3 Months in Montana

Spring is starting to arrive just as we head out of Montana. The newborn calves are still too small and frail to follow their mom’s around the pasture. So they congregate in nurseries while their older relatives graze on the fresh short grass. They are a sign that it will eventually warm and green up here in Southwestern Montana, although warm up is a relative term this far North. Bush branches have just started to change colors and deciduous trees are showing signs that they will bud soon, but the grass isn’t growing yet. Spring won’t really be upon Bozeman until May, so we’re told.

We arrived on New Year’s Eve 2016 and were welcomed by bitter cold negative temperatures for two full weeks. We spent that first couple of weeks getting to know the bustling town of Bozeman. Home of the mighty Montana State University Cougars, Bozeman has all the benefits of a college town, including public alternative radio. Great bars, pubs, breweries, art, cultural activities and a more progressive liberal feel than other parts of Montana. We fell in love with the Co-op grocery store, Montana Ale Works, and the Tap Room! Another gem of Bozeman is the Montana Grizzly Encounter home to the famous “The Bear Brutus”!

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Sean ripping through “the Bowl” at Big Sky!

Once the bitter temps subsided we began venturing out to what is likely one of the most under-rated North American Ski Resorts – Big Sky.  Just a short 45 minutes south of Bozeman, Big Sky is the biggest ski resort in the USA, with 5,800 acres, 300 runs, 23 lifts, and 60% advanced/expert terrain. Having only hiked their high peaks in the summer, we instantaneously fell in love with the lack of lift lines, heated chair lift in the bowl, and a wide variety of terrain. Big Sky has got it going on unless you’re into awesome Après-ski and that’s where it falls short. It has a large resort style hotels and condos but lacks a “scene” likes it’s closest relative Jackson Hole. If you can do without that you’re rewarded with overall lower costs than JHSR or Park City.

We also skied at Bridger Bowl Sky Resort, a short 20-minutes north of Bozeman. Sitting firmly in the small Bridger mountain range, it often received more snow than Big Sky but it is a locals, family style, small resort with few lifts. It does boast some pretty amazing hike-to terrain but not like the Telluride hike-to terrain. Think short 600-700 foot long runs before you’re back on a groomer, but they’re steep probably 40 degrees with cliff bands to pick through. This is a brown bag kind of resort, probably most like Eldora or Monarch in Colorado.

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Sean on the sharp end in Hyalite Canyon

We took advantage of the extremely cold temps by exploring all of the ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon. Hyalite is often compared to the Ouray Ice Park in Colorado because of the concentration of ice. Unlike Ouray, Hyalite has naturally formed ice and it’s spread out in a way that makes it feel like you’re in a small ice crag, similar to Hidden Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. There’s tons of ice in the canyon, you just have to find it and at popular spots sometimes wait your turn to get on it. From our front door, it took just under an hour to reach the parking lot in Hyalite and there were NO streets lights in-between. It’s super accessible and has loads of trailheads to choose from for backcountry skiing, speed skiing, skate skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing, ice fishing, and of course hiking in drier conditions. With this much terrain it really never feels busy. Bozeman’s water supply comes from this canyon, so there is a large reservoir providing enormous recreational opportunities for everyone.

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On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, giving America its first National Park.

Another gem of the area is the famous Yellowstone National Park. The first park entrance to the first ever national park (Yellowstone) is a 90-minute drive from Bozeman. Having such easy access to one of the crown jewels of the U.S. in our backyard was such a treat. Going in the winter provided amazing scenery as well as the chance to use skis on the snow to access parts of the park you can’t in summer. The other real bonus of going during the winter is that there is 1/1000th of the people found during the peak summer season. We would go long stretches without ever seeing another car on the road and hardly ever ran into anyone once in the backcountry. Anyone who has been there in the summer knows the traffic can rival any metro area. Due to the low snow totals on the north side of the park (good for grazing) we were constantly driving through herds of Bison on the road….that kind of traffic we never mind.

We also used our time in Montana to do some life-planning. While we would love to be vagabonds for the rest of our lives, financially that’s not possible. We can see the end of our travel just around the corner and we need a plan. Where are we going to live? What are we going to do for work? We’ve found it’s easier to answer those questions with negatives… we don’t want to move back to Colorado, we don’t want to go back to our full-time all-consuming American style jobs. Don’t get me wrong we both LOVED our jobs but we worked to pay for a house that held all the stuff we didn’t need to own. It felt like a vicious cycle, that we don’t want to jump back into to. We want more flexibility, more time off and we want to keep our newly adopted minimalist style.

In an effort to get the life planning going, I chose to make an investment in a Transformational Life Coach. I struggled to manage strong emotions on Denali and at the end our Nepal trip and I knew that I needed to learn new tools and techniques to become a better version of myself. On both of those trips, I exhibited negative patterns of behavior that do not serve me well, and I could see where they had also challenged me in work environments in the past. Shortly after we got back to the US, I reached out to a trusted friend for a coach recommendation, not really knowing what a transformational coach was but knowing that I wanted to move forward not focus on my past. Auspiciously, I connected with Elsie Storm who has helped me identify, unwind and let go of patterns of behavior that do not serve me. She has helped me challenge my assumptions, check my perceptions, listen to my inner self, share my loving essence, and speak my truth!

One of the first exercises she had me do was envision my perfect life with the caveat that it had to be at least 50% believable. So BIG dreams! I think Sean and I had tossed the idea around a little bit but I flushed it out in this exercise. The basics are that we want to live in 2 different locations; 50% of the time in the mountains and 50% of the time on the beach. We want jobs that support living in both locations and allow us to enjoy all those environments offer. Not all consuming 40+ hour per week jobs with little time off.

So with that goal in mind, Sean and I sat down and made a list of dream locations. Mountain locations was a no brainer – Zermatt, Switzerland. So we decided to reach out to our new contacts in Zermatt to see what the requirements would be to work there in Winter 2017/18 and explore the possibility of working for them. Beach locations is a little trickier. We love, love, love Destin, Florida but neither of us has been to the Mediterranean coast and we met a climber from Sardinia, Italy that said we need to give it full consideration. So we also decided to sketch out a trip to the Mediterranean coast.

We are happy to share that we have been offered jobs in Zermatt on the condition that we learn to speak fluent German. We had been studying German prior to getting this offer but having this extra motivation has been inspirational. After looking around for immersion courses we came up the plan to both explore the Mediterranean coast and study German in Germany (Deutsch in Deutschland!!!) this upcoming summer.

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While Spring hasn’t arrived in Bozeman it has dried up and warmed up a little. For us, this meant the end of ice climbing and skiing. So in the grips of shoulder season, we began trying out all the rock we could get our hands on. Bozeman has tons of that too! Gallatin Canyon is home to a lot of developed and under-developed climbing areas, sport climbing, multi-pitch trad and loads of bouldering. The rock quality and type varies from bomber granite to dirty gneiss, and chossy everything else.

So our time in Bozeman has been well spent; making new friends, soul-searching and soul-stretching, learning German, practicing yoga, taking guitar lessons at the locally owned music store, and really enjoying all the beauty that Montana offers. Here are some photos from our visit. Bozeman has an enormous concentration of outdoor recreation that’s super accessible with the added bonus of being a really small town (less than 100,000). Montana is the 4th largest state in the country but ranks 48th for population density. If you haven’t visited Montana, go and see for yourself how big the sky really is — you won’t regret it.


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