Bozeman, Montana, tops our list of classic winter hotspots—for good reason. It claims world-class ice climbing, untracked backcountry skiing, iconic fly fishing and the best music, beer and food scene west of Fargo (and east of Spokane). Head north as the days grow longer, and follow our lead to dig into what keeps Bozeman fun and funky.
Located just 45 minutes from town up the Hyalite Canyon Road (plowed until March 31), this glacially carved canyon situated on the northern fringe of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem offers up a bit of everything—from ice routes that keep local legend Conrad Anker on his game to packed paths ideal for fat bikes. Make it the epicenter of your adventures that start with breakfast at the Cateye Cafe in town.
With over 250 ice routes of varying grades, Hyalite is one of the most reliable, concentrated, natural ice climbing venues in North America. Its diversity means you can spend all day toproping, lead challenging multi-pitch lines, test your mixed-climbing skills or push it on a ridgeline traverse that links multiple routes. Hit the Genesis and Mummy Cooler areas—within minutes of parking the car, you can toprope classics like Mummy Cooler I & II (WI 2 & WI 3+), The Scepter (WI5), Genesis I & I (WI3+), Hangover (WI3) and The Whiskey Sweats (M5 WI4). To the west of the parking lot, Unnamed Wall, a mile-long cliff band with over three dozen established routes provides the perfect mixed and ice playground. We especially love The Thrill is Gone (M4 WI3), The Fat One (WI3) and the secluded Elevator Shaft (WI4). Cleopatra’s Needle (WI5), a multi-pitch adventure with variations from WI4 to WI6, is a must-do classic.
If vert makes your head spin, explore backcountry skiing options from steep peak objectives to mellower meadow cruises teeming with powder stashes. Looking for a big day that requires full mountaineering skills and avalanche training? Hit the 900-foot descent from the summit of Mt. Blackmore, a classic summit tour that tops out at 10,154 feet—the even more difficult north face was the stomping ground of extreme ski legends like Tom Jungst and Jim Conway. If you don’t want to go that big, stop before the top and cruise a shorter, but still spectacular run. Or, head to easily accessible History Rock, a popular spot that’s a six-mile roundtrip from trailhead that serves up three skiable meadows—each slightly higher, and with less traffic, and therefore better snow conditions, than the last. Nordic skiers and snowshoers should schuss the endless miles of ungroomed terrain and 30 kilometers of groomed ski trails in the Hyalite system. No matter where you are headed, be sure to check Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (406-587-6981) for daily advisories.
Fat tire riders pedal around Hyalite on marked and groomed snowmobile trails; access these from the Moser trailhead in the northeast corner of the canyon. Purchase a Trail Pass ($18), valid for three seasons and good for all “mechanized equipment,” including snowmobiles, motorized snow bikes and fat bikes.
Montana Alpine Guides, owned and operated by Sam Magro, provide expert insight and a helping hand for skiers, climbers and riders in Hyalite. Magro has put up first ascents across the globe, and his guiding team is well trained and familiar with the area.
Bell Lake Yurt
When you are ready to explore further afield head to the remote Bell Lake Yurt, perched in a peaceful non-motorized zone in the Tobacco Root Mountains and owned by former Backcountry editor and frequent Elevation Outdoors contributor Drew Pogge. Here you can tour big basins, drop into steep couloirs, cruise an expansive alpine bowl or lay tracks in a treed glades; skiers and split-boarders of all abilities can find something to satiate their powder craving starting at the yurt. And each night, after your legs are jelly and you’ve gotten all the face shots possible, relax and eat up in a cozy atmosphere. Friendly guides take care of all the details—planning, breaking trail, cooking meals and delivering you safely to the best snow—so you can soak up every minute. Work with them to create a custom itinerary—all catered—on your ideal dates.
They have a maximum guide-to-client ratio of 4:1. Prices start at $175 per person, per day. During Powder Week (a four-day, three-night block set aside every year in March); eight skiers and two guides explore 14,000 acres of exclusive terrain. More challenging, hard-core trips include the Montana Haute Route, 26 miles across the rugged Tobacco Root Range. Guides and meals included; $995 per person. Of course, you can also explore on your own as long as you’re an experienced, self-sufficient group with at least one person Level 1 Avalanche First Aid certified. $340 per night, for up to eight guests ($42 per person). belllakeyurt.com
Fly fishing in spring means sparse crowds, low water levels that concentrate fish in specific areas and trout that are hungry after a long, cold winter. Though the weather can be extremely variable, the excellent fishing makes it worth it. Close to Bozeman, the Gallatin River parallels US 191 and offers excellent spring wading for rainbows, browns and cutthroats. And with low water, fish stack up in easy-to-spot holes, making them easier to spot (and catch) than later in the season.
Floating the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley also gives anglers the opportunity to catch huge brown trout and rainbows in the 13-inch to 16-inch range. Get gear and beta on the best fishing holes at Montana Troutfitters, Bozeman’s oldest fly fishing shop, established in 1978.