Somehow, almost inexplicably, the snow is staying soft. Cooper is lapping the Alpine lift, handling the blues like they are greens and managing to miss random trees and the surprising number of skiers who are here. But the snow! It’s only snowed a few inches in the past week, and barely more than that in the past month, and on top of that it’s been unseasonably warm with cool clear nights: the mountain ought to be a sheet of ice, but it’s not. After two hours we move down the mountain to eat lunch on the tailgate and in the sun before heading back up, this time to the south side of the mountain. What a big place, and a great deal considering the terrain. We like it.
Bozeman is a few steps behind Missoula when it comes to local brews, but Montana Ale Works is helpign to make up the difference. This converted brick building serves great food and a full slate of Montana beers on tap. What's really cool, however, is that while you can find some of the most popular beers in Montana here, you can also find plenty which you're probably never heard of -- I'm talking about breweries from places like Libby, Wolf Point, and Sidney. As for food, you're in luck. The menu is small but focused and everything goes well with beer. I recommend The Jake, a jalapeno and cream burger served with excellent paremeson fries.
Well, University of Montana and Montana State University fans can argue ad infinitum about whose school has a better “M” trail, but the best way to make friends is simply to hike them both. Actually, both trails are similar in distance (.5 to 1.5 miles each way, depending on the trail) and vertical rise (850 for Bozeman, a bit less for Missoula). The main difference is that the Missoula trail starts right in town and has full views of the Missoula Valley the entire time, while the Bozeman trail starts several miles from town and only has a good view at the end. Bozeman’s M sits at the mouth of Bridger Canyon at a well-signed trailhead. There is a short and steep way up, or a slightly longer and slightly less steep way up. The letter is 250 feet tall and was first placed on the mountain in 1915 but MSU students. The views from the top stretch across the Gallatin Valley and are hard to beat (…unless you are a University of Montana fan, of course).
History Rock is a popular hiking and skiing route in Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman. Hyalite is a sort of urban canyon of wonders, just miles from town but studded with piercing peaks and waterfalls. History Rock is a 2.8 mile one-way trail that winds past a rock full of carved names to an overlook of the Blackmore Mountain and Elephant Mountain area, and you can also crane your neck to take in the Crazy and Bridger ranges to the east and north. The hike here is moderate. In winter, Hyalite Canyon is plowed (but not sanded, so take care) and History Rock is a popular backcountry ski destination known for good views and low avalanche danger.
All the families that I know come back from Bozeman raving about the Dinosaur Park, so we had to see what the deal was. This new park is part of a much larger county regional park, and kids love it. It's a large playground full of swings, jumps, forts, and toys I'm not even sure how to describe, but the heart of it is a sand pit -- dig down and you "uncover" dinosaur "bones". The bones are permanent and not really bones, of course, but the kids love it, even when they know what they will find. The larger regional park has ponds, trails, and bike paths. Best of all, right next to Dinosaur Park is a fire station. We easily passed two hours here on a windy Sunday afternoon, and would have stayed longer if nap time had not approached.
Bozeman is a few steps behind Missoula when it comes to beer brewing, but this new spot is helping to make up for lost time. 406 Brewing takes it name from the state's area code -- there is just one for the whole of Montana. They usually have about eight beers on tap -- a solid lineup, dependable but not too imaginative. We tried the Robust Porter and the Chinook Imperial IPA. Both were toasty and tasty and the porter was a good deal at $4 for a pint. 406 Brewing also has a full menu -- pizzas are the specialty but they also have nachos and sandwiches. I'd recommend a chicken pesto sandwich and a sobrillo pizza, which has a house-made garlic sauce. Kids are welcome, and there is house-made root beer to keep them lubed up.