Mystery Ranch HQ Tour – Bozeman, MT

Post by blogger | August 26, 2008      

Guest Blog by David Downing

Colorado backcountry skiing.

This summer, somewhere between Butte, MT and North Dakota’s largest cow, I had the opportunity to visit pack maker Mystery Ranch. My friend and fellow Colorado State Alum, Patrick Odenbeck (who’s longtime SAR volunteer father claims to have rescued Lou something like three times), invited me in for a tour and pack fitting while visiting Bozeman.

For those who are not familiar with Mystery Ranch, it is the latest pack tinkering facility for Dana Gleason (longtime needle and thread genius of Dana Design fame). Mystery Ranch sells direct to consumer, so its Headquarters serve as design, production and showroom. Walking in you are presented with 360 degrees of the current line, plus a nice “museum” hanging above of past packs that only Lou or Dana might recognize.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Today’s Trivia: Lou, name that pack.

A quick tour of the building provided the necessary gear geek fix, taking in everything from future office space, rolls of Cordura, shelves of pack templates, and a small fleet of sewing machines where all of the consumer packs are produced. The only work not done in-house is some large scale sewing in Seattle for larger military contracts. So every pack – currently around 600 consumer packs a year – is made in the USA, if not specifically in Bozeman.

Now for my customer experience. The best way to get a Mystery Ranch pack is to schedule a trip to Bozeman, which should be obligatory for any mountain person’s road trip resume. After your skiing, biking or fishing session, go visit Mystery Ranch HQ a few miles from downtown.

Visit with Patrick or one of the other sales/marketing/sewing guys (every employee starts out assembling packs, so they know them inside and out) and decide what pack you want AND need. For myself, I chose the Sweet Pea – a 32L (2,000 cu-in) pack with 3 Zip access. With pack in hand, I was sized up for the proper sized shoulder strap / yoke system, a large in my case. With everything properly set up, I then chose to have a few inches of compression webbing snipped and sewn to my preferred length. I have to say, I’d buy all my packs here just for the option to mod them on location. If you can’t make the trip, you can also order packs off the website.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
New pack, check. Right size, check. Accessories? Pick a box. I want one of thoses, and…

Overall I was very impressed by the experience. Mystery Ranch is providing a great customer service for those looking for a well designed pack made in the US to bomber specs. These are not the lightest packs you’ll find (ounce trimming is on the horizon), but if you want a solid, well-designed pack, check this company out.

As for my Sweet Pea, I can’t wait to try it out on snow and will have a more complete review of this pack later this winter, or perhaps I’ll have to make a summer run up to Montezuma to try it out sooner.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Trying on the Mystery Ranch Broomstick. Due out in the Fall, this may be the next big thing for skiing Highlands Bowl sidecountry. This pack carries shovel, probe and skis in a tiny package.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
I folded and went for my staple color of orange. See the yolks in the background ready to be sized.

(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing and his wife Jessica live in Carbondale, Colorado, where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave’s ski career began due to a lack of quality skiing video games for NES.)



59 Responses to “Mystery Ranch HQ Tour – Bozeman, MT”

  1. Rick Arneson August 26th, 2008 11:09 am

    Hmmm, while touring MT State with my college bound daughter I may have to stop off at Mystery Ranch. I like the idea of the Broomstick lashed onto my current pack for hut trip access and as a stand alone for post move in tours.

  2. Lou August 26th, 2008 12:09 pm

    Good report Dave, I remember Dana from way back when there wasn’t even an OR show… and is that a giant cow up on the hill behind that sign?

  3. dave August 26th, 2008 12:14 pm

    @rick: agreed, the broomstick would be a great hut trip extra pack! check their website to see picks of it balled up and super tiny to stow away.

    @lou: that is a mysterious cow and a mystery ranch sign, not actually near each other in real life. just a fitting image…thanks for blowing the mystery lou 😉

  4. Jonathan M August 26th, 2008 12:50 pm

    Since Lou didin’t try the trivia, I’ll give it a stab – Kletterworks Bombpack or an ancestor.

