Why I Love Montana? Helena Winter Culture

Although officially the Winter Solstice begins December 21, those of us who live in Big Sky Country know it can come much earlier. Winter can start knocking on our doors here in the Helena area as soon as mid-September. It's mother-natures way of alarming us of what's to come and reminding us to get prepared for our long winter season, if we've not done so yet. Even though it can be cold and snowy in our Big Sky Country for a good part of the year, there are ways to keep a smile on your face during the winter season.

Why I Love Montana? Helena Winter Culture

Although officially the Winter Solstice begins December 21, those of us who live in Big Sky Country know it can come much earlier. Winter can start knocking on our doors here in the Helena area as soon as mid-September. It's mother-natures way of alarming us of what's to come and reminding us to get prepared for our long winter season, if we've not done so yet. Even though it can be cold and snowy in our Big Sky Country for a good part of the year, there are ways to keep a smile on your face during the winter season.

Montana Winters are not for Whimps.

Frigid times can come on slowly while at other times the transition is abrupt. Located on the eastside of the Continental Divide only 15 miles east of MacDonald Pass, Helena receives just enough snow to enjoy wintertime activities. On average, Helena receives 37" of snow per year. Couple that with an average of 189 sunny days, along with relatively low humidity, and you've got a favorable recipe for playing outside during our coldest months.

It's WINTER…so get outside.

Even if you don't cross-country or downhill ski/snowboard, Montana is a winter wonderland filled with endless opportunities for activeness and adventures. And, you won't have to travel far! Many of these exciting winter activities are found right here in our backyard, in the heart of Helena.

Snowshoeing. If you can walk, then you can snowshoe! Don't have any of those interesting contraptions to lace to you feet? Our local outdoor stores – The Base Camp and Capital Sports – offer rentals, including cross-country skis too. Need help finding a trail? Pick up a copy of Jannis LeBlanc's "Day Hikes Around Helena, Montana: 52 Hikes for Beginners, Families and Advanced Hikers" for quick trips near town to more adventurous weekend excursions. Or, download the latest Prickly Pear Land Trust digital interactive map to better explore trails directly in Helena's backyard, the South Hills. Just a hop-skip-jump from town is 5,800 acres of BLM recreation land, the Scratchgravel Hills. With a surprising amount to explore, this area can be accessed from five trailheads with the most popular being on Echo Road and Head Lane. It's best to navigate this country using the smartphone app TrailForks, a trail database and management system that offers user input to track trail conditions as well as aid in keeping you on the proper trail. Helena is also fortunate to be surrounded in all directions by National Forest areas. Visit the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest website or the office, located at 2880 Skyway Drive, for information and maps to the many areas surrounding Helena.

Fat Tire Biking. Avoid the dreaded trainer and float on top of snowy terrain on a fat tire bike with tires ranging from 3.7" to 5.5" wide. You can ride fat tire bikes anywhere! My favorite in-town trails include: the new Tenmile Creek Park, Eagle Scout to Mt. Ascension, and Wakina Sky Gulch to the meadow. For more adventures close to Helena, tour the Scratchgravels just northwest of town, Minnehaha Creek area near Rimini or the new Copper City Trails near Three Forks. From Helena, the 4.5-hour trip to "Wydaho" (Victor, Idaho) can provide endless miles of epic fat tire biking. Don't have a "fattie"? You can rent Fat Tire Bikes from Helena's local bikes shops – the Great Divide Cyclery or Big Sky Cycling & Fitness. A good rule of thumb as you head out for a wintery ride: dress like you're going skiing.

Cross Country Skiing. If you prefer to work up a sweat when you ski, the Bill Roberts Golf Course, located in town, provides four kilometers of skate and classic track. Only 15 miles out of town, the MacDonald Pass area offers fourteen kilometers of groomed skate and classic ski trails to explore. Support Helena's hometown group whom graciously grooms these trails by joining the Last Chance Nordic Ski Club. Membership is open to skiers of all abilities.

Downhill Skiing/Snowboarding. Known as Montana's sunniest ski area, the Great Divide is located only 23 miles from Helena. Offering a variety of trails and terrain parks for alpine adventures of all abilities, the Great Divide features reasonable rates and a fun family atmosphere you just can't beat. If you're looking for more adventure, Helena is centrally located and close to ski areas such as Discovery (95 miles), Showdown (110 miles), Bridger Bowl (115 miles), Snowbowl (124 miles), Big Sky (140 miles) and Whitefish Mountain (215 miles). No matter where you go, you're sure to find epic skiing at all of Montana's ski resorts!

