Catching Up With Mike Wolfe

This week’s Catching Up With is sponsored by the Trail Running Film Festival. Watch live on July 11th!

I was two days too late in reaching Mike Wolfe. A two-year-old mullet just came off, two days ago. “Oh yeah,” he says though, affirming that he sometimes wears pink spandex, and he admits he’s a yeller too. “I definitely yell a lot, it keeps people motivated, but fun.” Wolfe is owner of The Mountain Project in Bozeman, Montana, and brings a ton of energy to his work.

Wolfe’s 42 years old, and almost a decade earlier he was second at the Western States 100. A lifelong outdoorsman though, his range includes long-haul kayaking, big-wall climbing, and some serious skiing. And it’s that skill set and the training toward those adventures that he takes to The Mountain Project. “Since I graduated from high school, I’ve been training for something, and I wanted to share that with other people in a meaningful way,” he said it best.

Wolfe dealt with overtaining syndrome (OTS) in 2012, but fortunately came out of it and went on to have some multi-day classics on the John Muir Trail alongside Hal Koerner and up high in Montana with Mike Foote. More recently, he was second at the 2019 High Lonesome 100 Mile. “OTS definitely led me down this path, wanting a healthy balance,” he recalled, and then flips to the current state. “I feel good, feel fine. But I don’t feel like I was ever able to come back to what I was capable of doing though, never the same in a race environment.” He couldn’t quite go as deep in the later years, but also acknowledges age, and that pair of multi-day outings and their potential for greater wear and tear, have perhaps contributed too.

“Early in my running career I was not a gym guy at all. I just ran and raced a ton, like everyone else from my era,” Wolfe explained. The idea of a season, or having an eye toward injury prevention wasn’t there, and there were scant few gyms tailoring to mountain sports. Wolfe did gain exposure to the concept though while living in Missoula and while then working as a lawyer, and recognized that the exercises worked. At the same time, he and his wife Stephanie were eager to move back to Bozeman, and “I needed to figure out a different career path. I wasn’t into the lawyering lifestyle,” he said, with a nod to high hours and higher stress.

Mike, Stephanie, Colt, and Wren. All photos courtesy of Mike Wolfe.

“It’s not at all like Crossfit,” he says of The Mountain Project, the gym he founded in 2016. “We’re very sport specific for mountain athletes and people who like recreating outdoors. I say that we’re for ‘people that don’t like the gym, people that do stuff in outdoors.'” Wolfe keeps going, with a cuss word or two, and I appreciate the casualness. “When people come in, they realize how beneficial this is. It’s not like a Crossfit gym where people go in and beat the crap out of themselves every day. Most of our athletes come in two days a week, and are outside the other days. Our workouts are very structured, almost physical therapy-esque. What we do is ancillary to someone’s main sport.” Wolfe’s self-taught, and benefits from a pair of long-time employees with personal training backgrounds and education too.

If you check the gym’s Instagram feed, there’s a giant mural that frequently takes up the background, and it’s not just a pretty mountain scene. “It represents all the different sports and seasonalities,” Wolfe says. “It’s an amalgamation of multiple ranges. The snowy ridges are Alaska and skiing, the middle, the big part, is Patagonia and Cerro Torre and climbers, and then there’s locally Hyalite Canyon and at right the Bridger Ridge.”

Uniquely, the gym trains for hunting too. “The training hardly exists anywhere, but a ton of people here hunt, and backcountry hunt. They don’t just drive around on an ATV, they’ve got to be fit,” Wolfe explained. A lot of this work includes carrying a load on one’s back, single-leg squats, and strength and core exercises for hiking off trail. They do hill-climb workouts too, weighted, and for archery hunters, set up a target off the parking lot for intense sprinting and shooting sessions, meant to mimic shooting under stress.

The boutique gym typically could hold 24 people in a class at once, but they’re limiting themselves to 12 at present, although Montana state regulations would allow them to operate at 75% capacity. Instruction happened over Zoom during the shutdown, and that slowed progress on a soon-to-open 2,000-square-foot bouldering space next door too.

Ski time.

“Part of my grand vision was that this was more than just a gym. The gym part is almost secondary. This helps the mountain-sports community, people can meet other folks and network, and we have a community-speaker series. People can come in and tell stories.” The verbal celebration sometimes had 80 to 100 people attend, and online reviews attest to the Wolfe’s success in creating a community.

And on top of all that, Wolfe’s a dad to six-year-old Colt and three-year-old Wren. “He’s ripping,” he says of Colt’s skiing, which started at age 2. “I still love running, but I love spending time with my kids as much time as I can.”

Wolfe said he’s always training for something, and right now that’s life as a dad, but he’s definitely training lots of others for adventures too.

Call for Comments

Mike Wolfe stories! Leave a comment to share yours.

With Wren.

Justin Mock

is a family man, finance man, and former competitive runner. He gave his 20s to running, and ran as fast as 2:29 for the marathon and finished as high as fourth at the Pikes Peak Marathon. His running is now most happy with his two dogs on the trails and peaks near his home west of Denver.