Western Montana: A seasonal guide for outdoor recreation

The seasons dictate what we do outside and how we do it.  Outdoor recreation is at it’s best when the intersection of equipment, terrain and weather come together to provide an experience which is aesthetically interesting and spiritually satisfying.  Hauling a bike through unrideable powder or peanut butter mud does neither, nor does skiing micro-patches of summer snow or  your bases on rocks and stumps.  There are, in short, proper seasons for proper activities, and it’s a good idea to embrace them, rather than looking forward to the next, longer for thing that won’t actually come into shape for a month or more.  (Human though that urge is.)

On the other hand, there is a certain pleasure to be had in defying conventional wisdom, or at the very least in finding its ground truth for yourself.  All advice is after all a mere guide for being there yourself.  With that in mind, I present my own opinions and suggestions about what activities are best suited for the 12 months of the year, if you happen in be west of the Continental Divide in Montana.

January

Powder skiing.   Ski touring. 

February

Powder skiing.  Ski touring.  Low altitude skiing.

March

BC skiing (low altitude pack beginning to dissipate).   Bring out the bike, to ride the road.  Streams start to thaw and come up.

April

Skiing runs the gamut from corn to pow, stable to hazardous.  Good, cold boating and fishing.  First dry trails, but the biking won’t be good for a while yet.

May

Sleeper powder days, t-shirt skiing.  Dry trails below 5-k (maybe).  Rivers huge by months end.

June

Flowers, bugs, high altitude skiing.   Great boating, hiking, and biking.  Enjoy life without crowds if you’re willing to posthole.

July

Many more bugs and flowers, mountains officially “open.”  Tail end of runoff means small streams clear and floatable.  Big hikes and rides in the mountains.  Hand up the skis, the action is elsewhere.

August

High season.  Climb the mountains without snow.  Dodge crowds.  Fish high lakes, ride at altitude.

September

First snow up high, gorgeous weather at other times.  Crystalline hiking, cycling, and fishing.  Good, slow boating.

October

Winter comes to the mountains, with varied ferocity.  Bring the snowshoes and enjoy sans humans (except hunters).  The best low country mountain biking.  Fantastic fishing on warm afternoons.  Skiing will not be as good as you think, so don’t yet bother.

November

Sure to have more of all the other seasons than any single month.  In a good year the skiing will be great by months ends, in a bad year it will be -15 on Thanksgiving.  The country usually closes out, though that could be delayed until early December.

December

Cold, dark, winter.  Some of the best snow of the year, if/when it comes.

In short, Montana is coming up upon the season of all possibilities, and I am excited for it.

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3 thoughts on “Western Montana: A seasonal guide for outdoor recreation

  1. October skiing has been good here in the SW all three seasons I’ve lived in Bozeman.

    However, overall your month-by-month breakdown is not only accurate but honest. People who live here can be grouped into three categories.

    1. Those who live in the moment/season and who enjoy whatever activity is best suited for that moment/activity

    2. People who are always looking-ahead to the next season, aka can’t wait to mtn bike starting in March and can’t wait to start skiing come September.

    3. The lazy, couch-sitting-t.v.-watching lamos who bitch about everything all the time and never do anything about anything.

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