Video & Photo Story: Jeff Kendall-Weed Explores Montana's Wild Places With MTB Missoula

Mar 16, 2021
by Jeff Kendall-Weed  


Photo by Logan Patrick Nelson
Missoula, MT
Montana is wild.

photography by Aaron Teasdale // video filmed by Logan Nelson // words and video editing by Jeff Kendall-Weed
Missoula, MT is home to MTB Missoula, a 501 (c)3 club, as well as a university (Go Monte!). It was also a campsite on Lewis and Clark’s expedition in 1805.

All I used to know about Montana was that it’s “Big Sky Country,” thanks to my local radio station playing that melodic Chris Whitley song every night. I’d listen in my garage as I tried to return my octagonal wheels to their normal oval shape, and it would have me dreaming that somewhere in Montana would indeed be huge mountains with sketchy, skinny trails winding perilously down from snow covered peaks, under that storied sky. It would take me many years to finally make a trip there, but when I finally did experience that sky and those rocky peaks, I most definitely had that same Whitley song stuck in my helmeted head. And, my wheels by then resembled a circle more than any other geometric shape. (Usually.)

Photo by Logan Patrick Nelson
Descending Carlton Ridge just south of Missoula, Brian Williams leads Ben Horan. Ben is the former MTB Missoula executive director, and Brian is the trails director and acting executive director. Carlton Ridge is a great example of the many backcountry trails that MTB Missoula helps clear and maintain annually.


With the Collegiate National Championships happening in Missoula well after I had graduated from both my time at my university and my party-hearty visits back to see friends still working toward their diplomas, I hadn’t had a specific reason to visit Montana. No NORBA nationals were held there when I was racing, and it was too far to travel to briefly while I was living and working in Santa Cruz, CA. So, I didn’t know much about the Montana mountain biking scene. That would change late one evening at a bike industry event in Santa Cruz.

The original inhabitants of Missoula were a Salish tribe called Nemissoolatakoo, from which the word “Missoula” was derived.

While attending the launch of the V4 Ripley, I chatted with a couple from Missoula. I excitedly told them about my Local Loam series, as I had just returned from sunny and vibrant Puerto Rico and was thinking about where to go next. They immediately spilled over with enthusiasm about how much their local advocacy club, MTB Missoula, had recently accomplished there. I remembered that my friend Sam Schultz also had spoken highly of the same shovel-wielding Montanans, so I decided right then and there that I would make a trip to Missoula, and an episode, happen soon. Or so I thought…

Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Photo by Logan Patrick Nelson
Carlton Ridge and Sheep Mountain are two of the backcountry routes that MTB Missoula helps maintain. These rides were both a lot of fun, though we were only able to out-and-back on Carlton. Sheep Mountain was a blast, which we rode as a loop. With our trusted guide, Mr. Sam Schultz, we found our way out in the dark, an hour after sun down. Some would say we got “Schultzed!”


Fast forward a few weeks later and I was lying in a hospital bed with my pelvis snapped in two. While I considered still making the trip without a bike of my own since a “full” recovery looked to be about 10 weeks away, I figured a Local Loam episode would be best served if I were able to throw knobbies to dirt myself alongside the staff of MTB Missoula. When Logan and I finally made the trip at the dusty end of summer 2019, it would then still be nearly two years until I’d finally get the video done. Honestly, Missoula is so beautiful that a lot of the delay was due to self-inflicted pressure to make the video something special, something that would at least begin to portray this club in a manner befitting them and their amazing work.

Photo by Logan Nelson
Photo by Logan Nelson
Ben Horan (left) descending Carlton ridge. Brian Williams (right) airing out a root.

So who and what is MTB Missoula? Operating as a 501(c)3 non-profit, the club answers to a board of directors and has a full-time staff of two. From my own experiences with the Local Loam series, it really appears that when an advocacy group is able to employ full-time staff, the results are far more productive than a purely volunteer effort. Why? Full-timers are able to put more hours into the project, of course, but a paid staff brings much more legitimacy when working with governmental agencies. A big part of advocacy work is simply acting as a conduit for communication between mountain bikers and land managers. Someone who is available on a full-time basis is almost guaranteed to have the best results.

Photo by Logan Nelson
The Lolo Peak Fire of 2017 burned 2 years prior to our visit, so while we were riding through a skeleton forest, we were treated to the occasional site of new blooms. With the sun setting on our ride, the lack of overhead vegetation also kept us from getting “Horaned” in the dark.