Family Activities. For those adventure seekers with children, Helena will not disappoint. Make the most of winter with fun outdoor activities like ice skating at the Memorial Park Warming House & Ice Rink or sledding Helena's popular in-town sledding areas (Carroll College and St. Peter's Hospital). Another favorable location not too far from Helena for family-friendly adventuring is the Ten Mile Creek Picnic area. Located only 8 miles southwest of Helena off Rimini Road, the Ten Mile Creek Picnic area provides parking so you can trek up the environmental educational trail to the Lazyman Gulch sledding area. This sledding spot is my favorite, especially for wee-ones! If you continue trekking, preferably on snowshoes or cross-country skis, pass the sledding area the trail will eventually loop back around. Has your family ever stayed in a hundred year old cabin? Just a mile or so further down Rimini Road, Moose Creek Cabin, a two-bedroom facility, is open year round to rent for the night. Activities like these will keep your children entertained throughout the frosty season.

Helena's Backcountry. Looking for solitude and powder in all the wrong places? Look no more! If it happens to be one of those winters then there will be enough snow to skin and ski Helena's South Hills. If you don't mind driving 20-60 minutes, there are other heavenly winter wonderlands like Red Mountain, the Elkhorns, Stemple Pass, Mt. Edith-Mt. Baldy Complex, Stonewall/ Copper Mountains, to name a few. Do you prefer feeling the wind in your face as you experience the thrill on a snowmobile? The Rimini-Elliston-Basin Snowmobile Loop trailhead begins at Moose Creek on the Rimini Road, just 10 miles southwest of Helena, offers 161 miles of marked ungroomed and groomed trails. Boasting astounding views of the Gate of the Mountains Wilderness, the Magpie-Sunshine area, northeast of Helena, has 45 miles of groomed trails. Located only 23 miles from Helena, another local favorite is the Marysville/Austin area highlighting 45 miles of groomed trails. The Helena Snowdrifter Snowmobile Club is open to all who want to promote the sport of snowmobiling and build a strong foundation for future generations. The club provides activities and services, and manages the grooming program for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Frosty Fly Fishing. Sitting in a shack over a frozen body of water ice-fishing isn't the only option for fishing during the snowy season. Once thought to be mutually exclusive, winter and fly fishing is an excellent way to find peace and solitude on Helena area creeks and rivers. My local favorites to fish during the chilly months are the Prickly Pear Creek near Montana City and the Little Blackfoot River near Elliston. Although I keep my eyes out for dry-fly fishing opportunities, nymphing with a Tenkara rod is the best way to have success. Another beloved winter fishery is the mighty Missouri River near the towns of Wolf Creek and Craig. The only way I fish this big body of water in the winter is spey casting. Trout Spey is more about casting rather than gear. Fly fishing for trout using spey casting techniques is a fun and effective way to experience the river from a different perspective. If you need help getting into the world of Trout Spey, with a few pointers Helena's local fly shops – CrossCurrents, Montana Fly Goods and Wolf Creek Angler –can quickly get you out on the river.

Other Nearby Winter Activities. Winter is an incredible opportunity to have Montana's National Parks all to oneself. Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks both offer free ranger-led winter snowshoe hikes where you can learn about wildlife, history and ecology of the area. An easy hour and a half drive to Whitehall, the Lewis and Clark Caverns calls attention to one of the most decorated limestone caverns in the Northwest featuring Candlelight Tours during the holiday season. Try Skijoring at The Resort at Paws Up near Greenough, Montana or watch a Skijoring competition. You ask, what's Skijoring? Skijoring is a Scandinavian term that means, "ski driving". Skijoring combines Montana ski heritage with its cowboy roots to create an adrenaline-rush winter sport where a skier gets pulled by a horse. Want a more relaxing outdoor winter adventure? Tour Montana Hot Springs. From developed hot springs, like Helena's Broadwater Hot Springs & Fitness or Fairmont Hot Springs in Anacaonda, to undeveloped hot springs such as the Boiling River Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner or Renova Hot Springs in Whitehall there's nothing quite like sitting in a hot springs in the middle of winter.

It's possible to have fun and keep active during the winter if you know how to take advantage of the season. Montana winters are abounding with opportunities for those seeking adventures that won't disappoint. Contact me, Jennifer Harris, your Go2Girl Realtor® at Most Wanted Real Estate, so I can help you discover why you'll love to live in Montana when the weather outside is frosty. Call (406) 465-0326 today so I can help you love where you live! 

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Wednesday, 21 August 2019
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