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Be Aware This Spring Break

There are few things as quintessentially American as the classic college road trip. It is an adventure every student should strive to experience before that graduation cap lands atop their head. The memories created driving across a dirt road, windows down, with friends and camping gear in tow are truly special, and the memories made when everything goes wrong, and you’re forced into some crazy predicament, are absolutely unforgettable.

Here in Utah, we have the incredible fortune to be practically drowning in all the possible road trip itineraries. Spend the week,or at least a few nights, exploring some remote corner of the desert, visiting that national park you haven’t been to, or climbing, paddling, hiking, or pedaling that line you’ve been eyeing. Get out and revel in the absurd beauty of all our state’s natural spaces.

While you’re there, remember one thing. We aren’t the first spring breakers here, and we certainly won’t be the last. The reason our pristine natural places exist to this day are because those who took the trips before us were respectful enough to visit as a ghost, and leave with no trace. Pick up your cans, use your wag bags, and please, for all that is good, do NOT carve your name into the sandstone next to that petroglyph. Let’s be sure this great college tradition of visiting pristine places can be carried onto the next generation of adventurers.


Photo by Dalton Rees.


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The Wizard of the Wasatch

Somewhere back in the powdered ladened lines of the Wasatch resides a wizard. Granted he climbs mountains instead of spiraling towers, carries poles instead of a wooden staff, and rides skis instead of dragons, but he’s a wizard nonetheless. His name’s Bob Athey, he has a beard that rivals Gandalf’s, and he’s been flying down fresh powder lines in the remote Wasatch for decades.

The Wasatch Wizard at home on the snow. Photo by Peter Creveling.

Athey started touring in the early ‘70s. He and his then girlfriend went up to the summit of the 10,700 ft Clayton Peak to attempt a graceful descent. “I thought I knew how to ski, and I was all cocky,” Bob said as he was describing that first run. The reality didn’t quite meet their expectations. Rather than hitting swooping turns down untracked lines, they sort of stumbled and fell their way down.

“I had 210 cm cross country skis, double camber, and shoes like that,” he said, gesturing to my hiking boots. Translated from ski jargon, that basically means Bob was woefully ill-equipped for the downhill runs he was trying to make. However, that setup was standard for the time. For whatever reason, touring just wasn’t widespread enough to warrant having its own gear yet.

“I spent several years falling down hills,” Bob recalled, “but the equipment gradually improved.” Soon, Bob was in a pair of nice telemark skis, which were leaps and bounds better than his previous cross country setup. At least the telemarks were intended for downhill slopes. Finally, the equipment was adequate enough to keep up with Athey’s drive. Now, he was really hitting his stride.

By the ‘80s, Athey was bombing downhill as quick as he could. Unfortunately, the economy took a similar trajectory. Unable to get started in a solid career, Athey had to sign up for unemployment. Instead of hanging his head at his bad luck, Bob realized he now had just enough funds and more than enough time, to ski almost everyday. So he did. He called it, “the state ski team.” Since the times were so tough, unemployment got a special extension. It now lasted for 52 weeks. “I was on unemployment for so long they thought I was unemployable.”

The Wasatch Wizard skiing. Photo by Peter Creveling.

For a long time Bob ran his own construction company and would save up enough money to take the winters off for skiing. He started learning more and more about snow science, safely travelling in the backcountry, and touring in general. He submitted reports almost everyday to the Utah Avalanche Center, and did such a good job that a non-profit called Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center raised funds to pay him for it. For fifteen years, until 2007, he was the only paid, full time field observer.

Even with his deep knowledge of the snow, Bob hasn’t been able to come out of every run unscathed. “I’ve triggered many, many, many avalanches.” Bob said. One was especially nasty. It was off Gobbler’s Knob and left Bob with a dislocated shoulder. While the injury was debilitating, the run got named after him, and Bob still has a sense of humor about it. “On their map they call it Bobsled, I call it Bobslid.”