One of those MTB Missoula staffers, Brian Willians, the Trails Director and acting Executive Director, is an experienced machine operator and trail builder. Sampling some of Brian’s work on “Bjorn Again” was one of the highlights of the trip. At one point on the trail, a series of giant, sweeping berms traverses a grass-covered ski hill. Normally, at bike parks, berms are built about as steeply as intermediate level riders would ever need. Not the case here -- these berms were so well built, with plenty of inclination and with radii that matched, that it felt like an intergalactic slot car track when hauling the mail into these glorious “s” turns.

Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Marshall Mountain is home to a small bike park. A former ski resort, now it sports several fun descents. Bjorn Again, Hello Kitty, and the other trails on the upper mountain are forever safe in the hands of Five Valleys Land Trust and at no risk of being closed.

The other full time staffer was Ben Horan. Was? After four years as executive director, Ben recently announced his departure from the club. Ben came into the advocacy line after having been a race promoter. In fact, I found some video of him being interviewed after helping host one of the first MTB races in Missoula. While Ben could never be “replaced,” I’m sure that MTB Missoula will find a wonderful new executive director who can bring a unique set of skills to continue the group’s important work.

Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Brian Williams rails through the monster berms that he built as a part of the Bjorn Again trail on Marshall Mountain. I found it really inspiring that the club has showcased its abilities through Marshall Mountain, and now with their proven success, more new opportunities are becoming a reality. The land for Marshall is owned by the Five Valleys Land Trust, and it really seems that finding who the major landowners are in a region, and fostering those relationships, is an ideal use of advocacy resources.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Brian Williams is an experienced trail builder. Bonus fun fact, Brian made custom bicycle saddles in his garage under the “Catahoula” brand name. More on that here. A key aspect of what makes for a successful advocacy group is full time staff. Volunteers come and go, and of course sometimes staff do as well, but dedicated personnel really help advocacy groups stick around for the long haul.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Brian drops out of Bjorn Again. A big supporter of MTB Missoula is Big Sky Brewing Co. Noted as the funding partner for the trail, the club wanted a way to thank them for the support, but without an overtly commercial display. The solution? The owner of the brewery’s first name is Bjorn. How about “Bjorn Again?” Sounds good to me!


Montana is the third most sparsely populated state in the USA, at 7 inhabitants per square mile, ranking third behind Alaska and Wyoming.

Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Meg Whicher works for the City of Missoula, and leads the Zootown Derailleurs, a youth mountain biking program. As the father of a 4 year old, I think it’s awesome that this program exists, as I really hope my little gal can find as many good friends through cycling as I have.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Meg samples Hello Kitty. This trail is a popular post-work trail for locals.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Brian Williams rails through the monster berms that he built as a part of the Bjorn Again trail on Marshall Mountain.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Brian leads the crew down Hello Kitty.


Photo by Logan Patrick Nelson
Ben Horan, the former executive director, is moving on. I had a great time spending a couple days with Ben and Brian both, and I’m sure that wherever Ben finds himself, those involved will be lucky to have him.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Ben guides his Kona Process through a sweeping berm, as Meg and Jeff in the background wonder if they’ll ever be able to catch him.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Of all bike park berms I’ve ridden, including Whistler Bike Park, these are my favorite. I have no affiliation with Marshall Mountain or MTB Missoula, I simply love the way these turns flow together!


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
The Collegiate National Championship race in 2017 was the deadline for completion of the construction of Bjorn Again. This section here was one of my favorites.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Marshall Mountain has a history of recreation, beginning as a ski hill in 1950. The hill ceased snow operations in 2003, when rumors of an IRS seizure began to circulate. The mountain itself is owned by the Five Valleys Land Trust, though the base area continues with a private land owner.


Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Jeff attempts to table top off a small drop near the bottom of Bjorn Again.


MTB Missoula currently has a lot going on. In addition to continuing the work at Marshall Mountain, they are also searching for solutions to preserve old freeride trails in another part of the valley called Deep Creek.

Since this was filmed, as part of another project with Five Valleys Land Trust and the City of Missoula, MTB Missoula built a 4 mile trail called “High, wide and handsome,” which goes to the top of Mount Dean Stone, on the south side of town. In 2021, they’ve just won the contract to extend that trail with a new 4.5 miles of ridgeline singletrack called “House of Sky,” which will create a 9 mile continuous singletrack trail around the southern side of Pattee Canyon, the most remote parts of which will be hand-built. You can bet that I will be excited to ride all that! Perhaps a follow up episode might be needed? In the meantime, I have a lot of memories to look back on when I hear Chris Whitley’s “Big Sky Country” any time I’m doing wheel maintenance these days.

Local Loam: a series produced by Jeff Kendall-Weed that tells the stories of how successful advocacy groups build rad mountain bike riding communities through excellent trails.

