Feature

Meet U grad and epic climber, Conrad Anker

I bustle in from my car exactly on time, jogging so I won’t be late. I hop-scotch my way through a snowbank onto the sidewalk and clutch my interview questions as I burst into the hotel lobby. There he is in a baseball cap and a flannel. Conrad Anker, climbing wonder. He is visiting Salt Lake City from his home in Bozeman, MT to deliver the keynote speech at Utah Clean Air’s (UCAIR) Inaugural Annual Report dinner. Anker smiles and waves from across the room as I walk his way. He draws himself up to his entire impressive height and shakes my hand, introducing himself as “Conrad.”

Conrad Anker, I would later learn, loves blueberries and the color turquoise. For the self-proclaimed “voracious reader” to pick a favorite book is to un-favorite all the others (but he still recommends Lao Tzu’s Cold Mountain book of parables to me). Also, he has a sweet-tooth. I start asking him how Conrad the University of Utah student became Conrad the Incredible Climber, and he chuckles. He knew since age 14 that climbing was the most important part of his life, making his decision to come to the U an easy one. “It had mountains on the brochure,” he says. He studied parks, recreation, and tourism to get himself every bit closer to climbing up peaks, cliffs, and ridges.

In college Conrad enjoyed his business case study classes. He took shifts living in a shantytown established in the Student Union to implore the university to divest from an apartheid-riddled South Africa. He was “kind of a nerd,” who liked his pens and science, and “basically an introvert.” Today, representing the North Face and speaking in front of massive crowds is vastly removed from where he wants to be — escaping into the mountains to climb. He surrounds himself with positive people, choosing simply to “let the pessimists go.”

When Conrad was in college, climbing wasn’t as simple as a trip to the Student Life Center Summit wall. It was an extension of backpacking and mountaineering—a means to revel in the outdoors. Still, he’s glad the U.S. now has 600 climbing gyms operating and 400 more in the works, because it means more people are exposed to the intrepid values of climbing that guide Conrad’s life. For him, the sport embodies kindness, positivity, and trust.

Conrad chooses to let traditional measures of success go. He worked as a carpenter after graduation not to bring in the bank rolls or get in front of a camera, but to have more time off for climbing. “My success is defined by my own internal compass, not by what society says,” Conrad says. Climbing isn’t just a sweet gig or a way to escape responsibility. For Conrad, it’s a means to be where he needs to be—outside. Conrad possesses a hyper-situational awareness that tugs his attention during our interview and leads him to feel cooped up just discussing an indoor engineering job. But during high-stress mountain expeditions, this hyper-focus is a necessity. It seems Conrad was made to be outside.

As for the high risk aspect of his feats, Conrad says his drive toward the life-threatening is written into his DNA. This isn’t to say he careens into impetuous adventure at every opportunity. He welcomes the opportunity to reevaluate his life and his trajectory, having done so most recently after surviving a heart attack 10 weeks prior to our meeting. When asked whether he can ever picture himself not climbing, Conrad replies, “Well I’ll always be climbing stairs.” He no longer feels the need to pursue ultra danger treks. Simple climbing and spending time in the mountains are what make him happy. This secure, easy awareness of purpose has brought Conrad through life and around the globe.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Chin
Conrad Anker geared up and climbing near the team’s highest portaledge camp at over 20,000 ft.

333

Read Article

Most Polluted Snow on Earth

Anybody visiting Utah in winter has seen it, smelled it, and maybe even tasted it. Our polluted air, which brought us into first place for the worst air quality in the U.S. last week, defines the state.  Even non-skiers pray for snow days to clear out the brownish-yellow haze that looms above us. Storms mean clear skies and fresh air, for all is well again, right? Maybe things aren’t as pristine as they seem.