While having a run named after him helped cement his fame, his real notoriety came from a Salt Lake Tribune article. Bob had been on a day hike of Lone Peak one day with an editor of the Tribune. The editor thought Bob was a hilarious character, so he assigned a reporter to go skiing with him and write an article. The reporter, who also worked for the UAC, talked to her coworker there and asked him how this Athey guy had been skiing so much and hadn’t died in an avalanche. The coworker responded with, “It’s magic, he’s a wizard.” When the article came out the title was “The Wizard of the Wasatch” and the name stuck.

Today the Wizard of the Wasatch is as focused on touring as ever. He runs a website and instagram that aim to provide reliable snow reports to anyone needing the information. “It’s ski touring up, skiing down, figuring out what the snow’s doing, avoiding avalanches, skiing deep powder, the whole thing” that interests Bob. “It’s not just the skiing,” he said.

Bob’s interest in snow science, dedication to getting out, and unique character have made him an infamous and beloved figure in Utah’s backcountry community. Although his life has had its hardships, he said that it’s been fun, and that he’s not planning on stopping anytime soon. As long as the wheels on his car are turning and the snow is falling, the Wasatch will continue to host their resident wizard as he carves around its peak’s most remote corners.


Photos by Peter Creveling.


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Transmission: The Hidden Voice of the Ancients

An interpersonal connection with nature and the surrounding world has remained fundamental to the human experience for time immemorial. Through sight, sound, and touch, we perceive and interact with this planet. aAll experience, however, is entirely limited to the capabilities of these senses, permitting us only a small glimpse into the mysterious and infinite realm that lies just beyond our reach. So many of the Earth’s constant processes and transformations occur far too slowly and quietly for the unassisted ear to catch, though new advances in technology and artistic vision are changing that, giving voices to the long unheard.

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The  creative movement to explore the intricate dimensions that slip past human perception has become further enriched by a recent collaboration between University of Utah geologist Jeff Moore and Jacob Kirkegaard, a European sound artist who has devoted his work to ambient, hidden sounds in the environment.

The project was initially inspired by Moore’s research into the imperceptible seismic vibrations of arches in the deserts of the Southwest, beginning when he and his colleagues began to analyze the origins and influences of these waves on arch structure and sustainability. In their 2016 study of southern Utah’s Rainbow Bridge, among the highest natural bridges in the world, they discovered the constant influence of seismic sources as close as nearby vehicles and as far away as small earthquakes in Oklahoma. Moore came to understand these structures not as fixed objects that change independently, but rather as “transient landforms sculpted by erosion and inching nearer to collapse every day,” he said. Moore found that “We as humans aren’t equipped with the senses to experience these subtle movements.”

The geologist’s hyper-concentrated recordings of seismic waves and vibrations within the red rock arches of Southern Utah and Arizona brought him to recognize a mysterious agency in these structures in addition to just how intimately receptive they are to the surrounding environment. What began as a scientific project in the structural sustainability of these arches developed into a profound shift in how they are to be perceived and understood.

Photo by Dalton Rees.

“These movements are happening every second of every day, but are too small to see or feel,” Moore said, “Hearing the natural hum of these arches I feel gives them a voice, a real voice where they call out things like their state of health and response to all manner of forces.”

The vibrant synthesis between scientific and creative came when Moore reached out to Kirkegaard after learning of the artist’s previous works and dream “to one day be able to record the deep vibrations of the Earth.” The artist’s sound can be described as avant-garde and ambient, ranging in compositions derived from recordings of molten lava, drifting ice, and the operation of nuclear power plants, to his single, “Labyrynthitis,” consisting of recordings from inside his inner ear. Manipulating the understated and nuanced movements of red rock arches into music struck Moore as something for which Kirkegaard was extremely well-suited.

Over the course of the more temperate months of 2017, Kirkegaard traveled with Moore’s team through Southern Utah and Arizona, painstakingly recording the sounds of the desert landscape surrounding these arches, including winds, waterways, and the musings of wild animals. These real-time nature recordings were later synchronized with Moore’s seismic waves and vibrations sped up to audible frequencies, ultimately resulting in an art piece as intimate as it is profound.

