a member, you get access to beginner- and intermediate-level climbing instruction; including auto-belay, standard belay, and more. Already know the basics? Spire has an assortment of classes and clinics for intermediate and advanced climbers, too. 

Green University
Botanist and outdoorsman Thomas Elpel holds workshops, classes, and events focused on wilderness survival skills and sustainable living. From fire-starting, deer processing, and foraging to making buckskin clothing, Elpel will teach you how to be confident and self-sufficient in the woods.

Avalanche Courses
When venturing into the backcountry in winter, avalanche danger is ever-present. Snow conditions can be tricky to read, so a course is critical in gaining basic competency—both in avoiding slides and rescuing fellow skiers should they be caught in one. Courses can be taken through Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC), Montana Alpine Guides (MAG), MSU, Beartooth Powder Guides, and Big Sky Backcountry Guides.

Mountain-Bike Clinics
Crosscut Mountain Sports Center offers an assortment of mountain-biking clinics for all skill levels and ages, including introductory courses, skills-specific classes, and even guided rides. Developing your two-wheeled talent will not only allow you to push yourself in a safer manner, but will also make the sport more fun.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.