David Whitman, a research professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, explains that a snowstorm followed by a few days of clear skies sets up a “cold-air pool”. Whitman says that these cold fronts and snow storms cause cold temperatures near the ground. As air temperatures in the afternoon become warmer, pollutants mix and are carried over the mountains away from the Wasatch Front. This causes temporary “clean air”. But, when one of these cold-air pools sets up, there is less vertical mixing and pollutants become trapped within the valley. Snowstorms are simply a cover up, not a solution for Utah’s pollution problem.

Additionally, pollutants and temperature could be changing the snowfall more than we thought.

It’s widely known that dust and pollutants cause the snow to melt faster, but the U’s Atmospheric Science Department conducts research and experiments to see just how pollutants such as dust, aerosols and carbon gas emissions affect snowfall and snowflake formation. The studies, led by Professor John Horel, David Whitman, Tim Garrett and others, show that crystal structures are dependent on chemical influence and temperature. A change in these variables changes the structure. According to the studies, not only do pollutants make snow melt faster, but these added environmental variables make it more difficult to form in the first place.

Our Wasatch Front is famous for its signature fluffy, powdery snow. Utah’s desert climate and dry weather conditions give us the claim to fame of “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” but our world famous powder has to form under the correct conditions. A snowflake’s water content determines its shape and heaviness. More pollution means warmer weather, and warmer weather means more moisture in the air, which leads to heavier snow.

What does this mean for the future of snow in Utah? It could mean more artificial snow needed each year to keep resorts running. With rising temperatures, this also could mean less world famous powder and shorter seasons. While snow can be produced in a lab, a changing climate might forever change our renowned powder.

a.winter@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

282

Read Article

Find Your Pitch, Ice Climbing close to home

Climbers have three options in the winter: drive south, go indoors, or layer up and get on some ice. If you haven’t yet tried option number three, there is still time, the season isn’t over yet. Yes, attaching metal spikes to your feet and holding on by the tip of an ice axe can be a little intimidating, but there are few epic adventures more brag-worthy than standing atop a pillar of ice. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

Most people have their baptism by ice at Ouray Ice Park in Colorado: the perfect launch pad for an ice climbing career. The man-made ice is reliable and thick, while in the Wasatch, fluctuating weather patterns and avalanches make route finding a little more fickle.  For those sick of following a Candy Lane trail of colored, chalked-up holds in the gym, put your gloves on instead and try these ice climbing routes.

PROVO CANYON

After driving up this canyon, park at the Bridal Veils parking lot, and you will find another vehicle full of climbers. Accessibility and consistent ice make this place a little crowded, but there is a high concentration of climbs here. Access the famous Stairway to Heaven just off the trail, a multi-pitch climb that can reach up to 10 pitches during a good ice season. The first pitch, lovingly called The Apron because of its width, is easy to set up a top-rope on and do laps. There are a few bolts at the top, so you can hop between routes if you are in a bigger group.

If you keep walking up the trail before turning toward the Stairway area, you will come to the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls. While it rarely freezes, there are a few fantastic climbs to the right of it. Ice leading experience is required.

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON

You really can’t call yourself an ice climber and live in Utah without climbing the Great White Icicle. It’s a classic multi-pitch easily accessible off the freeway. The views get better and better at the end of each of the four pitches, but don’t get distracted and forget to watch for falling ice. Because of high traffic, you will get hit with ice, so always wear a helmet. Once you’ve done this classic, you might as well hike over to Scruffy Band, a collection of ice dripping off granite slabs. You can switch easily between routes of easy grades.

MAPLE CANYON

When avalanche dangers are high in the Wasatch, Maple Canyon is the perfect alternative. Around every winding cobblestone corner, ice pours into perfect climbing routes. There are several routes accessible off the Main Road, but Box Canyon and Left Fork also reveal hidden treasures. Tennis Shoe Slab is long but sustained, and the intimidating Dagger is just around the corner, suspended over an easy first pitch that has set chains. The Wet Itchies and Bowling Ball Head are a little more steep, but fun if you are ready to push yourself.