Photo by Dalton Rees.

The refined product of this explorative undertaking, “Transmission”, was presented by Kirkegaard at an installation at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum last year from September to December. The atrium was outfitted with large speakers at the polar top and bottom of the concrete room, where the seismic humming of the arches from below resonated through the active recordings compiled on the surface.

“Transmission” tangibly conveys the intimate connection between these mysterious objects and the temporal progression around them with quiet elegance, allowing the previously obscured voices of the desert’s ancient structures a platform for expression. Moore reflects that his collaboration with Kirkegaard allowed him to “focus on trying to communicate the ‘hidden voice’ of the arches and what they are saying, which our data uniquely allow us to decipher.” This profound synthesis between the scientific and creative can be experienced at fonik.dk/works/transmission.html. Stop, listen, and learn.



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Learning to Be in the Backcountry

At the beginning of every Avalanche One training class the instructors always ask, “Why are you here?” Almost everyone in the class answers with some version of, “I’m sick of lift lines and I want to ski some gnarly, waist deep powder and not die.” If you feel the same, a PRTS Avalanche Level One training course through the University of Utah will give you the risk assessment tools to ski the greatest snow on earth, keep yourself and others safe while in the backcountry, and earn credits toward your degree.

I caught up with Nick Rushford, who is in his third year of teaching the Avalanche One training course at the U. Explaining why this year has been dangerous for backcountry skiing, he said, “This year has been very Colorado-esque. We have had long periods of high pressure and a small snowpack. What this leads to isn’t bad skiing, but rather people being excited when it snows even when it’s not the conditions to be out there.” He adds, “The reason why we have had multiple avalanche incidents in Utah this year is because people have been putting problems and human factors on the backburner.” Human factors include cognitive biases like groupthink, sunk cost, expert halo, and familiarity. These factors affect our decision making, and not being aware of them can lead to death in the mountains. Human factors are just one of the many variables you need to consider while in the mountains. “I’m excited for people to get out there and learn more about this stuff in-depth,” Rushford said.

Photo by Samira Guirguis.

Not being aware in the backcountry leads to very real consequences. On January 26, 2018, a group of three experienced backcountry skiers went up to Big Cottonwood canyon and unintentionally triggered a 20” by 150’ avalanche. Reports say they had taken a couple of runs down the slope previously before the slope collapsed. One of the party members caught in the avalanche suffered a head injury and was airlifted out of the Wasatch.

If you have no backcountry experience, an Avalanche One course with Avalanche Rescue Training will give you the basic tools you need to be safe in the mountains. In the Avalanche One training course offered through the University of Utah’s PRTS program, you will learn about avalanche risk assessment, mental checklists, and how to perform an avalanche rescue. If you already have taken Avalanche One with Avalanche Rescue Training, Avalanche Two will delve deeper into the snow science behind avalanches and will help further hone your avalanche assessment skills.

Avalanches are predictable, and with the right training you can learn to mitigate risk, prevent injury to other people, earn credits toward your degree, and get as many powder shots as possible. To sign up for an avalanche training course, visit the University of Utah campus information services page, browse the course catalog, click on the PRTS course, and search for the level of avalanche training that is right for you. Stay safe, and happy touring.


Cover photo by Samira Guirguis. 



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Telemark Skiing: Why You Should Drop a Knee

Telemark skiing is the concatenation of Alpine and Nordic skiing. In Alpine skiing you can only go down the hill (depending on your bindings) and Nordic skiing allows you to travel great distances on flat surfaces. Telemark combines the best of both worlds by not attaching your heel to the ski. When you want to go downhill, you have the option to allow the boot to stay in a relative alpine position and when you want to tour, the boot flexes, allowing for greater movement and flexibility.

