Licks of window frost, blue in the darkness of morning, frame the distant glow of Gallatin Peak. You roll over in your sleeping bag, and the ancient bunk mattress beneath you squeaks in the cold. The fire is out. You hear the others waking as well—yawns and groans, sniffles and coughs—but no one speaks. You all wait for someone else to brace against the chill, scurry across the frigid wood floor, and light the stove.
Finally, one of you suggestively whispers, “Sure is nippy in here…” and a volley of quiet snickers displaces the quiet vestiges of night as sunlight begins filtering through the glass walls, bringing instant warmth to Garnet Mountain fire lookout and revealing your skis waiting on the rail outside. Someone frantically strikes a match on the stove and leaps back into bed to shiver in his bag as sundried pine crackles through iron grates and blue frost melts quickly from the window panes; drooping, dripping, dry.
Forest Service cabins—like the glass-walled Garnet Mountain lookout—offer winter users warm, affordable, and aesthetic lodging in the heart of ski, snowshoe, ice climbing and snowmobiling terrain in southwest Montana. Outfitted with simple woodstoves, pit toilets, basic cooking equipment, and dishware, these small, rustic cabins offer relaxing and distraction-free winter refuge—well-worth the paltry cost and brow sweat required to reach them. Here are three excellent choices for skiers, climbers, and snowmobilers.
For skiers, the glass-walled Garnet Mountain fire lookout, located at over 8,200 feet, offers powder turns and tours right out the front door. In fact, just getting there requires a strenuous 2,800-vertical-foot climb. The terrain isn’t super steep, but there are options on every aspect, and you can’t beat the morning views of the sun rising over the snow-choked Spanish Peaks.
Once the domain of only the most hardcore climbers willing to schlep their gear all the way up Hyalite Canyon on foot or sled, Window Rock cabin at the south end of Hyalite reservoir is now road-accessible. Ice climbers and backcountry skiers can access some of the finest flows and features in the state with minimal effort, and because you drive to the cabin, meaty steaks, comfy clothing, and plenty of beer is the new de rigueur.
Yellow Mule cabin, located 14 miles up Buck Creek Ridge south of Big Sky, caters mostly to snowmobilers. It’s primitive, with a low ceiling, dark interior, and mountain-man vibe (complete with antler-festooned doorway), but it’s warm and the location is smack dab in the middle of sledder’s paradise.
For more information, or to reserve a cabin, call the Bozeman Ranger Station at 522-2520.