JOE’S VALLEY

This famous bouldering destination also has stellar ice in the winter months. The CCC and Donoricicle are both breathtaking pillars of thick ice that just taunt you to climb them. A top rope can easily be set up at the Donoricicle, but leading experience is necessary for the two pitches of the CCC. A plus here is the belayer isn’t stuck with a bad view, the frozen Joe’s Reservoir and surrounding mountainous landscape are visible below.

**If you are going ice climbing in Utah, purchase the detailed guide “Beehive Ice” by Nathan Smith and Andrew Burr. Also, check avalanche conditions prior to the climb and check equipment constantly throughout.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

316

Read Article

The Perils of Filmmaking in the West Desert

After weeks of painstaking exploration, bartering, sabotage, and espionage, I managed to secure an interview with the avant-garde filmmakers known only as Visage. Rumor had it that the illusive crew was stuck in town, treating hypothermia and shock after a failed attempt at producing something “truly transcendental” in Utah’s West Desert.

This clandestine group, led by Chad Powers, traveled the world on a quest to “capture the golden ratio between extreme and obscure,” ultimately leading them to our slice of Northern Utah just three weeks ago. Powers, with his customary head-mounted GoPro and surrounding turtleneck posse, relayed to me the trials and turmoil involved in their recent, largely unsuccessful project.

Shortly after releasing a silent film based on their time living amongst the manatees of Crystal River, Florida, Visage was tipped off about the local Faultline Film Awards. “This was to be the ideal platform for another monumental release,” Powers recalled. “A creative gathering hosted by a little-known student outdoor publication — extreme, yet obscure. Plus, the swamp was incompatible with our attire; it was time for something new.”

The ambitious project they intended to submit was Powers’s magnum opus, the creative masterpiece to get them on the map, while remaining simultaneously off the map, ironically. The premise was simple: “for seven days and seven nights, we were to walk into Utah’s sandy flatlands on a journey… to find ourselves.”

Powers, and the four other members of the crew at that time, drove west on I-80 for an undisclosed distance, only to turn off at what seemed to be the most introspective point-of-departure. “Tents, bags, insulated boots — these are the objects of domesticity. We needed only open minds, open hearts, and our Chacos; the rest was to be revealed in the sands.”

The initial days of their creative spiritual journey were successful, with reportedly over eighteen recorded hours of 360-degree wide-angle panning and sepia still frames of crew members in various positions and poses. This experiment in creative expression and self-discovery took a turn for the worst, however, as the filmmakers came into contact with the then encroaching winter storm.

“We were shocked to see snowflakes falling around us,” the documentarian recalled with difficulty. “All the google images of this bogus state indicated dry, red desert. We saw ground snow on our way in, sure, but we assumed that was just part of the aesthetic, artificial.”

The subsequent couple of days were a whitewashed blur, it seems, as Powers recalled experiencing only perpetual torrents of snow, and the inability to discern anything else, while other members chose not to speak to me for the entire duration of the interview, merely nodding occasionally to ostensibly jive word-choice. “Without any point of reference outside the powder, we experienced the cold, we were the cold, you dig?”

Shivering in a collective ball, Visage was discovered several days later by a good samaritan on the hunt for old aluminum cans and artifacts.

Powers expressed that the crew’s next project will be somewhere with neither sand nor snow, and likely a place that I’ve never heard of.

While Visage’s 72-hour ambient film from this perilous journey will not be shown at the Faultline Film Awards, you are still encouraged to attend nonetheless — it will still be very hip.

d.rees@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Carolyn Webber

385

Read Article

Q&A With Kira Parker

Kira Parker’s Instagram bio says, “I like rocks.” As a solid V8 climber working on V10’s outside, a member of the University of Utah climbing team, and a competitor at last year’s USA Climbing Bouldering Youth Nationals, Kira doesn’t just like rocks — she dominates them. As a freshman majoring in math and computer science, a participant in the Putnam Mathematical Competition and the Mathematical Competition in Modeling, and a Presidential Scholar, she’s dominating her studies as well.