Peter Creveling telemark skiing at Snowbird on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Telemark skiing was first introduced back in the 1800s in the region of Norway known as Telemark. It has become more popular due to more advanced technology, increasing the draw to backcountry skiing. One of the original binding mechanisms that attaches the ski boot to the ski was called a “three pin,” a term many skiers may have heard before. There were three metal pins to allow the metal prongs of the binding to secure the boot in place for touring. That has been replaced with touring bindings that use springs and carriages to hold the boot in place on the ski. More modern bindings allow the Telemark ski to have a brake which prevents the ski from sliding down the mountain when the boot is removed from the binding. This is known as an NTN binding and eliminates the unreliable cable system as well as provides a safety mechanism when a skier is in trouble. The NTN bindings are releasable just like traditional alpine bindings.

What is all the hype and craze with Telemark skiing? From my own experience, Telemark skiing is not for the faint-hearted. The sport is excruciatingly difficult because not only do you have to ski down the hill, but in order to make the proper Telemark turn, you need to lunge into position and hold your body weight up on one leg as you do so. You will typically feel a burning sensation in both of your thighs after long runs. Sometimes you feel as though you don’t have any additional leg strength to hold yourself up after making a successful turn. That is normal.

Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Here is the inside scoop as to why you should Telemark ski: Telemark skiing is beautiful. The turns are more graceful as you meander down the mountainside, creating a more drawn out “S” shape. Other skiers on the mountain will watch and comment as you gallantly ski by them. I have had my fair share of skiers comment on the beauty and grace of the Telemark turns, something I have never experienced on alpine skis before. It is a great feeling inside knowing that what you are doing is inspiring to others.

With the new technology that ski companies have been putting into their outdoor equipment, it is unbelievable how amazing the equipment is today. The boots that I had five years ago don’t even compare. The new boots have better liners to keep your feet warm when you are skiing, and the flex at the toe is on par with walking in leather boots. The rigidity and stiffness of the boots allows you to lunge further than you could ever have imagined before. Most importantly, the ski manufacturers are looking out for safety. Traditional Telemark bindings would not disengage in the event of an accident, resulting in a knee injury that typically results in knee surgery. Borrowing a solution from alpine, Telemark boots will now eject from the binding when the specified torque has been reached.

Skiing with Peter and Polly up at Snowbird on Sunday, March 19, 2017. Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

For those of you who want to get into Telemark skiing, the University of Utah Outdoor Recreation Program (ORP) is the perfect place to rent the gear and give it a shot for a weekend. With their excellent student rate prices, it is a no-brainer if you are thinking of escalating your skiing skills. You’ll be surprised after a few days on the slopes at how much stronger your legs will feel, and you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful snow covered great outdoors in a new way.



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Bears Ears in Retrospect

The southeastern corner of Utah has seen numerous changes over the past year as Bears Ears National Monument was first established and successively shrunk. Although the battle over the borders has been steadily building since 2010, the history of Bears Ears dates back to long, long before this.

Utah. USA. Detail of Sand Island petroglyph panel along San Juan River. Colorado Plateau. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

The first people to inhabit the Bears Ears region were the ancestors of modern native tribes. They existed here for thousands of years before the first Mormon settlers reached the region, and have a history as complex as any other civilization. Understanding all the intricacies of this history is a job fit for a full team of archaeologists, but — fortunately — the important points are simple.

Because multiple tribes lived in this area throughout its history, today tribes that no longer reside in Utah still have important ancestral connections to the land, and all these ancestral people left behind hundreds of thousands of artifacts that now scatter the Bears Ears region. This means that modern tribes, like the Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indians, and Navajo, have strong cultural, historical, and spiritual ties to Bears Ears.

The next main inhabitants of this region were the Mormon settlers. In 1879 they set out on the infamous “Hole in the Rock” journey to settle the then barren area near the San Juan river. Though they encountered and fought against numerous obstacles, including blasting a 2,000 foot passage down to the Colorado river in order to cross it, the pioneers made it without any loss of life. By 1880 the road was open and the settlement of Bluff had begun. Since then, Bluff and other settlements near Bears Ears, like Blanding and Monticello, have grown into proper towns and seen generations of families carve a living out of Utah’s sandstone deserts.