  5. Lou August 26th, 2008 1:29 pm

    Lou, try #1, Kelty, don’t know model. But the perfect hunting pack and would still be that…

  6. Lou August 26th, 2008 1:31 pm

    Shoot Dave, I thought all I had to do to find Dana was look for the sign under the giant cow…

  7. Dave August 26th, 2008 2:01 pm

    sorry lou, just a pic i happened to like. to find Dana (and Mystery Ranch) just look for the jumper under the flag pole 3 miles west of downtown Bozeman.

  8. Dave August 26th, 2008 2:14 pm

    pack trivia: we have strike 1 and strike 2.
    It’s older than the Kletterworks … guess again.

  9. Lou August 26th, 2008 2:42 pm

    try #2, Gerry? (Really Old)

  10. Dave August 26th, 2008 2:47 pm

    let me know when you want me to just give you the answer:)

  11. Lou August 26th, 2008 3:01 pm

    Jansport? Or a hint?

    And where are Dana or Pat? Out wrestling bears or something else to test Cordura pack durability?

  12. Dave August 26th, 2008 3:08 pm

    a hint. slacker.
    Ok, I’ve been told this pack was built by a company located in colorado.

  13. Jerry S. August 26th, 2008 3:39 pm

    The pack looks like one of my first climbing packs of the early 70’s:

    Sacs Millet

  14. Dave August 26th, 2008 3:43 pm

    right time period.

  15. Halsted August 26th, 2008 4:10 pm

    Isn’t that a Holubar alpine pack?

  16. Patrick O August 26th, 2008 4:10 pm

    I’m here – and by the way I had to bring the pack down from the ceiling to get the answer to the trivia question. So if anyone gets it they get mega props.

  17. Dave August 26th, 2008 4:23 pm

    …mega props and at least a free sticker or 2 🙂
    (don’t worry patrick, I have extra to give out too)

  18. Lou August 26th, 2008 4:35 pm

    So Halsted is right?

  19. Dave August 26th, 2008 4:42 pm

    no, as patrick said “If anyone gets it…”
    So we know it’s early 70s. We need a company and model still.

  20. Kirk August 26th, 2008 4:51 pm

    My first pack was a Dana Astralplane – I abused it for years and it still looks factory fresh. Maybe I’ll be buried in it.

    Having said this, why do manufacturers make ski packs so bombproof? They are rarely dragged up chimneys, tossed off cliffs, etc. Why not a superlight fabric, light suspension, etc? I do lots of Euro-tours with some mountaineering and have never needed multiple daisy chains and fabric that would stop a 12 gauge slug.

  21. Lou August 26th, 2008 5:00 pm

    I guess we need more hints…

  22. Dave August 26th, 2008 5:06 pm

    I know that I personally don’t use packs solely for one purpose, my Sweet Pea has already been tossed in the dirt and drug over rocks climbing, torn at by branches hiking and will continue to be generally abused before ski season is even close.

    Abuse aside. I’d rather have a well thought out pack that’s heavy than a lightweight pack that was not. I’ve had a few lighter packs with bad design. Can you get light weight AND good design, of course. In this case my fancy was drawn to well thought out design and a great customer experience.

    Besides, who wants to be buried in a light weight fabric? 🙂

  23. Dave August 26th, 2008 5:12 pm

    i’ll give the answer tomorrow morning before Lou’s newest post: so guess all night long:)

  24. Lou August 26th, 2008 5:16 pm

    When you carry a really light load, the weight of your pack can make a big difference in your total haul. That’s why the Euros who carry a shovel and cell phone use such light sacks. When the Kevlar type fabrics come down in price after we’re done with big scale warfare, I think we’ll see more packs that are quite light and not too expensive. Till then, the likes of Dana, Yates and others are doing well with military contracts, but the civilian market isn’t seeing the cool stuff…

  25. dave downing August 26th, 2008 5:29 pm

    Lou previously feigned approval when I finally started “carrying more than a toothbrush” ( ) with a larger pack. Now I need a lighter pack for only a shovel and a cell phone. I can’t win can I, Lou?