Q: So how did you get involved with climbing?

A: When I lived in Helena [Montana], there was an athletic club and it had a little climbing wall in the racquetball court and I went there when I was in second grade…I liked it! So, I joined a team in Helena that was called the Thunderchickens. I’m still friends with everybody on the team because there were like, three of us.

Q: Why do you think you have such a passion for climbing?

A: Because it’s fun! Because you get to go and try really hard and fall off rocks all day.

Q: How often are you climbing?

A: A lot! I train four or five days a week probably for two or three hours a day. And I go outside most weekends in the fall and spring. I haven’t been outside since November because there’s snow everywhere.

Q: Where do you like to climb around here?

A: In Little Cottonwood Canyon. Or in Joe’s Valley. Or at the [Momentum climbing] gym I guess if there’s snow everywhere.

Q: What’s your favorite piece of gear?

A: My shoes! I wear La Sportiva Muiras generally because they’re really good on granite and they’re not as aggressive. And then when I climb really hard boulders outside or in important competitions, I wear Scarpas.

Q: Has it been hard to balance school with climbing?

A: Yeah, especially now with college. Senior year of high school, I only took four classes in the morning and then I went to Westminster and took math. The second semester I took abstract algebra which is the hardest class at Westminster. But it was only one really hard class so I just did a whole bunch of abstract algebra and then I climbed. But now I have like four hard classes. And last semester I did research, too. I did homework and then climbed when I wasn’t doing homework. But I lived.

Q: Why did you choose the U?

A: I chose the U five days before the deadline of March 1. And I was going to go to the University of Puget Sound but I had a climbing crisis because there’s not enough climbing there! It rains too much. And so then I was going to go to Harvey Mudd College. But then I had another climbing crisis because the gym by Harvey Mudd is not air conditioned. And if you live by Los Angeles, you need air conditioning. So I ended up at the U because it’s free [with my scholarship] and there’s climbing.

Q: What is one of your favorite climbing memories?

A: I did go to South Africa in the summer, which is pretty cool by itself. And hanging out there with a whole bunch of climbers from all over the world, and having people yell at you in different languages as you’re climbing, is just really exciting.

Q: What level are you climbing right now?

A: I’ve climbed four V10’s outside…I usually climb V8. I feel like if I went somewhere and I saw a V8 I wanted to do, I could probably do it. But not always. If there’s dyno’s involved…maybe not.

Q: So what is your favorite kind of problem?

A: Weird ones! I like arêtes a lot. But not if they’re too technical because then I have to use my feet and that’s dumb. I like powerful things. And I like heel hooks. I like things with good holds that are kind of powerful and kind of weird.

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

316

Read Article

Rack up on Secondhand Gear

One thing we all wonder when taking on outdoor activities: where am I going to find cheap gear? Gear is an expensive part of outdoor recreation, and the most valuable. Ever tried mountain biking without a bike or skiing without skis? Not possible. Online shopping is good enough for getting the random bits and bobs you need and can offer some competitive prices, but for those important purchases, like new bindings or a different pair of climbing shoes, nothing can beat in-store service.

Feeling and interacting with your gear is critical for checking the fit and functionality. Also, having an expert consult you on which style they prefer, or which brands to avoid is beyond helpful especially for new buyers. While major stores like REI have big selections and helpful staff, they have only brand new, full retail price equipment. Those of you not wanting to sell an organ or skip meals for a year to pay for that new kayak may want to start looking at gear consignment stores.

These are places where people, usually professionals in the industry, sell their gear through a third party. The store takes a cut and the seller gets the rest. This means that almost all the gear will be used, albeit in pretty good condition, and much cheaper. The selections fluctuate based on what the store receives at that time so it’s worth checking in a few times if they don’t currently have what you’re looking for.