Unfortunately, these two groups that both have historic and cultural claims to the land, do not see eye to eye on how to use it. The current inhabitants of Blanding, Bluff, and other border towns have grown up exploring the wilderness around them and using it to graze cattle. They’ve been free to roam relatively unrestricted and even collect or sell many of the artifacts they find. To them, this is life. Changing it would be enormously difficult. The tribes, however, see the destruction that is happening to their ancestral lands — mostly in the form of large-scale looting of and vandalism to the artifacts there — and are not pleased.

Utah. USA. Silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus) in bloom above Hammond Canyon. Manti-Lasal National Forest. Canyon walls are eroded Permian-age Cedar Mesa Sandstone of the Cutler Group. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith.

This is why the Navajo, in June 2010, presented the first proposal to protect Bears Ears to Utah Representative Bennett. The Navajo went around speaking to all the elders of the Navajo nation and other tribes with interests in the area to create a map of all the areas that needed protection. Representative Bennett lost his election that year so the Navajo did not release their map until April of 2011. In July of that same year, Utah Dine Bikeyah (UDB), a Navajo organization set up to specifically handle the process of protecting Bears Ears, turned the map and proposal into a short book and distributed it to political leaders across Utah and Washington D.C. The idea of protecting Bears Ears was now fully on the table, and the debate began.

It took two more years before the state of Utah had a real proposal in response. It came in the form of the February 2013 Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The bill, proposed by Utah Representative Bishop and supported by Utah Representative Chaffetz, sought to solve many of southern Utah’s land debates in one giant compromise. The peak of this was Bears Ears. The tribes, now aligned in the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, wanted Bears Ears to be protected at a size of 1.9 million acres, with the authority to manage the land placed in their hands.The state of Utah wanted to ensure that the people of Bluff and Blanding had their interests represented as well, and wanted to keep the area open to future economic development.

Although nearly three years of debate, discussion, and compromise went into the PLI, it ultimately failed. The tribes eventually pulled their support from the bill, saying that Representative Bishop was continually unresponsive and in the end excluded the tribes from having management authority over the Bears Ears region. By the time the 114th Congress had ended in late December 2016, no vote had been taken on the PLI.

The tribes knew that this was a possibility from the beginning, and so, planned for a backup. They initially sought to have the region protected as a National Conservation Area with the help of the state of Utah (this was the PLI), however, they also knew that the president could establish a National Monument and protect Bears Ears without the state’s help or consent. The Intertribal Coalition had therefore been lobbying President Obama and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell in case the PLI were to fall through. When it became clear that the PLI would not gain the votes it needed before the end of the 114th Congress, President Obama designated a 1.35 million acre chunk of land in southeastern Utah as Bears Ears National Monument, and granted the tribes’ request for management authority.

Protestors congregate on the Salt Lake Capitol to protest shrinkage of Bears Ears. Photo by Nick Halberg.

The Utah delegation, and many Utahns near the new monument, saw this designation as an obvious abuse of the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that allowed presidents the authority to create national monuments, and a huge overreach by the executive. Almost immediately, the Utah delegation began lobbying president-elect Trump. Senator Hatch was so influential in this lobbying that Trump mentioned him on multiple occasions while discussing the monument.

The first step by the Trump administration in the Bears Ears conflict took place in April of 2017 when Secretary Zinke began touring and evaluating all the monuments designated in the last 21 years. The entire process was wrapped in suspicion, however, as Zinke’s final report on the monuments was not officially released until long after the tour was complete.

On December 4, 2017 President Trump travelled to Salt Lake City to once again use the Antiquities Act to determine the borders of Bears Ears National Monument. This time, however, the monument was reduced by roughly 85%, from a size of 1.35 million acres to 200,000 acres. Grand Staircase-Escalante, a monument designated by Bill Clinton just shy of 20 years ago, was also reduced from 1.9 million acres to about a million acres. The reductions were met with applause from the Utah delegation, and boos from thousands of protesters who took to the Capitol steps a few days before Trump’s arrival.

