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Photo by Patrick Colleran
Jan 25 2018

No Snow? No Problem

Five way to have fun when the snow isn't falling.

Exploring Montana, Featured

Winter is at its best when the snowfall is measured in meters and the thermometer stays solidly below freezing. You can ski right out of the back door, follow animal tracks through the woods, and enjoy the muffled silence of a thick blanket of snow. 

It doesn’t always work that way, though. What about those unfortunate times when warm days and cold nights combine to develop a rock-solid crust or when, worst of all, extended warm spells melt the snow away entirely? 

Don’t despair - there’s still plenty to do. The next time your perfect powder turns into something a little less ideal, try one of these five wintertime activities to keep your spirits high until the snow flies again (full disclosure: some of these might actually become winter staples whether the powder’s piling up or not. You’ve been warned.)

1. Go Ice Skating

We’re not talking about going to your local rink, we’re talking about adventure skating. If it’s been cold but the snow hasn’t come, stick your skates in your pack, throw a shovel over your shoulder, and head uphill to a pond or lake that’s had a solid chance to freeze. There’s nothing quite like clearing a few inches of snow off an alpine pond and zipping around the glassy ice that’s hidden underneath. Solitude’s a good bet, too, so it’ll be just you and the sound of your skates on the ice.

2. Catch Some Fish 

Thought fishing was a summer sport? The dedicated (and maybe slightly crazy) angler knows that the trout are still there when the weather’s cold. You just have to gear up properly and know where to look. Check out streams like the Bighorn and Madison if you’re looking for some great winter action. Bonus: fish tend to rise in the afternoon on sunny winter days and all day long when it’s cloudy and cold, so you can sleep in without feeling guilty about it. 

3. Learn New Skills

The best time to practice winter backcountry skills is before you find yourself in a sticky situation. A dry spell is a great opportunity to learn how to build an emergency fire, make a shelter, assess avalanche safety, and practice navigation and search and rescue skills. Luckily enough, those are all things you can do on one of MWA’s Wild Winter Offerings! Check out the programs all winter long and all over the state on our Wilderness Walks page

4. Explore Your Local Trails

Even if you’re familiar with your favorite trails in the summer, they’ll have totally different characteristics in the winter. The ways to explore are endless, from hiking and trail running to snowshoeing and even fat biking. Depending on where you are, you could see signs of deer and elk forage, the tracks of a cougar, or the black-tipped tail of an otherwise snow-white ermine. Keep an eye out too for tree-dwelling porcupines, soaring bald eagles, curious owls, foxes, and coyotes.  

5. Try Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is a lot more complex and technical than everything else on this list, but it’s a great winter activity whether it’s snowy or not. The ice in Hyalite Canyon, in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest outside Bozeman, is some of the best in the country, so if you have a skilled partner or are ready to hire a guide, there’s no better place to experience this side of winter. 

That's just a start. There are tons of non-snowy winter adventures out there, so don't be shy about finding your favorite.