Around Salt Lake there are a couple gear consignment stores worth visiting:

2ND TRACKS SPORTS

2927 E 3300 S, Salt Lake City, UT

2nd Tracks Sports, as the name might imply, specializes in used ski gear. They have enough boots to outfit an army of centipedes and an entire room designated to skis. The workers are very informed and can help you find what kind of skis you’re going to need. Depending on what style you get, prices for skis and binding can range from just under $100 to $700. They also offer services like waxing and mounting bindings. If you don’t want to buy skis, you can rent a pair for $130 for the season or $25 for the day. Racks on racks of parkas and snow pants take up the left side of the store. Sprinkled throughout are beacons, probes, and snow shovels for your backcountry set up. This is definitely the place to go if you’re looking to add a cheap pair of skis to your collection or just get started in the sport.

INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT

3265 E 3300 S, Salt Lake City, UT

Although IME is not a gear consignment store, it is niche enough to warrant mentioning. Packed into a single room strip mall store is everything you could need for climbing or mountaineering. As you walk in, you’ll immediately see coils of brightly colored rope lined around the top of the front desk area. To the left, a wall of climbing shoes. To the right of that a small collection of canyoneering specific packs and rope bags, which are hard to come by. The back counter blocks a display wall chock full of every kind of climbing anchor, crampon, and miscellaneous technical gear you could ever reasonably need. Finally, the right wall of the store is dominated by extreme cold weather gear for high elevation camps. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.

THE GEAR ROOM

2258 E Fort Union Blvd, Salt Lake City, UT

The Gear Room is a local shop opened up by two brothers who love the Wasatch. The store lies on the spectrum somewhere between IME and 2nd Tracks. It is a consignment/used gear retailer so the prices remain relatively low. The selection circulates pretty regularly so you can either score a great deal or strikeout completely. Getting a deal here takes persistence, but new climbers can definitely score. $100 will get you shoes, a harness, a carabiner, and an ATC; everything needed to start hitting the gym. For more experienced climbers, used carabiners, quick draws, and climbing anchors dot the wall. Just make sure to double check the security before climbing on them. The whole left wall is covered in packs and skis. While the ski selection isn’t as big as 2nd Tracks, they still have a decent amount and the prices are competitive.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

292

Read Article

#AltPoliticalActivism, Outdoor Industry Joins the Political Fight for Public Lands

The border between Zion National Park and Springdale, UT, separates more than just federal and private sectors. It draws the line between the outdoors and the outdoor industry. All along the main road in Springdale companies sit, drawing their business from the millions of visitors who flock to Zion every month. Here you can buy food, there you can rent gear, and over here you can get a tour guide.

Even away from national parks, companies produce and sell huge amounts of gear and apparel to meet the demands of an increasingly outdoorsy population. The outdoor industry is a massive entity driving around $646 billion in consumer spending, employing more Americans than the finance and insurance industry (6.1 million compared to 5.8 million) and growing five percent a year on average. However, it doesn’t matter if that company is located in New Jersey or New Mexico, both rely on a central asset: the outdoors.

When this comes under attack, so does the livelihood of every outdoor company. Instead of sitting idly by, many companies have taken action against environmentally destructive policies and campaigned for legislation to protect natural areas. Lately, this political activism is on the rise. More and more companies are feeling the urge to speak up, and still more are acting on that urge.

Just a few weeks ago, more than 100 of the industry’s biggest names committed to fighting for public lands together, signing a “Protect Our Public Lands” petition. The North Face, Patagonia, REI, and the Outdoor Industry created and signed it, and many others issued statements calling for governments (both state and federal) to recognize the cultural and economic significance of wild areas and favor legislation supporting them.

In the past, companies in the industry did not directly unite like this. In establishing Bears Ears National Monument, for example, Patagonia worked separately from other companies to run their campaign. Environmental director Rob Hunter explains how they “used all [their] modes of communication to reach [their] customers” and inform them about the need to conserve Bears Ears. They also shot a movie, “Defined by the Line”, starring climber and conservationist Josh Ewing with the aim of “combining our sport interest, in this case climbing, with our conservation interest, in this case public land protection.” No doubt, both these efforts helped push Bears Ears into the eyes of a much larger audience, securing its protection as a national monument.

