By Katie Alvin
Explore Big Sky Contributor
Who in Big Sky doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with offseason? After an intense four months of playing hard, working hard and simply just living through winter, year-round residents get to unwind and regroup in the relative silence of our vacated community.
But May is a fickle friend. One day it’s 70 degrees and sunny, and the next it’s snow and mud again. For many people, this is crazy-making. Here are a few simple tips to help you make the most of offseason:
Proper gear is essential. Remember there is no such thing as bad weather – just bad gear. During spring and fall in Montana, this means tucking a packable set of rain gear and a down or synthetic insulating layer into your bag. Shoes that keep your feet warm and dry are essential too. Add a lightweight hat and gloves, and you’re set to do anything outside, no matter what the weather brings.
Watch the forecast. Know what to prepare for. Take advantage of upcoming good weather to sustain you through the cold gray days. Storms come and go quickly this time of year, so on nice days, plan short outings that make the most of the sunshine without leaving you deep in the backcountry or halfway up a major rock climb when weather moves in.
Seek lower elevations and open or southern exposures. Good standbys for hiking in Big Sky include Porcupine, Ousel Falls or Reflector. Further down the road, hit Castle Rock in the canyon, or get out on one of the great Gallatin Valley trails like Drinking Horse or Sourdough before grocery shopping.
Bike in the valley. The lower elevation means a few weeks’ jump on warm weather, so check with Bozeman bike shops about how their trails are shaping up, or spend a day on the city’s extensive urban trail system. Biking in Big Sky is a lot iffier. It is critical – and sometimes required by law – to stay off trails in spring to protect them from permanent damage. Stick to Big Sky Community Corp.’s paved or improved trails, or take advantage of offseason’s quieter streets and try some road biking.
Head to the Madison. While great for expert whitewater enthusiasts (and recommended for experienced or professional paddlers only) high water on the Gallatin River puts the kybosh on local big water fishing for a while. If you’re willing to make a day of it, to the fishing can still be great this time of year on the upper Madison between the lakes, or on the lower Madison below Ennis Lake. Starting the third Saturday in May, tributaries along the Gallatin open up, along with the rest of the Madison main stem. Small stream fishing with a lightweight rod is a blast. Stop into your favorite local fly shop for the latest on fishing closures and conditions.
Go bouldering. For novice to experienced climbers, the Big Sky Community Park’s artificial boulders provide a surprising challenge for every level of ability. Bouldering is a quick way to wake up those climbing muscles and get in shape for summer. Head out with a friend and refresh yourself on climbing commands and spotting too. Again, if you have a day, the lower Madison will deliver – take a trip to the Beartrap Canyon for an abundance of easily accessible boulder challenges.
This is merely scratching the surface of offseason easy-access outdoor ideas. There’s also disc golf, kite-flying, geocaching, bird-watching, outdoor photography, fort-building, rock-hounding and so much more. Nothing beats the mud season blues better than a couple hours of fresh air, so grab your rain gear, get off the couch and get outside!
Katie Alvin has lived in Big Sky for more than 20 years. With degrees in Environmental Studies and Soil Science, she has been involved with environmental and outdoor education for 25 years, and owns East Slope Outdoors with her husband Dave.