When it comes to buying gear for our various outdoor adventures, most of us are restricted to making purchases from speciality retailers such as REI or big box sporting good stores like Sports Authority. But if you happen to live in a town with a locally owned gear shop, you probably have witnessed first hand just how different the experience can be. Often those shops create a sense of community with their clientele and deliver a different level of customer service than you get with the larger retail stores. Such is the case with a great little gear shop located in West Yellowstone, Montana called Freeheel & Wheel.
West Yellowstone is a sleepy little town of about 1200 residents that sits on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. You wouldn’t typcially think that such a small place would be home to a good gear shop, but then again, West Yellowstone isn’t like most towns its size. Its location puts it smack dab in the middle of some of the best outdoor environments on the planet, with plenty of rivers to paddle, mountains to climb, and forests to hike, all within a short distance. The town bills itself as the “snowmobile capital of the world,” but it also offers great cross country skiing and mountain biking along the Rendezvous Ski Trails, and it is home to one of the few biathlon courses in the entire country.
Located right on Yellowstone Avenue (where else?), Freeheel & Wheel isn’t an especially large shop, but that doesn’t stop them from offering plenty of services. You’ll find a nice selection of outdoor clothing from companies like Patagonia and Prana, not to mention a variety of mountain biking and nordic skiing gear as well. There is also a full service bicycle repair and ski tuning shop inside too, and a fantastic coffee bar that has enough options for any caffeine fiend.In the summer months, the shop rents bikes and has plenty of recommendations for rides throughout the area, including into Yellowstone Park as well as the Gallatin National Forest. Similarly, in the winter months, cross country ski rentals are also available and the staff has even more suggestions on where to go. They’ll even provide ski lessons if necessary. Vistors can drop by seven days a week to grab a bike and hit the trail.
The story behind Freeheel & Wheel is just as good as the store itself. The shop was founded by Kelli Sanders and Melissa Alder, who met as college freshmen at the University of Montana at Missoula more than twenty years ago. The two became fast friends and have been nearly inseperable ever since. After college, Kelli and Melissa knew that they wanted to go into business together, but weren’t sure exaclty what that business would entail. A visit to the Outdoor Retailer show, a bi-annual convention for gear companies, gave them the direction and inspiration they were looking for, and the rest is, as they say, history.
West Yellowstone is great little community with plenty of things to do all year round. The town, located a couple of hours drive south of Bozeman, is a hub for outdoor adventure activities and serves as a gateway to the national park right next door. If you’re in the area, and looking for something to do, be sure to drop by Freeheel & Wheel and ask for suggestions. The girls will be more than happy to help out, and even if you’re not up for an adventurous day in the surrounding wilderness, they’ll serve you up a mean cup of coffee before sending you on your way.