Bozeman Winter Recreation

There is no denying that we live in a ski town. Many employers offer powder days along with sick days, and a free bus runs from town up to Bridger Bowl. So, when I moved to Bozeman from out-of-state, people often assumed it was because I was in search of fresher powder. Welcoming Bozemanites would pepper me with questions about my skiing habits, and their jaws would hit the floor when I explained I didn’t have any. “Well, what do you do?” they often asked.

I tried skiing a few times, on a small, icy knoll in southern Michigan. On my third attempt, I swore off the sport forever. It was eighth grade and I was warming up on the bunny hill. The rope tow lurched to a stop halfway up the slope. When it restarted, it jerked my noodle arms almost out of their sockets and I landed flat on my face. The back ends of my skis met one another so that one ski pointed due East, while the other pointed due West. There was no way to roll over, no way to get on my knees, no way to get up at all without help. Icy Michigan snow scraped against my cheeks, and I was stuck, along with everyone else on the rope tow. I could feel their expectant eyes waiting for my next move. Someone’s dad finally took pity on me and picked me up. I snowplowed down that bunny hill and never looked back.

So, how do I enjoy the long, cold winters in our quaint ski town? Do I curse the snow, kick my snowblower a few times, and retreat indoors to the warmth of a cozy quilt and good book? Sometimes. But, in truth, I would rather be outside, and I have found endless ways to enjoy the snow without strapping on a pair of downhill skis.

If you are feeling adventurous, there are a number of great opportunities to take a “stay-cation.” This is what I like to call the opportunity to get out of town and have an adventure, without having to spend the night anywhere. In just 45 minutes, you can get from Bozeman to Emigrant, in the Paradise Valley. There you can jump on a dogsled with Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures and see the mountains in a way you have never experienced before. The dogs whisk sleds silently through the mountains, and the joy they clearly feel while running is contagious. The website is a great place to look for more information.

Dogs aren’t the only creatures willing to pull you around in a sled, either. Many places, like the 320 Guest Ranch, offer horse-drawn sleigh rides. Bring the kids. There are plenty of warm, woolen blankets to go around, and the Ranch’s beautiful draft horses won’t mind the extra weight. Sleigh rides last an hour, and involve a stop at the Mountain Man campsite where fires both inside and outside of the tent will keep you warm while you munch on appetizers or dessert and have a warm drink.

If you are interested in spending one night away, Beartooth Powder Guides recently finished construction of a backcountry cabin just south of Cooke City. A two-mile hike on snowshoes will take you to a fully equipped cabin that sleeps up to 10 people. You can reserve the entire cabin, or pay a per person rate and take your chances on potential roommates. Talk about adventure! Beartooth Powder Guides’ website,, can answer all of your questions. The National Forest Service also has a number of rustic cabins that can be reached by snowshoe, cross-country skis, or snowmobile during the winter. They make a great, and inexpensive, “stay-cation.” Visiting allows you to search all the options based on distance from your home.

If you only have an hour or two, and would like to stay closer to home, Bozeman offers a number of things to do. The city of Bozeman builds and maintains three ice rinks, at Beall Park, South Side Park, and Bogert Park. The rinks usually open around the end of December, although it depends on the weather. The Bozeman Recreation Department offers skating lessons at South Side Park for all ability levels. Bogert Park and a rink at South Side Park are often used for pickup hockey games, especially on weekend nights. The rinks are open and lit until 10p.m. every night, so there is plenty of opportunity to glide around under the stars after work. If a light snow is falling, it feels magical. In fact, little neighborhood ice rinks are scattered throughout the county. Try to see how many you can find.

Sledding is another fun way to spend some time outside in the snow, and in Bozeman, we have no shortage of hills. Peet’s Hill in Burke Park is one of the city’s most popular sledding spots. Locals have been zipping down this hill for generations. Another favorite sledding spot is a large hill adjacent to the Dinosaur Playground at the Gallatin County Regional Park on the corner of Oak St. and Davis Ln., just west of 19th Street.

Snowshoeing is my favorite way to spend a winter Saturday. Any trail you love to hike in the summer will be fun to traverse on snowshoes in the winter. Northern Lights Trading Co. and Round House Sports rent snowshoes for $10 per day and $12 per day respectively. Inexpensive winter recreational gear, like snowshoes and ice skates, can also be found at Play It Again Sports. As always, if you are venturing into the mountains, be sure to let someone know where you are going, bring snacks and extra water, and check the avalanche report at

Someday I may decide to try downhill skiing again. After all, a woman is allowed to change her mind. But, there are so many other fun things to do, that I might not have the time.

See you out there! Sarah Cairoli can be reached at

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