Now, companies are combining forces and ramping up their political engagement. Those who signed the “Protect Our Public Lands” petition called for the Utah state government to stop their efforts to privatize Bears Ears. Utah leadership is preparing to sue the federal government to remove the designation — which they call a gross abuse of power-, and place the land under the state control.

The “Protect Our Public Lands” petition best sums up worries of many outdoor companies when it says that if public lands are given to states they “might sell them to the highest bidder.” It again summarizes the general consensus of the industry with the words “public lands should remain in public hands.” The Utah have government has not heard these worries, despite the use of previously successful tactics like petitions and social campaigns, which were both used to establish Bears Ears as a national monument. A more aggressive form of activism is needed, and a few companies are answering the call.

Founder and former Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf issued an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune calling for Outdoor Retailer (OR), the biannual outdoor industry trade show to “leave the state in disgust” if changes are not made. Shortly after, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, echoed Metcalf’s statements and threatened that, “Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions.” Patagonia’s current CEO, Rose Marcario, stands with the founder’s words.

While the current Black Diamond CEO is not planning on leaving, Patagonia is inspiring others to follow their lead. Twenty years ago, Metcalf organized the effort to relocate OR and, with one of the largest outdoor companies backing him, the odds are good it’ll happen. The economic ramifications for Utah will not be light. Each year, OR brings in about $20 million in direct consumer spending. More importantly, it marks Salt Lake City as the outdoor industry’s home base. Losing this could seriously deteriorate the $12 billion outdoor industry residing in Utah. Essentially, OR provides a lot of leverage for the industry’s fight.

This kind of ramped up action is indicative of the way companies are getting involved politically today, and Twitter has become their soap boxes. Any political developments contrary to the pro-environment beliefs of these corporations is sure to provoke a few negative tweets. The North Face, for example, tweeted about the protection of public lands using “#ProtectOurPublicLands” with a link to their statement. They even took a stance on the Women’s Marches, tweeting “We stand with the incredible women on our team and all over the world marching for equality today.” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect our Winters (POW), views Twitter as another means of political activism. His initiative, as stated on the organization’s website, is aimed at “mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change.” His biggest target as of late? President Trump, who himself denies the existence of climate change. Frustrated that traditional petitioning methods weren’t working, Steinkamp decided to “go after him on Twitter.” POW’s “Twitter Blizzard” inspired over 5,000 tweets at the then president elect to urge him to maintain the Paris Climate Agreement. A quick scroll through POW’s feed today will show similar attempts at smaller politicians to address climate change in their decisions.

POW is also launching a CEO Alliance this year, which will connect CEOs from companies who want to do more to make a difference but aren’t sure how. “Businesses are now understanding that it is their responsibility to speak out,” Steinkamp says. “It’s one thing to get a company to sign a petition, but getting a CEO to stand up, it personalizes it and there is more commitment.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Duke

The group doing perhaps the most work politically is the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). Unlike most members of the industry, OIA is not a traditional company. They don’t sell goods or market experiences, rather they advocate for the betterment of the industry as a whole. They are the closest thing to an industry-wide lobbyist group the outdoors have.

Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the OIA, says their main job is to, “[bring] together the collective voice of the industry so we can achieve more as a unified industry and have a larger voice than if individual companies chart their own course.” Their very existence is a testament to the increased political activism within the industry. They have an office and permanent staff in our nation’s capital and hold an annual Capitol Summit event with leaders of the industry in D.C.

“We have seen threats to public lands in the last few years, and we’ve definitely seen efforts by some leadership in Congress to suggest that we should sell them off,” she says. As the threat increases, more and more companies are willing to stand up.

