BOZEMAN, Mont. - NBC Montana talked to Forest Service officials to find out more about open snowmobiling areas around Bozeman, after riders were caught in a New Year's Day avalanche in a closed area.
Bozeman Ranger District's Wendi Urie pointed out snowmobile trails on a Gallatin National Forest map.
"You can't look at a map and say that whole green blob is rideable, but there are lots of opportunities," said Urie.
They're opportunities for folks of all of abilities. She pointed out Battle Ridge and Fairy Lake in the Bridgers and said some of that terrain can be more technical. But just across the road in the Bangtails you can find the more family friendly Olson Creek. She said Goose Creek in Bear Canyon is another great spot for families.
Heading into Gallatin Canyon, Little Bear is the start of the Big Sky Snowmobile Trail and a corridor to even more terrain.
However Urie said, "Open areas are open for resource reasons, not because of safety reasons. We don't close areas for a safety reason," explained Urie.
That means just because an area is open doesn't ensure it's safe.
"When it's like this, you don't go in those areas. You don't go where there's a danger of getting trapped in an avalanche," said snowmobiler Kerry White.
White has been snowmobiling since he was a kid and told NBC Montana this could be the worst avalanche season he's ever experienced. He said he still goes out on his sled but always takes precautions.
"Know what the avalanche conditions are, know where you're riding, the terrain you're riding in. Keep in mind you're responsible for yourself, but there are other people that are with you. If you see somebody that's riding irresponsibly, let them know," explained White.
Kerry said he carries a beacon, shovel and probe. He checks the avalanche advisory every day but also digs a snowpit to double check conditions.
While Kerry believes there are more areas in the Gallatin National Forest that could be open to riders, he says when avalanche danger is high, it's better to avoid dangerous terrain altogether.
"If you can't go there this year, you'll be able to go there next year," said White.
You can find more in the Gallatin National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Map. Pick one up for free at the Bozeman Ranger District.