  26. Jerry S. August 26th, 2008 5:30 pm

    The companies from Colorado that come to mind, and my memory is going… that could build such a pack then were: Camp 7, Frostline, Holubar, very early Forrest Mountaineering, Gerry, Alps (Alpine Designs later on) and possibly… a very early Lowe as I had two of their packs a few years later. Jensen, a fine designer for Rivendell… but I thought they were out of Idaho or Washington.

    I could make another guess but I’m at a loss and the model… that’s a stretch!

  27. dave downing August 26th, 2008 5:33 pm

    Jerry, the answer is within your post … you mention the correct company AND the model name by accident.

    care to take a few more pokes at it?

  28. Lou August 26th, 2008 5:36 pm

    Shovel and a cell phone for Highland Bowl, perhaps a few more things for Marble.

  29. Jerry S. August 26th, 2008 5:42 pm


    You’re killing me! 🙂

    Maybe I ought to have another beer AND a shot of Tito’s Vodka to grease the ball bearings. LOL

  30. Lou August 26th, 2008 5:51 pm

    C’mon Dave, a hint for Jerry?!

  31. Jerry S. August 26th, 2008 5:52 pm

    OK, here goes.

    Gerry Camp 7

    Check out:

    Dan McHale from Seattle.

  32. dave downing August 26th, 2008 5:54 pm

    i know the answer, but not all the history, so a hint will give it away:)

    it was in your initial list of CO companies before Lowe. The model is in on of the manufacturers names you mentioned. does that help?

  33. Jerry S. August 26th, 2008 5:58 pm

    This is a very tough question as I saw that pack in Eldo, the Tetons and in The Park on countless occasions on fellow climber’s backs when the pack’s leather bottom and thin straps were synonymous with Woolrich wool knickers (which I still have) and Dachstein sweaters (which I also still have). 🙂

    Thanks for the question and the memories it brought!

  34. Jerry S. August 26th, 2008 6:04 pm

    Frostline Camp 7

  35. Lou August 26th, 2008 6:18 pm

    I’ve taken over impromptu contest duties as Dave said he “needed to get outside.” Imagine that.

    At any rate, nope, not a Frostline.

    When Mr. Downing gets back I’ll help him figure out a few hints, since I’ve got the “historical perspective,” otherwise known as “why didn’t I use more sunscreen 30 years ago?”

    And Frostline was all kit stuff you sewed yourself, wasn’t it? So I doubt it had anything with heavy leather you’d need an industrial machine for…

  36. dave August 26th, 2008 7:02 pm

    OK, let me try again…

    The name of the pack is IN the name of the manufacturer. That should help.

  37. Halsted August 26th, 2008 10:12 pm

    If its not a Holubar pack, then I’d say its a Peter Carman, Uptown Sewing design….

    Its not a Forrest Mountainerring LTD., pack. I worked at Forrest. Forrest only did vinyl packs. Nothing with leather.

  38. dave August 26th, 2008 10:52 pm

    Sorry Halsted, that is incorrect.

    Note my last hint:
    “The name of the pack is IN the name of the manufacturer.”

    and Jerry’s list of possibilities:
    “Camp 7, Frostline, Holubar, very early Forrest Mountaineering, Gerry, Alps (Alpine Designs later on) and possibly…”

  39. Ed Tyanich August 26th, 2008 11:31 pm

    Alps Alpine?

  40. Paul August 26th, 2008 11:47 pm

    Gerry Alpine?

    (I have an old orange Gerry down bag that I bought in mother-in-law’s yard sale.)

  41. Patrick O August 27th, 2008 8:14 am

    Ed got it!

  42. dave August 27th, 2008 8:21 am

    Ed, you almost have it. Is that your abbreviated answer? Perhaps a little inverted as well?

  43. dave August 27th, 2008 8:22 am

    oh, patrick, coming in with the call before my buzzer:)

    I thought it was almost there, shall we have a vote? does he have it? Lou? Patrick?

