The Hyalite Condition

Plowing pros & cons.

Hyalite is arguably the most treasured recreational resource in the region. But is plowing the road necessarily a good thing? Undoubtedly, ice climbers and backcountry skiers revel in the easy access, but is their presence disrupting wildlife, and adding more trash and pollution to any already stressed resource? And has the adventure of the Hyalite Rodeo been lost, now that any yahoo in a Corolla can reach the canyon’s deepest trailheads? Or do the pros outweigh the cons? Give people access, and they’ll fight for permanent protection, right? Our editors looked at Hyalite’s winter access from both sides of the road.

Access Forever
Being a Bozeman newbie (relatively), I can’t recall The Time Before the Road Was Plowed, as some more-senior staffers refer to it. But I can attest to how amazing Hyalite is in winter, thanks to the current ease of access. On any given winter day, I can cruise up to the furthest road-accessed reaches of the canyon in my Toyota Matrix hatchback. It has all-wheel drive and that’s all it needs. This access is good for the community, as it gets people out and allows them to experience an unrivaled winter landscape. It builds camaraderie around activities like cross-country skiing, ice climbing, and even ice fishing, and provides an introduction to a variety of other winter sports. Keeping people active in the winter is a good thing. Continued and enhanced access also creates future stewards and allows locals to enjoy the canyon without the crush of summer tourists. And while winter visitation is increasing, it still pales in comparison to the summer months. —David Tucker, Managing Editor 

Hyalite Canyon, Palisade Falls, Friends of HyalitePalisade Falls: one of many easily accessible destinations.

Hail the Hardship
None of us old-guard types really miss giving up a day of backcountry skiing to help a couple half-drunk MSU students yank their Suzuki Samurai from thigh-deep snow on Hyalite Canyon Rd. But we never complained too much, because deep down, we saw the value in it: driving skills and mountain-town ethics. You could tell the veterans, and you wanted to be like them. So you did your time, spending several winters getting stuck yourself, humbly beseeching others to extricate you. Eventually you learned the tricks: lowering your tire pressure to disperse the weight, cutting across the ruts at the proper angle when negotiating oncoming traffic, keeping your speed just right to prevent both sinking in and careering off into the creek. Luck played no part; ability and bravado alone determined your fate. The day you made your first successful run, up to the reservoir and back down, expertly extracting three stuck cars along the way? Nothing ever felt so good. —Mike England, Editor 

Hyalite Usage Stats
18,765: Vehicles accessed Hyalite Jan.-Mar., 2013
55, 356: Users visited Hyalite Jan.-Mar., 2013
80%: Percentage of users who identified as skiers
68%: Percentage of vehicles traveling to reservoir and beyond
88%: Percentage of users from Gallatin County
63%: Percentage of users who did not use canyon before plowing
86%: Percentage of users who would go elsewhere if Hyalite wasn’t plowed