Your Own Piece of Montana

Backcountry gold diggin'.

A ticket at the local ski hills will get you many things: cold smoke face shots, miles of vertical, a nice moving chair to sit on—but one thing you will not get is access to the backcountry. It’s true that the terrain at our resorts can satisfy most of our needs, but for better or worse, the flimsy ropes that mark the boundaries of these resorts might as well be 20-foot walls for how legally impermeable they are to the adjacent backcountry. 

An alternative to legal battles, heated confrontation, and clandestine commando-crawls across enemy lines is to simply put one foot in front of the other and discover the bounty of our local backcountry away from the resorts. You might miss the ease of sit-on-your-ass-twiddle-your-thumbs-all-the-way-to-the-top-of-the-mountain chairlift transport, but you will discover a whole new world of beauty, freedom, solitude, and regulation-free skiing where you are free to set your own hours of operation and determine your own boundaries. 

"Seek and ye shall be rewarded" might be a good mantra for backcountry skiing in these parts. The mountains easily accessible from Bozeman include the Bridger, Crazy, Gallatin, and Absaroka Ranges—all of which have excellent skiable terrain. The only catch is that you have to find it on your own because the guy with the perma-grin and raccoon eyes at the bar isn’t going to give up any stashes. 

When you start looking, you'll realize that all types of terrain are represented, and you might even find some of the areas favored by locals. Tucked away in the folds of the mountains just a short cup-of-coffee-length drive from Bozeman is one such place—its sweetness is marred only by a long approach in. As you arrive at this particular cirque you look across at the lines and it looks steep. From the south, a long, wide couloir empties into an exposed bowl. To the north are a series of consequential, pencil-thin chutes divided by spines of snow and undulating ridges of rock. This area, like so many others out there, could be referred to with a cliché such as the mother lode, pot-o-gold, or jackpot without so much as a smirk. 

One by one carving turns, cruising down the slope, you and your friends indulge in the fleeting freedom like that of flight, relieved of the oppressive gravity and the tired inefficiency of our normal mode of locomotion. A subtle lean to the left, then to the right, effortlessly gliding and kicking up the cold smoke. The mountain is like a fresh canvas ready for you to display your artistic skills upon. A straight line down the center, a slash up on the rib, fluid s-turns bounce you back and forth, then you power into a sweeping turn blasting snow into the air and you glide into the valley below. 

And then it’s all over and you are left wanting more. You deal with the painful reality of having to hike back up or tear your blasted skins apart for the traverse. The repetition of mindlessly putting one foot in front of the other enters you into a meditative state and you begin to notice the details of the crystals of snow glimmering in the crisp mountain air, the clouds rolling hurriedly over the ridge tops, and the views of the big sky, big valleys, and big mountains of Montana. Inevitably the hiking trance is broken as you reach the ridge and the cobalt sky unleashes the wind, upping the intensity factor and focusing your full attention back to the task at hand—powder turns.

Smashed sandwiches, frozen Snickers bars, and a thermos of hot tea help bring on the second, third, and fourth wind of the day. Hopefully you will find the elusive fifth wind after a day of deeply breathing cold mountain air through your taxed lungs—not for another run, this time, but to get you down the long trail, out the winding road, and back home. 

The mountains around Bozeman feature countless epic backcountry stashes, couloirs, bowls, mellow tree runs, and fun play areas. You could as easily come across the dreamy powder field by History Rock, or that sweet tree run up Little Bear. If you seek you shall be rewarded. Educate yourself on backcountry safety, hone your skills, round up your friends, and you too can have your own secret stashes. 

As you sip your hot toddy in front of the fireplace back home, you may just find that little else compares to a day spent skiing in the backcountry with your friends on your own piece of wide-open Montana.