The Gathering of the Yeti Tribe: Montrose, CO

One of the many riders that enjoyed the Whole Uncalada at the 15th Annual Yeti Tribe Gathering
One of the many riders that enjoyed the Whole Uncalada at the 15th Annual Yeti Tribe Gathering

I have a confession to make. I am a Yeti freak and have been since I first had a chance to hop on a Yeti and take it for a spin in 2001. That initial ride was an experience like no other!

While I am making confessions, I will also admit that I am not what you would call a discerning rider. I could never write informative reviews on mountain bikes, because it usually takes me several rides to adjust to a new bike.

From 1990 through 2000 I was a professional mountain bike guide in the Tahoe Sierra and on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. During that period, I often had the opportunity to swap bikes with some of my guests for short periods. Many of those guests had some of the best bikes on the market at the time, but never once did I feel as comfortable on a borrowed bike as on my own personal ride. I was always glad to be back on my own steed after these swaps.

Flash forward to 2001 as I attended a Yeti demo in the Bay Area. The bike that I took out for my initial Yeti experience was an ASR, and I was blown away! I immediately felt comfortable on both the climbs and descents like I had been riding the bike for months. I was instantly hooked, and had my first Yeti within weeks.

Me and my SB5c on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Photo by Jason Dennis
Me and my SB5c on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Photo by Jason Dennis

15 years later I am what you could describe as “a Yeti freak.” A few years after purchasing that ASR, I added an ASR-5 to my stable, followed by a 575 and then an SB66. I eventually had to trim the fleet to purchase my current ride, an SB5c. I also always get a kick when I look down at my top tube and see the Yeti line “since 1985,” which also happens to be the year that I got hooked on mountain biking.

Yes, I am a Yeti freak, and I wave my freak flag proudly. So what better way to spend a long weekend than to share the trails, meals, beer, and mass quantities of fun with 250+ fellow Yeti believers and most, if not all, of the Yeti staff? For the last three summers I have been doing just that by attending the annual Yeti Tribe Gatherings in Colorado. My first was in Durango, and last year we were treated to the trails around Steamboat Springs.

The San Juan Mountains form the backdrop on the Aspen Loop near camp. Rider Marty Cappitelli
The San Juan Mountains form the backdrop on the Aspen Loop near camp. Rider Marty Cappitelli

I have just returned from the 15th Annual Yeti Tribe Gathering. This year the event was held in the backcountry high above the the town of Montrose. While the temps were pretty warm in Montrose, at our camp at 9,500ft we were enjoying cool weather. The camp was nestled into a series of lush meadows surrounded by an aspen forest with numerous trails radiating from our location.

I have to admit, when I first heard the rumor that Montrose was going to be the location, I had to scratch my head. Not only was Montrose not on my bucket list… I didn’t even know where it was! However, I had great faith in Sarah Rawley, who has been organizing the Yeti Tribe Gathering for the last nine years. To say that Sarah knows how to put on a great event is an understatement, so I did not hesitate to sign up. Shortly afterwards, my Yeti buddies Marty from Charlotte, NC and JD from Albuquerque, NM were also signed on.

My buddy JD cranks it up on the Aspen Loop.
My buddy JD cranks it up on the Aspen Loop.

Technically, we were camping. Everyone either pitched their tents or leveled their RVs, but the folks at Yeti ratcheted it up from there. Our gourmet meals were served up under the pavilion by the folks at Big Delicious Catering, and Oskar Blues provided the beer. Fox was there for technical support, and Honey Stinger handed out samples. The Yeti store popped up daily, and the $5 and $10 bins created a feeding frenzy. The gathering is always a family-friendly event, so kids and dogs were riding and running all over the camp. My biggest disappointment was that I had to leave my pups back in Tahoe.

The Yeti store gets set up under threatening skies.
The Yeti store gets set up under threatening skies.

One of the treats about this location was that we were out of cell service. “OMG,” some of you young ones might say, but for this old timer it was great. It was a pleasure to be sitting at the banquet tables and talking to other Yeti freaks from all over the world without having folks at the table staring at their phones. Meeting other riders and Yeti staffers is one of the highlights of these events, but the bottom line is the riding.

Marty came all of the way out from Charlotte to join up with the tribe. Here he is enjoying the aptly named Aspen Loop.
Marty came all of the way out from Charlotte to join up with the tribe. Here he is enjoying the aptly-named Aspen Loop.

The riding options received two thumbs up from everyone in attendance. Yeti provided maps of the local trails accessed from camp, and most everyone took advantage of these trails on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. The real deal maker is what Sarah sets up for us on the big Saturday ride. The bar was really set high on my first Tribe event in Durango and was almost matched with our Steamboat epic last year. Both of those rides were in the 35-mile range, with shuttles to give us a few thousand free feet, but still with copious amounts of climbing at high elevations followed by a huge descent.

Another Yeti tribe member enjoying the gravity ride.
Another Yeti tribe member enjoying the gravity ride.

This year they took a different tack and set us up with a sweet gravity ride, known locally as the “Whole Uncalada,” which is Montrose’s answer to Moab’s “Whole Enchilada.” There were two distance options: the 28-mile ride featured about 1,500ft of climbing with a 4,700ft descent, and the 17-mile version had around 500ft of climbing sandwiched around 3,700ft of top-notch descending.

Most of the riders had permanent grins during the Whole Uncalada.
Most of the riders had permanent grins during the Whole Uncalada.

From camp, we were shuttled in waves to the trailhead, and then the fun–and in some cases, carnage–began. We were pretty spread out, but I spent the morning leapfrogging with about 10 fellow riders who became my photo subjects. I caught a few names, but we mostly just shared the grins as we descended through several different eco-zones and were spit out into the heat at the bottom near Montrose. Buses were waiting at the trail’s end to take us back to camp for cold beers and “Hoogeritas,” a margarita concoction made by Yeti co-owner Steve Hoogendoorn.

Saturday night is always party night, featuring “stupid” bike games including micro bike races, a last person standing bike derby, and a bike toss. Fun was had by participants and spectators alike, and raged into the evening.

Some of the Yeti staffers on the first heat of the mini bike races.
Some of the Yeti staffers in the first heat of the mini bike races.

Sunday was all about short rides, cleaning up the camp, and saying good-bye to old and new friends. My main thought on my 14-hour drive back to Lake Tahoe was, “where will next year’s event will be?” I know that Sarah will do us right, and that I will be there.