Livin’ on your edge.
Well, winter came back, then left again, leaving everyone in a state of schizophrenia—half the town is lapping Bridger, while the other half is in shorts, lapping Peets Hill. Either way, folks are out and about en masse, from the Tram line at Big Sky to a snowpacked Sourdough and everything in between. If, like us, you're feeling the squeeze and need some time away from the hordes, we know just where to find it. All across southwest Montana, there are opportunities to escape, beyond the hustle and bustle of booming Boz Angeles. One such opportunity is wild skating at Canyon Ferry. It’s out of the ordinary and it's on our Winter Hit List. Here’s how it’s done.
Who: Folks tired of dodging dogs at Sourdough and hiking nose-to-butt up the Ridge. Our favorite outdoor haunts are overrun; there’s no way to deny that. And while that doesn’t mean Hyalite is dead to us—yet—it is nice to get away, and we’re definitely fans of solitude. If you’re like us, and we bet many of you are, ditch the crowds and try something new. Wild skating is that something new.
What: We’re talkin’ the windswept frozen ponds on the west side of Canyon Ferry north of Townsend. We’re talkin’ wildlife, mountain vistas, and a bit of Real Montana. We’re talkin’ using the quads God gave us to explore a winter wonderland devoid of $700 coats and skis that cost as much as a truck down payment.
Wild skating requires a helmet, a beat-up pair of skates, and little else. It requires an imagination and a lack of self-consciousness—there’s no way to make this look good. The ice is rough, rippled, and a long way from the closest zamboni. You’ll fall, you’ll stumble, you’ll flail, and you’ll have a great time doing it.
When: Use the next high-pressure system to skip town and hit the ice. You don’t want to skate on a powder day. If it’s sunny and clear, grab your gear and plan for a few hours in a world that feels far removed from tech startups, craft beer, and Blundstones.
Where: If you’ve never been to Canyon Ferry, you’re definitely missing out. This Missouri River impoundment is about an hour from downtown Bozeman. Just north of Townsend, you can access the ice from a few different locations. The Big Belt Mountains dominate the eastern horizon and the Elkhorns loom large to the west. Townsend has a variety of food and drink options worth exploring, and even the micro-brewery scene has left its mark on this mostly blue-collar town.
Note: ice conditions vary from month to month, and even week to week. Verify thickness and use extreme caution. We recommend a pair of ice claws, which are beefed-up ice picks tied together; drape 'em around your neck, so if you plunge through the ice, you can claw your way back out. The overflow ponds, however, are shallow—typically no more than a few feet deep, and often frozen all the way through. Before you head out, check the ice conditions. If the ice is iffy, try for a higher, colder, alpine lake—just be sure to bring a shovel. While you're up there, you could even get some fishing in.
Why: More like, why not? Wild skating isn’t graceful, although your stride will improve over time. It’s difficult to measure yourself against your peers, but aren’t you tired of tracking vertical and scrambling for first chair? It isn’t rad, or extreme, or epic, or gnarly. But it’s fun, it’s mellow, it’s different, and, most importantly, it’s on our Winter Hit List.