  44. Patrick O August 27th, 2008 8:54 am

    He gets my call. By the way I almost died from mildew exposure when I was looking at the pack.

    I also noticed the weight discussion. Yes our packs are heavier than most but that comes from our experience up here in Montana. Where at Bridger we have to carry our skis and after you have done a half dozen or so laps. The extra framing and more durable fabrics not only save your back and shoulders but also save the packs from the dreaded ski edges.

    On a side note we are working on some lightweight durable packs. We have one prototype that weighs 2 lbs 4 oz has a full frame and is 3000 cubic inches. We are hoping to release a couple designs this winter. I just carried one in the Tetons this weekend and it preformed extremely well.

  45. Lou August 27th, 2008 9:05 am

    I’m leaving the call up to Dave and Patrick, but it seems like we need one more level of accuracy before the buzzer sounds.

    P.S., Common Patrick, tell us about the bear wrestling not the skiing (g).

  46. dave downing August 27th, 2008 9:26 am

    final hint: Ed’s answer is “Alps Alpine”

    The company and model are INVERTED, and the company is ABBREVIATED.

    Let’s put this to bed.

  47. Ed Tyanich August 27th, 2008 10:04 am

    Alpine Designs Alps?

  48. dave downing August 27th, 2008 10:13 am

    ding ding ding … we have a winner!

    According to Patrick, “The pack is an ALP by Alpine Designs out of Boulder, CO from the early 70s.”

    Ed, let us know how you would like to pick up your stickers? (Mad props mailed separately)

  49. Lou August 27th, 2008 10:39 am

    Ed can send address to my contact email, via link in nav menu to left. Which leads to today’s blogpost….

  50. NealB August 27th, 2008 12:18 pm

    Too bad I didn’t see this earlier — cause I actually have one of these packs and still use it. It’s a hand-me-down from my Dad from many years ago. Works fine.

  51. Lou August 27th, 2008 5:41 pm

    Neal, I used to have one myself and my mom had one too, indeed, they were pretty good for their time. The leather really held up. Amazing you’ve still got one!

  52. The Q August 28th, 2008 3:47 pm

    So…. looking at the Broomstick pic, I was wondering: is that voodoo that Odenbeck is performing? Is the fitting seance included in the price of the pack or is that extra?

  53. dave August 28th, 2008 6:16 pm

    @The Q : The seance was included, the Happy Ending was extra.

  54. Kirk August 28th, 2008 10:19 pm

    Good thread, put me down for the prototype on that 3000 cube pack. My quest for the perfect pack continues, much to the chagrin of my lovely wife!

  55. Howard Runyon January 16th, 2015 2:57 pm

    The pack is either Alpine Designs (Eiger model, maybe?) or Hine/Snowbridge. I have one of the latter & used it today. But mine has a H/S label sewn onto its back, which would show in the photo. Maybe an earlier year’s version? I think I got mine in ’78.

    (I deliberately skipped to the bottom to post my guess ’cause I didn’t want to hit a spoiler higher up. Hope no one minds this johnny-come-very-lately post.)

  56. Henry May 5th, 2015 9:32 am

    This is an Alpine Designs Eiger Pack, my first real ski pack. It was available in orange or tan with or w/o ski slots. Great pack.

  57. Howard Runyon April 25th, 2016 7:13 pm

    I have an orange Hine Snowbridge pack, bought at EMS Boston in 1978 or ’79, that’s a pretty exact copy of the Alpine Designs Eiger. Still doing great more than 35 years after the purchase. The leather on it is so thick and so durably tanned that I think it’ll outlast me.

  58. Howard Runyon April 25th, 2016 7:27 pm

    Um. . . Sorry to have repeated my first post a year later. I’m about a week back from a hut tour in Colo. Lots of steep sled-hauling around 11,000 feet. I hope it’s lingering hypoxia and not an inevitable effect of middle age!

  59. Kristian April 26th, 2016 9:36 am

    Howard, we climbed the Grand Teton together sometime in the early eighties. Hope that all is well! (And unlike you, I have been through about a billion new packs.)

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