Although Montana is warm and beautiful in the summer, the winter can sometimes be a different story. Though the landscape is still as picturesque as ever, Park County (named for its proximity to Yellowstone National Park) gets an average of 96 inches of snow per year, a far cry from the largely snow-less days seen in . For reference, the yearly snowfall average across the entire United States is generally less than 30 inches. In layman’s terms, Montana gets a lot of snow, a lot more than the Paramount series leads you to believe. Additionally, the state keeps snow on the ground for most months of the year, with July and August being the least likely to catch any (though it’s certainly not impossible).
There’s a reason many visit the state for its skiing, and why college students continue to flock there despite the often frigid winters. Speaking from personal experience (Bozeman’s Montana State University is this author’s alma mater), winters in Montana are generally the longest part of the year and can often last up to eight months, give or take. Though you’ll occasionally see some melted snow in the background on (especially since they moved production from Utah to Montana), the series primarily shoots during the summers. Of course, the show is actually filmed in the Missoula area rather than Bozeman, but that side of the state still gets its fair share of snowfall.
Admittedly, as the series progresses, the Yellowstone Universe has made a more honest effort to show the wintery landscape over time. Fans will notice that the flagship show’s flashbacks to 1893, as well as episodes of the prequel series , better highlight the Montana winter, though even then the snow isn’t terribly deep. No doubt, it’s much harder to film a television series in the winter than in the summer, but it’d also make the series considerably more authentic to the Montana way of life.
According to the University of Montana (boo), the state holds “the national record for cold with a 70-degrees-below-zero reading.” Additionally, 20 degrees below zero isn’t uncommon during the winter months, and it can be easy for pipes to freeze, car batteries to die, and the power to go out. Yes, that very thing has happened to this author. “Travel could be very difficult to impossible and tire chains may be required for some vehicles,” the National Weather Service in central Montana’s Great Falls reported this past March. “Those in the backcountry should ensure they have appropriate knowledge and gear and may want to consider alternate plans.”
There might be occasional references to wintertime on , but nothing the series ever takes the time to really explore, which is actually kind of tragic. Even took the time to address the elements as travelers on the Oregon Trail crossed treacherous rivers, braved fierce tornadoes, and tackled horrid storms. Yes, much of that took place in Texas or on the journey northwestward, but if Sheridan and company could cover those harsh climates, why not do the same for Montana?
With wind chills that can get down to -50 degrees and ice that can make mountain passes incredibly dangerous, the Montana winter isn’t something to take lightly. For the inexperienced in driving on ice or snow, it can be best to take it slow or avoid traveling through the state altogether. Of course, it’s not always that way. There’s plenty to do in a place like Bozeman during the winter, especially if you’re a fan of the outdoors, and even in the frigid cold, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the county. Now, if only could highlight some of that winter scenery and address the occasional harshness of it, maybe then local Montanans would be a bit more accepting of Sheridan’s portrayal.
Beyond the climate itself, there are a few other non-truths about Montana that puts forward. Besides the fact that Bozeman and Paradise Valley aren’t even in the same county (though they’re certainly close enough), there is no Broken Rock Indian Reservation anywhere near those areas. In fact, the closest Native American reservation to the Duttons’ supposed homeland is the Crow Indian Reservation, which is located in the southeastern part of the state, much closer to Billings than to Bozeman.
While a fictionalized reservation isn’t the worst thing could add (it certainly offers a needed perspective that’s accurate to greater Montana, which houses eight tribes and seven reservations), the series highlights a land dispute that doesn’t actually exist. Though folks may own land bordering Yellowstone Park, and likely deal with greedy land developers hoping to build million-plus dollar ranch homes on top of it, the additional Native conflict isn’t a part of everyday living in Paradise Valley.
Beyond that, viewers have rightfully pointed out that, to work a ranch the size of Rhode Island, you’d need more than half a dozen ranch hands to cover all that ground and herd that many heads of cattle. By comparison, King Ranch in South Texas, the inspiration for the Dutton homestead, employs over 700. As a ranching man himself, one would think that filmmaker Taylor Sheridan might note the fantastical nature of John Dutton only employing a handful of workers to run his empire. Since 2021, Sheridan has owned the historic 6666 Ranch located in Guthrie, Texas, a place fans may remember from the series’ fourth season when Jimmy Hurdstrom ( Jefferson White) visited and later moved to the ranch permanently. Of course, not even a big show like could support a cast that size.
Despite the differences between the neo-Western fantasy and reality, Taylor Sheridan’s universe is only picking up more steam. After the successes of prequel spin-offs like and , and more coming down the pipeline, it’s unlikely that the craze will end any time soon. This rings especially true now that Matthew McConaughey has signed on for the upcoming sequel series, taking over lead star duties from Kevin Costner. While he may not compare to John Dutton, he’ll surely bring the added star power that the continuation needs to thrive beyond another year. Who knows, maybe the sequel show will take place during wintertime…