Ski Tour: Mount Ellis
Approach Distance: 4 miles
Approach Gain: 2,940 feet
Skiable Vertical: 1,940 feet
Duration: 2-4 hours
Distance from Bozeman: 10 minutes
Avalanche Hazard*: Moderate to high
Traffic: Moderate to heavy
Backcountry excursions needn’t be epic or take all day. In fact, one of the best bangs for your buck is just a few miles from downtown. An icon of the southern skyline, Mount Ellis is a great way to scratch your mid-week backcountry itch. This is a local favorite that offers a counter-clockwise loop separating uphill and downhill traffic. The east face offers supreme glade skiing through trees, but the slope is steeper than many other local tours. Don't let its close proximity to town fool you into thinking that the avy danger is negligible. Always check the forecast.
Head east on I-90 and take the Bear Canyon exit, the first exit east of Bozeman. Turn right and then make a quick left onto Bear Canyon Rd. Drive approximately four miles and park at the New World Gulch trailhead.
From the trailhead, proceed southwest up the obvious trail along the creek. When you reach a fork in the stream about a mile in, take the right drainage leading off to the south. Unless you arrive very early in the morning, there will almost certainly be a skintrack already in.
Make your way up until you reach a small clearing at the base of the slope (A), which sits below the saddle separating Mount Ellis and Little Ellis. Again, follow the skintrack to the right, up and into the woods. Gain the saddle, enjoy the view down into Bozeman, and then follow the ridge south toward the summit of Ellis, picking your stopping point based on what looks good and how you feel.
Descend through often tracked-out powder (this is a popular slope), zipping into the trees on either side of the main lines for the fresh stuff (B). Practice safe leap-frogging with your partners to remain in earshot of each other. Toward the bottom of the run, the trees thicken, so schuss your way through them until you reach the end.
Exit across a large meadow and follow the main New World Gulch trail back to the parking lot. If you have time for more than one lap, stop at the junction of your ascent track, put your skins back on, and head back up for another.
Need to Know
The exit along the creek is a bit of a roller-coaster with tight, fast turns and a few small hills to surmount. Snowboarders should have one or two poles handy for the occasional push.
While the pitch on Mount Ellis is generally pretty mellow, there are avalanches up there and people have died. Always practice safe backcountry travel and check the report before going out, changing up your plans if conditions are unsafe.
*Avalanche hazard refers to terrain risk only. Always travel with a partner and rescue gear, evaluate conditions carefully, and check the forecast before heading out.
This report is courtesy of the Powder Project.