Across the country, the reductions were met with the same mixed reaction. A bigger question plagued the action: was it legal? The Antiquities Act does not explicitly designate the president the power to reduce monuments, though borders have been altered on a few occasions in the past. Now, the courts will decide the fate of both Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante as the Intertribal Coalition and a collection of environmental groups have sued the president.

Protestors congregate on the Salt Lake Capitol to protest shrinkage of Bears Ears. Photo by Nick Halberg.

The Utah delegation, not willing to leave their victory in uncertainty, have proposed two bills to codify the president’s reductions. Representative Stewart introduced H.R. 4558, which will solidify the borders and create a new national park in one of the monuments’ sections. Similarly, Representative Curtis introduced H.R. 4532, which also aims to codify the reductions to Bears Ears. The bills are being deliberated over in a congressional subcommittee now.

The history of Bears Ears is complex, and the debate is far from settled. As the court cases and legislative pieces progress, the possibility of Bears Ears borders once again being altered is high. There only seems to be one thing certain about the landlocked, arid corner of Utah: it has made, and will continue to make, big waves.


Cover photo courtesy of Gary German.




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Bike Riders Selection Know-How for Utah

Contributor article by Sally Writes. Photo by Flo Karr on Unsplash. 

Pinkbike’s 2016 literature survey indicated that 75% of bike trail users are predominantly male, with Utah’s Moab trails attracting younger travelers between the aged 19-29. This is a significant switch from 2014, where the age group ranged between  25-45. There is no doubt the bi-pedaling mechanism is extremely versatile in its usage for both adventure seekers and economic commuters alike. This is especially true if you are planning to explore the many versatile bike trails within the State of Utah.

Get the ride

When it comes to knowing how to choose a good bike, the thought of freedom becomes stifling. Knowing your bikes and how they perform in various terrains, especially in Utah’s sand dunes or mountain trails, is more than about trial and error. You need to go in fully armed to make the best use of your consumer right to buy.

Options are the riders choice

Not all bikes are designed the same as is reflected by the brands and models available on the market.  That said, you want to know the easiest equation for making your selection.

The predominant types of bikes are hybrid, road (sometimes known as touring bikes), mountain and city/commuter. Each one is designed with a specific usage in mind because topography, like people, varies. With Utah spanning over three significant physiological provinces, getting behind the right sets of riding bars makes all the difference.

Paved Bike Trail for Test Drives

You can opt to go for a bike ‘test drive’ in one of your chosen terrains or in the Basin Recreational. Park City’s Basin Recreational is considered a family-friendly bike path which boasts views from the surrounding landscape. The path’s quaint appeal is mainly its ‘shoe tree’ which has been around since the 70’s and is historically known for showcasing shoes and the mural painted underpasses.  There are several ways through which the park can be accessed such through The Field House, Deer Valley and Willow Creek Park.

Off Road, in sand and rock

Alternatively, you can explore some of the more natural, yet ruggedly appealing offerings; namely the desert trail, sand dunes and slick rock in Moab. Some people like to explore Bureau of Land Management open area formerly known as the Little Sahara. As the name suggests, it’s sand mountains of nearly 700 feet. The bike trails network is provided by Cherry Creek, Black Mountain and Jericho. So, if your adrenaline requires fueling you won’t find a better challenge. Be warned, it is a ‘dirt bike’ trail.

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Changing the Way You Ski & Board

Sometimes it feels like Millenials and the generations that have followed are derided for almost everything they do. Whether or not this derision is always valid, the truth is, post-Baby Boomer generations are causing significant fractures and shifts in the way western societies function. One such fracture and shift is happening now in the ski and snowboard industry, a shift post-baby-boom generation Bryan Dunn and Luke Zirngibl have created the website SnowSearch to acknowledge.

SnowSearch.co’s homepage. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

“The U.S. ski industry is in a very interesting spot right now. It has historically, very much from a spending and engagement perspective, been driven by baby boomers who had a very specific set of travel habits. They were very loyal,” explains long-time snowboarder Dunn. “What’s happening with leisure/travel and being echoed in the ski industry is this departure from loyalty — loyalty to brands, loyalty to certain hotels in certain cities, and loyalty to ski resorts.”

