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With COVID-19 cases surging across the country and cold temperatures pushing people indoors, finding new ways to get outside and away from the crowded gym is more important than ever. 

While many MSU students usually find themselves up at Bridger Bowl for a casual after-class run, the resort has implemented a new reservation system to help prevent COVID-19 spread on the mountain. Reservations can be made up to four days in advance (as long as they’re made after 2 p.m.). Reservations are limited and given on a first-come, first-served basis, but cancellations often provide last-minute opportunities. 

Though the plethora of backcountry skiing areas around Bozeman offer sparser crowds and more casual access, the dangers of backcountry touring have already been proven. The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) has already received 24 reports of avalanches since October, including one on Friday, Jan. 8 near Cooke City that caught and injured a skier who required a helicopter evacuation.

Class information on backcountry travel (including snowmobiling, ice climbing and snowshoeing) and avalanche awareness can be found online at mtavalanche.com/education

For those looking for an easier option, the Outdoor Recreation Program (ORP) offers free two-hour rentals for cross country ski gear (skis, boots and poles) for the Lambert Field nordic track next door. Cross country gear can also be checked out for two-day periods for only $15.

The Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) grooms over 70 kilometers of nordic trails in the Bozeman area. While passes to these community trails are complimentary, users are highly encouraged to buy passes and donate to the BSF to keep the trails well maintained. More information can be found at bridgerskifoundation.org/trails.

On warmer days, sunny climbing areas like Allenspur (offering sport climbing just south of Livingston) and Whiskey Gulch bouldering (near Whitehall) can provide shockingly pleasant conditions for mid-winter Montana. However, the closest spot for winter climbing sits at the Winterwall along the scenic Madison river between Four Corners and Norris. Climbing gear can be rented through the ORP or purchased for a fair price at Second Wind Sports.

Even with the promise of a vaccine just around the corner, it’s critical to stay diligent and conscious of how something as simple as recreation or exercise can harm the community. But given how many people need a healthy way to relieve stress in the current state of affairs, exercise and recreation may be needed now more than ever. So, as brutal and cold as Montana winters are, finding a way to get out and get active might just be the best thing for not just personal health but also the health of the community. 

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