Montana Whitewater + Geyser Whitewater Expeditions

The history of Montana Whitewater has always been and will always be one of evolution and change. Just like the rivers we run, life will always have obstacles and different levels of danger that we face and must be approached with respect and adaptable strategy.

The Early Days

The birth of Montana Whitewater began when Bill Zell abandoned his studies and drove out West to find a seasonal job at a ski resort. After bopping around the West and coming up empty handed (and pocketed), he thought Canada was going to be his end game, so he started driving north. On HWY 191, he saw a sign for Big Sky Resort, and made the turn. Pulling up to the mountain, he got the last open job at the daycare. That’s right, the daycare. After that, he worked at the Huntley Lodge, volunteer ski patrolled on and off, and worked as a server for a bit. In 1991, Bill got a job at Yellowstone Raft Company in Big Sky.

Montana Whitewater was born in 1992

After that first summer at YRC, Bill and his buddy, Pete Mommson, started Montana Whitewater with the headquarters at the Funny Farm in Gallatin Gateway. That first year, they took 11 people rafting. Those first couple years there were only a couple guides making Montana Whitewater run.

In 1996, there were four raft companies on the Gallatin River and three on the Yellowstone River. We had three rookies, three full time guides, a shuttle driver, an office person and Bill navigating super high water from 1996-1999. In 1998, we rented a shack across from what is now the Lighthouse Restaurant outside Gardiner on the Yellowstone River. Two people ran trips out of this “office”, one as the guide and one as the driver.

Old school photo Montana Whitewater

Moving ON and Moving UP!

We lasted a year in that shack before we were evicted and forced to buy what is our current outpost in Gardiner on the Yellowstone River. In 2003, we moved out of the Funny Farm up the canyon to our current Gallatin outpost at Castle Rock. It cut 17 miles off our raft shuttle each way. This was huge, because there is an infamous story of the dashboard of one of our early vans catching fire and customers watching as Pete and Bill put it out with cold coffee.

The first big fork in the road of Montana Whitewater was in 2006 when Yellowstone Raft Company decided to sell their Gallatin operation. Bill went big to purchase YRC for Montana Whitewater to stay alive on the Gallatin River. The wildly successful purchase of YRC came with the historic riverside property at Karst Kamp, which introduced a little fly fishing operation for Montana Whitewater in 2008. With that YRC purchase also came the elusive, ever coveted Beartrap Canyon permit on the Madison River. To this day, we are still one of only two outfitters that hold this exclusive wilderness area permit.

Montana Whitewater Expands to New Adventures

In a matter of 15 years, Montana Whitewater went from taking 11 people rafting that first year, to operating on three rivers (Gallatin, Yellowstone, and Madison), with two locations (Big Sky and Gardiner) and a fly fishing operation.

Adjusting to the scale of Montana Whitewater for a few years after the YRC purchase, Bill decided to expand his wild world of adventure to ziplining. With plenty of weather perils, a backhoe stuck in the river, and a long learning process, our first tour, the Gallatin Classic Zip opened mid July of 2010. By opening day of the 2013 season, we had four guided zipline tour options between the Gallatin and Gardiner offices. I guess Bill really liked building them.

In the midst of building those additional zip tour options, 2012 marks the birth of Madison River Tubing shop in Bozeman. Trying to get more involved in the Bozeman community, provide a much needed rental service, and reduce the overall carbon footprint and parking congestion of the area, we began running shuttles from town out to the Madison River. Every year, the tube shop becomes more and more popular in Bozeman. After the addition of the tube shop and the consistent growth our beautiful area has seen in the past 5-10 years we have kept busy.

Zipline Course and Tube Trip

Two Become ONE!

Geyser Whitewater Expeditions Sells Operations to Montana Whitewater

Ten years pass by bringing you to the present day. Late in the summer of 2023, Bill was gently approached by Eric Becker, the owner of Geyser Whitewater Expeditions in Big Sky. For 31 years, Eric and Bill were fierce but friendly competitors on the Gallatin River. Eric was looking to sell Geyser. Just like in 2006, the purchase was a “go big or go home” move. Operating costs and insurance premiums are infinitely increasing and the survival of companies like ours gets harder and harder each year. Bill negotiated, gathered documents and successfully purchased Geyser right before Christmas in 2023 and doubled Montana Whitewater’s Forest Service Permits and became the sole outfitter on the Gallatin River.

Geyser Whitewater Expeditions Raft

The history of Montana Whitewater is not just about the health of the business or survival; it comes down to the services we provide and the reasons and beliefs we have to keep doing what we do day in and day out, summer after summer. Outdoor recreation is a diverse, complicated and susceptible industry. We truly believe the benefits of keeping outfitters like us and so many others alive are worth all the floods, wildfires, pandemics, burned vans, and obstacles we face. Trust us, there is always something…

Here For Our Community ♥

We are here and we will stay here; to continue to provide world class experiences and service for folks that live here and the folks that are visiting that may never have the opportunity, resources, or accessibility to services like ours. Everyone deserves to go on a rafting trip, zipline trip, learn to fly fish, or float the river in a tube. The re-connection to themselves, others and to their surroundings is more beneficial to the world than anything in our opinion. We are here, and will stay here; to train, teach, and employ the folks that want to gain the unique experience and skillset you get from working in this industry. There is no other industry like ours, and there is no staff like our staff. We are committed to our community; to those visiting our community, our beautiful resources, and those in the Mdub that show up every summer to make it all happen. We will continue to create and enjoy adventure while protecting nature!

Montana Whitewater Raft Trip Gear Up

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