Even smaller, local companies are finding ways to get involved. While most cannot run major campaigns they can make significant differences in their communities. Snowbird Ski Resort, for example, recently hired an environmental director, who helped the resort launch a carpool incentive program called RIDE. By rewarding those who carpool or take public transportation, they are taking a stance to fight against the chronic winter inversion. The flame under these companies is partly what’s going on in Washington, but also because of their customers’ reactions to it.

Photo courtesy of Chris Segel

“People are understanding millennials and understanding what makes them tick,” Steinkamp says. “We are speaking to 35-year-old skiers and snowboarders, and those guys care. They want the brands they spend their money on to care, too.”

Mass social campaigns, films, petitions, and a unique utilization of social media- all organized by ski bum, tree hugger, and dirt bag-founded companies — have given power back to these people. They are fighting, harder than ever, to protect the places that define themselves and the nation as a whole. With an industry almost twice the size of the oil and gas industry backing them, it’s fair to say they’ve got a fighting chance.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

310

Read Article

Back to Basics

Back-coun-try ski-ing: (adjective) A. the kind of skiing where you don’t have to keep behind ropes or bounds of the resort; B. the kind of skiing where you don’t have to wait in line for a chair to get up the mountain; C. the kind of skiing where you can get some of the longest powder runs of your life, repeatedly. Most importantly, backcountry skiing is defined by high risk for a high reward. The avalanche control work that keeps resort skiing safe isn’t repeated to the same extent in the backcountry, meaning you need to go in prepared for worst case scenario.

The best way to familiarize yourself with backcountry skiing is to take a class. You’ll learn how to read terrain, understand the basics of snow mechanics, and recognize the warning signs nature gives you. Snow is complex — but it does have characteristic patterns. These classes teach you how to recognize these patterns and know when a given snowpack is stable or not. The Utah Avalanche Center and the University of Utah both offer classes, and workshops take place frequently around the valley.

For gear, renting is your best option when breaking into the sport. There is no need to get top-of-the-line skis with the lightest boot combined with the thinnest touring pants possible: yet. You can find cheap gear online, but the most essential equipment is (hopefully) not for purchase: a touring partner. Although they may cost you a burger or drink to convince them to go with a noob, it’s worth it if they save your life, or vice versa. Other essentials include a beacon, shovel, and a probe. In the event of an avalanche these are your first line of defense for survival. If you get caught in an avalanche, you will appreciate your touring partner being equipped to dig you out. Avalanche airbag backpacks are also becoming a common part of the avalanche safety set. These packs deploy when you pull a lever, helping to keep you toward the surface of the snow.

With the instruction and the gear, you’ll need a place to go. Step one is always to check the avalanche report on the Utah Avalanche Center’s website to see current danger ratings, recent avalanche activity, and what kind of terrain to look out for based on weather patterns. For your first couple times out in the backcountry, seek low angle terrain in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, such as Grizzly Gulch or Mill D. Once you get there, it never hurts to dig a pit to evaluate the snow. It’s a lot of work, but carving your own line down powder no one has touched all season is worth every step of preparation and uphill skiing.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

275

Read Article

Four tips for winter emergencies

Backpackers, hikers, and campers should be prepared for more than a simple hike when out in the winter months. Being in the mountains means there is always the danger of an avalanche. But there are also dangers of getting lost, injured, running out of food, or medical emergencies from the cold such as frostbite. Here are a few tips to prepare for winter hikes:

#1 Winterize Your Backpack

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine went on a short, two hour hike. It was -4º F on the mountain and, although he was prepared, some people in the group struggled to breathe in the cold, and one girl lost feeling in her fingers.

Pack extra dry clothes, preferably made of wool or polyester, a space blanket, a lighter, and dry tinder for a fire. Hand warmers and an insulated bottle filled with warm water or hot chocolate can also come in handy.

