The Winter Sports Special

Jerry Schuster

So many of you have been contacting me to continue the stories about old town/new town, I just can’t stand all the fuss and am ready to break. Just kidding, but hey, at least you have read this far. Since it is now winter, we have time for some deep reflection on the important things in life, like what the heck to do for sports in Montana during these chilly months.

I will not repeat the story of our move from Wolf Point (old town) to Bozeman (new town) in 2013 since you already know it. In case you have forgotten, you can either read this with no background at all or can Google: #.

Today’s topic is winter sports and activities. Basically, the dichotomy is this: in old town, winter sports generally mean something related to basketball. I am serious here folks. Playing it, watching it, analyzing it, contemplating it and centering social life around it. In new town, winter activities mean skiing, snowshoeing, hiking with “super long ice grips” on boots and fat tire cycling. To be fair, I did see some people playing basketball at the health club, but they were all old duffers who couldn’t hit the hoop. Relax, there were some really good players.

So, in old town, here is a typical week’s sports calendar: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, you go to the local high school gym and watch girls basketball. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings you go to watch boys basketball. Or wait, it might be girls on every other Tuesday and boys on the first Monday of the month, I’ve forgotten.

Now, you might be thinking, this is oh so boring. Not so. When you go to basketball games in small town Montana, you are not just going to watch a game of skill, you are participating in a life event.

Here are a few of the rules and requirements:

--Always sit in the same bleacher seats. This is similar to “your” pew at church. Since everyone knows this is your bleacher seat, there is a sense of order and comfort. You can count on your seat being available even if you are running a bit late because you stopped by Doc Z’s for a pint of the flavor of the week IPA. Last week it was “round ball IPA with a hint of basil and oregano.” Wait, disregard that, I am thinking about the meat balls we are cooking for supper tonight.

--Do not discuss the actual game being played with your bleacher neighbors. This is more of a social event, so you will want to discuss the kids and grandkids. Also, very important, discuss the weather at length. If the game goes into overtime, the weather will actually change while you are there. “Should have put on the snow grips last week…”

Items not to be discussed under any circumstance: religion, politics, your mother-in-law and the stock market. Items allowed and encouraged: Pope Francis, Donald Trump, your father-in-law and cattle and grain prices and futures. “One’s down, one’s up.”

--At half time, proceed to the lobby to visit with the people who don’t sit near you in the bleachers. However, you don’t have to say much since you will be watching the dining area TV monitors for the half time show. This usually consists of preteen kids paying $1.00 for a chance to make a “free throw” basket. If they make the basket, they win a 30 cent pop. They cannot consume the pop on the gym floor, so it usually gets spilled on the bleachers very near to where you are sitting.

So, you see, this is not about basketball. It’s about community. It is quintessential small town Montana life. The sports bring us together in place and time. Discord is set aside as we support our local kids and teams. Wow, this is getting real philosophical and making you all teary-eyed and all and that was not my intention so dry your tears and keep reading. Okay, okay, please, pretty please keep reading.

Now on to new town’s winter sports and activities.

First on the list here are skiing and snowshoeing when there is enough snow. This happens approximately three times a century on average according to the local self-cognizant ski bums (aka ski coaches/trainers, who do white-water float guiding in the off season). What you want to do when you move to new town is go out to the ski swap and pick up some really cheap skis and boots. Use these for your first few runs at Bridger Bowl. Then, if it snows again, you can get yourself some good equipment at one of 753 locations in Bozeman and thanks for shopping locally.

As for the skiing experience, just watch out for the experts, who range in age from 16 months to 8 years of age. Last year when I was trying to right myself from a nasty tumble on the bunny slope green run, a five-year-old skied right up to me, did a triple “cookie” with lots of air and came to a stop next to my extended leg. She said, “beautiful skiing day, mister, do ya need any help?” I advised her to go find her mommy real fast before I got up.

There is another interesting winter sport here. It is “fat tire” biking. You will want to rent the bike for the first few attempts, since the new ones cost about the same as a well-equipped BMW. It might take you about three hours to inflate the tires to the proper pressure, so this is better exercise then the actual ride, which lasts 16 minutes on average.

Oh, you can still play and watch basketball here also. I saw three guys playing last month, and found out they were imports from California. I asked if they had tried skiing and they said they didn’t know there was a lake around here that was ice-free in the winter. I wished them well in their acculturation to life in Bozeman.

Bored, tired, depressed because it’s winter? You’re in the winter activities center of the USA! Get out there and take it in, whether it’s sittn’ in the bleachers or wiping out on the bunny slope, Montana has it all. Just show up and enjoy!  

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