Backcountry Skiing Bozeman

Words and Photos by Max Schrank

The winds of change are blowing in Hyalite Canyon. Bluebird skies and melting snow signal to locals that spring is on its way and the time to change up the gear and move to the next sport of the season is upon us. With only a few weeks left before Hyalite Canyon is barricaded for spring melt-off, those still hungry for winter activities take to the snowy trails.

Weekend skies were cloudless with the intense sun beating down. With more of the same this morning, the premier time to get out seemed, to me, to be sometime in the late morning. Hoping for a somewhat quiet trail and soft snow to carve my “new” splitboard into I arrived at the trailhead around noon.

Knowing there were only hours until I had to be back to town for work I hustled to gather my gear and get moving. I found a good rhythm quickly as the trail rose gradually into the hills. The route was somewhat familiar, as I had hiked the History Rock trail a couple times prior; though never making it to the top due to unfavorable conditions.

The flats passed quickly as I moved to a more intense incline. Turning to switchback, I lost my balance and slid back a few feet. I instinctively planted my poles to catch my fall. My next moves would need to be more calculated as I moved upward. I cautiously lifted my foot to continue on and backward I went again. With time moving and me at a standstill, I slowed my adrenaline and began to reassess the situation.

Scanning the terrain I found the route that looked the most ideal to get me to the preferred destination. I pulled my phone out to check the time and I had only 25 minutes to get as high as I could before descending. I pocketed my phone, put my head down and trudged on up the slope. As I came to my next switchback it was more of the same. I felt like an infant giraffe learning to walk. Flustered, I gained balance and moved on, only to struggle again at the next switchback.

As the trail meandered on through the trees and up the slope I again found a rhythm. With the gentle March breeze blowing and warm spring-esque sun beating on my face, I glided to an internal metronome, knowing my end point was nearing with every step. With my head down and the pistons chugging, I came to a point where the trees opened up a bit within the forest. Looking up, I gazed upon a gathering of trees that stood out among the rest.

Amongst the Firs and Pines, all holding pillows of snow was a triad of barren, twisted trees. These trees intertwined with one another in a braided fashion. Red and brown tie-dye of new growth showing through spots of grey lifeless skin contrast against the deep greens of the Firs and bright white shine of the snow. With the sun peeking through the double helix of timber that seemed to reach above the rest of the forest around it I realized that I had come to my stopping point.

Throwing my pack off from around my shoulders I quickly guzzled down some water for a quick second of relaxation. Grabbing my phone from my pocket I was struck when I saw that I had found my return point only minutes after my desired timeframe. I hastily removed my bindings, peeled back my skins, and returned my splitboard from tour mode to shred mode. One final gulp of water to rehydrate me a bit. I removed my goggles and gloves and repacked my backpack for the jaunt down. With my body temperature cooling and my heart rate slowing back to a normal pace I threw on my jacket, helmet, goggles, and pack.

At this point, all of the sweat and frustration of my first skinning excursion were behind me. Untouched snow softened by the mid-March sun lay immediately ahead of me with a well-covered gradually sloped trail back to my van just beyond that. Everything went quiet in my head as I pushed to start, my board carving through the snow as I gained speed. Catching air over a rolling snowdrift I entered into a state of trance. My mind and body so in tune that I moved without effort or thought. My board became an extension of my body as I flew down the mountain floating on the surface of the snow. Flowing from edge to edge down the open meadow, I quickly came back to the trail. I continued to pump my way down, occasionally going airborne over fallen trees and side hits just off of the trail.

Before I knew it, I was back to the opening at the beginning of the trail. I hustled back to the van, removed my gear, peeled off my sweaty shirts and socks, climbed into the driver’s seat and made my way back to town and back to the job that affords me the ability to do things like I had just done.

As I drove to work it dawned on me that I hadn’t even consciously taken the time to fully enjoy what it was I was doing out there. I had done something new, but I was in such a time crunch that it was literally an up and down trip. I didn’t take the time to stop and breathe and enjoy the stillness of the mountain because I was so rushed to get back to work. With that, what did I truly accomplish from this experience?

What do we ever accomplish with snowboarding? There is no tangible acquisition we get from sliding sideways down a mountain. What we get is a feeling of complete freedom. When we float effortlessly from side to side, it gives us a feeling of inner peace, a feeling that everything going on in the world at that moment ceases to exist and all that matters is what lies in front of us. With this thought in my head, I smiled and walked into work for the night.

Check out where this adventure is on Bivy:

You might also like