Supported by:
Jenson USA, PNW Components, and Industry Nine

Previous Local Loam episodes have visited:
Pittsburgh, PA
Kamloops, BC
Puerto Rico
Austin, TX
Tucson, AZ

Photo by Aaron Teasdale https www.instagram.com aaron teasdale
Follow Jeff on his Instagram, subscribe to his YouTube, or follow him on Facebook. Hope you enjoyed this video!




MENTIONS: @jeffweed / @loganpnelson / @jensonusa / @pnwcomponents / @IndustryNineOfficial



36 Comments

  • 34 0
 Thanks for the post guys! It was super cool seeing the success of Brian, Ben, and a ton of others. I hope this can inspire more to join their own local trail groups. Keep the rubber side down!
  • 4 0
 Thanks Jeff! Pleasure to have you out!
  • 2 0
 Most stylish rider. Facts. @JeffWeed
  • 1 0
 It’s awesome that you are now on pinkbike! Should help boost your popularity!
  • 1 0
 @Jasonbourne: Thanks Jason, I appreciate that!
  • 2 0
 @Lukefuelex: Thanks for the note Luke- I've posted quite a bit on here over the years, have a look here: www.pinkbike.com/u/JeffWeed/blog
  • 2 0
 Ben and Brian have done an amazing job in the Missoula area, looing forward to seeing how the trails progress in the future!
  • 21 0
 Nothing dates a shot like a Trust fork Smile

Love JKW's riding style. Also. That "skill filter" sign is great. More trails should have that especially with the recent influx of Covid newbs.
  • 1 0
 Hahaha the trust fork is indeed unique! I’m actually looking forward to getting the little
message back on my stylus this summer.
  • 14 0
 Jeff is such a wholesome, humble and talented rider. I really enjoy his videos. I'm glad to see his work shared here on PB!
  • 5 0
 Thank you Parker! These projects are a fun way to promote something that benefits the riding community as a whole, and it’s great when PinkBike can share these as well.
  • 1 0
 @JeffWeed: Thank you! Keep doing what you do for the mtb scene!
  • 6 0
 Jeff’s riding style is unique and creative. Literally the Beck of riding style.
  • 1 0
 Hahaha thanks Randy!
  • 1 0
 @JeffWeed: Do you ever wear down front tyres? Ever?
  • 2 0
 @Arierep: hahaha yep!!
  • 3 0
 I'm a Montana transplant from the midwest, and currently residing in Bozeman. Missoula definitely has the superior advocacy group but honestly, I think Helena, Bozeman, and Whitefish have more interesting trails. So happy to live here though. Couldn't see myself anywhere else.
  • 2 0
 Thanks for the note Hutch! I’d love to ride more in MT this summer- Whitefish has been on the list for years but I’m starting to wonder about the other spots too.
  • 5 0
 Sick! Missoula is a great town.
  • 4 0
 It was fun! We had some great meals downtown as well. Hoping to get back this summer to see the progress on the new trails!
  • 4 0
 It wasn't so much the linkage fork that detracted me from Jeff's killer style, it was that damn tilted up red fender!
  • 1 1
 Hey man, a small fender is still better than no fender! My first ride on that set up was the week prior to this trip on a North Shore trail called Boogieman, and it was WET that day! Check that out here: www.pinkbike.com/u/JeffWeed/blog/riding-boogieman-with-cooper-quinn-and-jeff-kendall-weed.html
  • 2 0
 I couldn’t stop looking at the red mud guard.
  • 2 0
 Love the dude and the skills! Be happy the rear fender wasn't on either ... woof.
  • 3 0
 Thanks MTB Missoula! I came out for Collegiate Nationals in 2017 and got to burn in that downhill run under a weekend of heavy rain and snow!! Best race of my life.
  • 3 0
 JKW and Pinkbike = awesomesauce. Inspiring!
  • 1 0
 Thanks man- I took a bit of a posting break, but I've got a few projects coming along that should be a good fit to post here. Stay tuned!
  • 1 0
 What a great story and the scenery is just awesome! Almost makes me want to google how bad winter is and think about packing up and heading over there!
  • 1 0
 Thanks for the props man, I appreciate that. Missoula is a cool spot. I have no idea if folks ride there during the winter, but lots of folks were talking about skiing and snowmobiling.
  • 2 0
 It's not that cold here in the winter compared to lots of other places that get a real winter (including lots of other spots in MT), but we definitely do not have year-round riding. Winter is for skiing.
  • 1 0
 @rootskier: Thanks for the heads up, coming from CT (New England) and I have to say, I was thinking warmer if I was moving anywhere...lol.
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