#2. Improve Your Skills

When stuck in a blizzard on a hike, everything is harder. By mastering these skills, you will feel more confident facing whatever Mother Nature throws at you. Some examples are:

  • Starting a fire without matches or lighters
  • Knowing how to melt snow if you ever run out of water. Never eat the snow directly, but use a bandana to pre-filter debris and let it melt into a container.
  • Layering. It might sound easy, but knowing what materials wick away moisture and when to remove layers because of sweating can save you from freezing later on.
  • Basic first aid skills.

 

#3. Forage off the land

There’s nothing like hot tea to warm you up and fill your stomach while you are waiting for a storm to pass. Pine needle is are extremely rich in vitamin C and other micronutrients, just make sure you don’t consume toxic ones such as lodgepole, ponderosa and montery. Be careful though, as some are toxic: Lodgepole, Ponderosa and Montery. Other wild edibles you can cook or make tea from are cat tail, wild onions, acorns, chickweed, and dandelions.

#4. Preserve Energy

When you have limited supplies of food and water, you need to save every ounce of energy you can. Even when you’re not in a life and death situation, calories are extremely important. Given that the only way to get more when you’re up on the mountain is to eat the food you carry or forage, do your best to save your strength by avoiding unnecessary activities that will waste energy.

Guest writer: Dan Sullivan

Photo by: Carolyn Webber

257

Read Article

How to: Select a Ski Boot

When Harry Potter is preparing for Hogwarts, the big-ticket item he buys is a wand— an extraordinary instrument that channels his inner magic, transforming it to action. When skiers are preparing for the slopes, the big-ticket item they buy is ski boots— magical instruments that channel their strength and agility, transforming it to smooth turns and beautiful lines. Ski boots are the primary way that skiers connect with their skis and interact with the snow. Choosing a well-fitting ski boot is integral not only to making sure you fly down the hill like a pro, but also to ensure comfort and safety while skiing.

Flex: Ski boots may be measured by flex, or how difficult it is to flex a boot forward. An easier flex is more forgiving and translates strength easily into motion and maneuverability while absorbing jarring impacts. Increasingly stiff flex ratings help heavier, stronger, and more aggressive skiers to communicate with their skis and charge through more challenging terrain at higher speeds.

Based on your skier type, recommended flex values are:

  • soft flex (60-80 for men, 50-60 for women) for beginning to intermediate skiers.
  • medium flex (85-100 for men, 65-80 for women) for intermediate to advanced skiers.
  • stiff flex (110-120 for men, 85-100 for women) for advanced to expert skiers.
  • very stiff flex (130+ for men, 110+ for women) for expert and racing skiers.

Liners: Different liners will fit your foot in varying degrees of comfort and precision. This depends on if you are riding full days (and may nap wearing them because they are so comfortable) or you are ripping across a pitted traverse and dropping cliffs.

All boot liners will compress over time to better fit your feet, however, more aggressive or racing boots often have thinner liners that will “pack out” less. Thermoformable liners respond to your natural heat to better form to your feet after a couple days of skiing. Custom moldable liners can be artificially heated and worn to form to your feet with the most precision. This can alleviate pain for those with wide feet or ankles and prevent bone spurs from aggravation due to rubbing in ill-fitting boots. Added foot beds can also make a comfortable fit for those with high arches or unique feet.

Shell type: Varying boot shells can impact the customizability of your fit and the maneuverability of your skis. Three-piece shells offer a more progressive flex pattern in boots that allows you to evenly flex through your entire range of motion for added smoothness and balance on unpredictable terrain. Still, they do translate less energy into the skis for forward power. Four-piece shells offer a more limited range of flex that can be jarring and stressful on the body in off-piste conditions, but they efficiently transfer power into speed while skiing.

Harry Potter didn’t become the most powerful wizard after he got his wand; he had to wave it around quite a bit before he got the hang of it. As you select your ski boots, you will still need to adjust sizing and ski them for at least a couple full days before they start to feel like your own. So, put on your boots and start feeling the magic!

c.simon@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Claire Simon

277

Read Article