Promise of the Pines

A photo from the filming of ‘Promise of the Pines.’

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A group of four runners were only one day into a six-day trek through southwest Montana last June when a severe rainstorm set in.

Three of the runners got into camp hours after they should have. One was separated from the pack and nowhere to be found.

“We went to bed that night not knowing if we would be able to finish the trail,” said Connor Hult.

But they pushed through and did finish. By the end, they had covered more than 200 miles and forged a new route through the backcountry of the Gallatin and Madison ranges. They’re calling it the SoWeMo 200, short for southwest Montana.

The challenges and triumphs of the four runners were documented in a film, “Promise of the Pines,” which will premiere in Bozeman Thursday evening at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture.

The project is more than a year in the making.

Eric Schneider, a Montana State University student, began designing the route in October of 2018. It connects U.S. Forest Service trails beginning at the South Cottonwood Trailhead near Bozeman and ending at the North Fork Trailhead near Big Sky.

Schneider mentioned plans to tryout the route to an organizer of the Trail Running Film Festival, who said it’d make a good documentary. That conversation led to the formation of a team of four runners, three videographers and a small support crew.

The project was sponsored by Saucony, Skratch Labs and The Mountain Project.

Hult, also an MSU student, and Schneider live together and roped their other roommates into the plan. He said the group ran 60 to 70 miles a week when they began training for the trek. They found friends who were skilled at filmmaking and photography, also MSU students, and began scouting out some of the trails linking the route.

In June, they took off.

They ran 39 miles that first day. Each subsequent day, they ran between 24 and 40 miles.

Hult said that although that first night in the storm was demoralizing, it turned out to be good motivation.

“We had a better mindset after that because nothing could be worse than that night,” Hult said.

The film’s trailer shows the group running atop rugged peaks, through snow and fields of wildflowers. There’s lots of map-reading, a few painful-looking stumbles and sweeping views of mountains. Hult said they came across more than one grizzly bear. The footage came from both the videographers and a camera the runners carried.

August Schield, one of the videographers, said they had to get creative when filming, like shooting from his truck or on bike following the runners. They’d plan to catch the runners at certain meeting points, but it didn’t always work out.

“Sometimes we would sit in the rain for hours waiting, and that’s just the name of the game,” Schield said.

Schield said the project was as much an adventure for the film crew as it was for the four running.

Kael Van Buskirk, an MSU film student and one of the four, spent months on the production of the hour-long film. He said that while it is about trail running, it’s also a story about Schneider’s vision to forge a new route, and the perseverance it took to complete it.

“I really hope the audience … can empathize with Eric and understand how hard it is to put together something like this and the collaborative effort it took to pull it off,” Van Buskirk said.

“Promise of the Pines” will premier at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture at 6:30 p.m., on Thursday. Tickets are $10 at the door.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at or at 582-2607.

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