Full Exposure

spandex hatch bozeman montana

Springtime's most striking hatch.

At long last, it’s the season of rebirth, when long-dormant life rises from its snowy sleep into the bright and burgeoning warmth of spring. Humans are no exception—all around southwest Montana, there’s an increasing desire to shed winter’s hide in revealing proportions. And why not? Who can argue with scoring some much-needed vitamin D after a long winter? But making the most of warming weather has grown from wearing a cutoff t-shirt and shorts to the most jaw-dropping, eyelid-peeling, hormone-pumping spectacle of the year: the Spandex Hatch.

What exactly is the Spandex Hatch? The answer is fourfold: it is both lifestyle and competition; both organized and free rein. What started in the mid-’80s, as nothing more than a few sun-starved Bozemanites getting outside and shucking layers, has morphed into one of the biggest events of the season. For the competitive among us, there is the Mother’s Day Spandex Hatch, created by Silicon Valley émigré, competitive fly fisherman, and health nut Ty Tass. Every spring, hordes of people gather along local trails and watch competitors walk, run, or bike in their tightest-fitting apparel. Judges score on a strict set of criteria including muscle tone, amount of skin revealed, and overall style. “This is no ordinary trail competition,” Tass explains. “We look for people who really complete their outfits, or spill out of them altogether. And around here, there’s no shortage of worthy competitors.”

Like the crowded waters of the Madison when caddisflies fill the air, Bozeman-area trailheads see a surge in visitation as soon as the first hatchers are reported.

The team category, in particular, draws some of the most impressive hatchers. Montanans Into Lifetime Fitness (MILF) participated last year, making a name for themselves with a first-place finish. Belgrade resident and longtime hatch-watcher Sal Aishus appreciated the group’s presence. “It was great before, sure, but things really got good once the MILFs started showin’ up,” he says. “My buddies ‘n’ me went hoarse hollerin’ at all them hotties! Hell, we dun run outta Bud Light ‘fore noon.”

One of the strengths of the Spandex Hatch is that it’s not limited to the Mother’s Day event; participation extends well beyond the weekend itself. And for the free-spirited, there is no specific start date. “It’s more of a general feeling in the air,” says 33-year hatcher Camille Toze. “When the wildflowers start to bloom, the robins show up, and the first traces of spring runoff come spilling down the mountains—that’s when the hatch typically commences.” Toze says that mid-April used to be the time when most folks would shed their winter shells, but it’s getting earlier each year. “I think the combination of climate change and Bozeman’s increasing enthusiasm is having a big impact,” she says. “Last year, there were reports of people hatching at Mystic Lake on March third!”

One thing’s for sure: when it’s on, it’s on. Like the crowded waters of the Madison when caddisflies fill the air, Bozeman-area trailheads see a surge in visitation as soon as the first hatchers are reported. And that’s exactly what drove Tass to organize the first-ever Mother’s Day Hatch. “It just felt like a natural transition,” he says. “The opportunity was obvious. Here you have people already setting up lawn chairs, having picnics, and telescoping others on the trail. Why not make an organized event out of it?”

This growing popularity has not gone unnoticed by city officials. Thirty-year veteran police officer Ben “Buzz” Kihllar says regulating crowds has become a real issue over the last five years. “It’s just too big anymore,” Kihllar says. “We were able to handle it back when only a few hundred people were hatching, but maintaining order with these sorts of numbers is a serious challenge.” Last year, hatching volume was reported in the thousands, and that’s not even counting the spectators. According to Kihllar, participation has increased over 300% since Lululemon came to town.

“We’ve had some congestion these past couple years,” Tass admits. “But this year should be a lot better. We’re tightening our qualifications, requiring entrants to submit a physical, a written essay, a short film explaining why they deserve to hatch in public, and notarized proof of the last time they looked at themselves in a full-body mirror.” Beyond that, Tass says he’ll introduce a valet shuttle prioritizing those with the lowest BMI. Based on these estimates, traffic in the Sourdough parking lot should be reduced by 50%.

But those restrictions don’t work for everyone. Bozeman local and diehard hatcher Celia Light claims that the Mother’s Day Hatch isn’t what it used to be. “My husband’s been hatching for 20 years and not once has he been rejected, but this year he didn’t make the cut,” Light says. “Sure, his belly hangs over his waistline like a mid-winter cornice, but so what? Screw these perma-fit jerks from Jackson with their 6% bodyfat.”

According to Kihllar, participation has increased over 300% since Lululemon came to town.

While Light’s frustrations are shared by many, some see the new regulations as a benefit to the community. “I don’t know, it’s more family-friendly now,” Toze says. “Ten years ago, I had to cover my kids’ eyes when Jon Tester showed up for an exhibition hatch looking like baking dough popping out of a Pillsbury tube. Fourth-generation, schmorth-generation... nobody wants to see that. Besides, those portly old-schoolers can always put on bulky Gore-Tex for the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch on the Madison, where they’ll fit in better.”

Despite conflicting opinions, one thing’s for certain: spandex hatching is on the rise. While the venue for this year’s Mother’s Day Hatch has yet to be determined, Tass remains dedicated to spreading the word as best he can. On April first, he’ll release a smartphone app, Reveal, which provides hourly hatching reports and conditions across southwest Montana. “It’s got everything you need for the snatch—I mean, hatch,” he says. “My vision extends well beyond our state. In two, maybe three years, I’d love to go international. Can you imagine a hatch in the Himalayas?”

To learn more, visit spandexhatch.com.