Leading the Way

Local guides offer expert assistance.

We all have our sport—the one we can execute confidently and safely no matter the conditions or location. But in Bozeman, why settle for just one? The outdoor offerings within two hours of Main & Tracy are too impressively varied to pass up, and inexperience shouldn’t keep us from trying something new. That’s what guides and instructors are for, and we’re lucky to have some of the best in the business living and working close by. Keep them in mind when you’re ready to branch out, or when you have friends or family who need a leg up, so they can keep up.

Bell Lake Yurt
For years, you’ve been dreaming of skiing 3,000-vertical-foot runs in the middle of nowhere, but aren’t sure your skills are up to snuff. Good thought—they probably aren’t. Some dreams do come true, though, thanks to backcountry mountain guide Drew Pogge and the Bell Lake Yurt. Based in the Tobacco Root Mountains, this is a full-service backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and ski-mountaineering outfit. With access to thousands of non-motorized acres, Bell Lake’s crew provides professional guide services, as well as avalanche-education and skills-development programs for skiers and riders of all abilities. Part of the fun, according to Pogge—who has led ski expeditions in remote parts of the world from Iceland and Ecuador to Alaska and Labrador—is "watching the evolution as guests learn to be more comfortable, more knowledgeable in the mountains, and more appreciative of our environment.”

The motivation to safely guide and educate goes beyond dollars and cents—it's a matter of community for Pogge. That's why he's working with the backcountry club at Bozeman High and hosting two annual camps for teen girls, organized by former World Cup racer and Big Sky local Keely Kelleher. The idea, says Pogge, “is to empower a new generation with skills to safely move through deep, snowy mountains and enjoy this sport that's given me so much.” Check out belllakeyurt.com for more beta.

Montana Alpine Guides
Been wondering about all the fuss over ice climbing in Hyalite? Sam Magro, who began his climbing career just out of high school after reading The Vagabonds and The Dharma Bums, is the man to tell you. A seasoned professional guide, Magro’s accomplishments include multiple first ascents in North and South America, and Africa. As a longtime employee, Sam carried on the tradition when he purchased Montana Alpine Guides (MAG) from Mike Cooperstein in 2013. The business itself has been around since 1985. 

The current MAG crew consists of seven experienced, licensed guides. Together they bring talent and passion to diverse enthusiasts ranging from beginner climbers to those eager to test their skills on more extreme routes. “MAG’s educational programs, clinics, and guiding services are a winter resource for the whole community,” says Magro, whose goal is to get people climbing safely, regardless of skill level. “You have to like people to guide and teach effectively,” he points out. His commitment to climbing education, skills-building, and community-service projects highlights his success as an outdoor-industry professional.

For many years, MAG was a major sponsor and co-organizer of the Bozeman Ice Festival, and MAG guides still contribute countless volunteer hours teaching ice-climbing clinics. Other MAG projects include specific courses and clinics for military veterans, women, university students, and high-schoolers. “It’s about giving back, making it fun, and planting the seeds of advocacy for wilderness and public lands,” says Magro. Check out mtalpine.com for more information and a schedule of services and clinics.

Yellowstone Safari Company
Catching up with Yellowstone Safari owners Ken and Susi Sinay was no small task, though they assure me that winter is their “slow” season. Even still, Ken says that in the wildlife-viewing business, “he walks constantly, even in snowshoes.” And he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s like being a kid again,” he says, seeing and experiencing everything fresh through the eyes of his clients. 

The company leads winter tours in two national parks, three national forests, and across Montana state lands. “People are always surprised when and where we find wildlife,” Ken says, as Susi nods her head in emphatic agreement. Since 1993, Ken has combined his passion for the environment with a biology degree and past professional experience with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to fill a void in Montana’s tourism industry. Susi, who joined the outfit in 2002, is the logistics arm of the team, and also plans customized tour itineraries, sometimes using her llamas as pack animals. “If it’s legal, we guide it,” says Susi, her eye always focused on opportunities for wildlife viewing, habitat and natural-resource education, and environmental stewardship.

Although they’ve seen some growth in the eco-tourism industry, the Sinays maintain that the market is largely untapped, with room for more touring opportunities. Their business has grown through the years and they now employ four people year-round, with a total of nine during the summer. Yellowstone Safari guides enjoy full access to worker’s compensation and liability insurance, part of the Sinays’ effort to bring socially-responsible business practices to the eco-tourism industry. If they’re thinking that much about their workers, imagine how they treat their clients. Check them out at yellowstonesafari.com