According to Dunn, this drop in loyalty is coupled with a “desire to explore,” and to go beyond the few mountains they were raised on by those far more loyal baby boomers.

The ski and boarding industry has noticed this shift in part, which has led to the rise

SnowSearch co-founder Bryan Dunn boarding in Hokkaido, Japan in January of 2017. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

of multi-passes. One of the first such passes came from global mountain resort operator Vail Resorts, Inc. Their pass, called the “Epic Pass,” functions quite differently from past single resort options. Dunn says, “Instead of buying access to one mountain, [with the Epic Pass] you bought a season pass to all mountains, and you could go to as many of them as you want as much as you like.” Vail’s Epic Pass has proved incredibly successful. Other multi-resort passes are now available on the market as a result. “If you’re someone who skis more than a few times a year, it suddenly makes sense to buy into one of these multi-passes,” Dunn adds.

SnowSearch co-founder Bryan Dunn boarding off Wyoming’s Teton Pass in September of 2017. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

Such desire for exploration inherent in the success of multi-passes shows in Dunn’s own habits, boarding in resorts on four continents. His experience making these trips and going through the frustrations of not only planning which resort to go to, but also where to rent any needed gear, what type of overnight space to stay in, and how to manage transportation from said space to the resort, is what inspired the website.

“We’ve always looked for some unbiased, trusted viewpoint and we’ve found that really difficult to capture. And alongside that, these multi-passes are great, but they only include lift tickets. You’re always going to purchase a hotel or a vacation rental — whether that’s a home rental, Airbnb, something else; sometimes you need gear rental; sometimes you need transportation,” says Dunn. “There’s all these disparate pieces of inventory that you need to purchase when you finally do figure out where you want to go and when, and all these things are all over the place on the web.”

Bryan Dunn and Luke Zirngibl’s RV which they used to drive across country from Boston to Utah. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

A business-minded individual himself, it was the combination of Dunn’s project pitching and the more technical-minded Zirngibl’s insights and skills that made SnowSearch, which aims to answer these problems, possible.

SnowSearch.co offers convenience at levels other ski websites have only brushed up against. From the start, the site is bursting with information. Current snowfall amounts for a variety of ski resorts scrolls across the top of the screen. Stories by local skiers and snowboarders, that know the resorts they cover, line the left-hand column. A map featuring nearby resorts lines the right.

The main feature of the site — the ability to simultaneously search for resort passes, gear rentals, and lodging — sits just below the scrolling snowfall information, right next to the SnowSearch logo.

Resort detail on SnowSearch.co. Photo courtesy of SnowSearch.

Type in a resort, choose a date range, select the number of people you’re looking to plan for, checkmark what other components you need to arrange, click “Deals,” and you’re matched with relevant information you would normally have to use multiple tabs for, all ready for you on one site. Dunn and Zirngibl see this as the only logical future for ski and snowboard planning. “We wanted to create one centralized environment where you can both find good trusted information based off what matters to you most, whether that’s where the most snow’s coming, or which resorts are nearby on your pass, or who has the best music, or ski party on the books for the next couple of weeks, and then book whatever you need for that trip,” Dunn says.

He adds, “We believe the industry needs something like this. It’s very sophisticated from an operational perspective, very sophisticated from a back-end tech perspective, but if you look at consumer-facing tech it’s super old-school, which has always worked just well enough,” he says. “As demographics start to shift, we’re confident we can provide a better channel for the industry to reach younger generations, who will represent the majority of spend within a few years. We’re eager to open up our platform to legacy stakeholders with the vision that the more comprehensive our site is from both an information and inventory perspective — as SnowSearch grows into a metasearch for the broader snow sports space — the better we can position the industry as a whole to engage the future consumers of these amazing sports.”






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Ephemeral Made Permanent

The best aspect of winter in Utah is the greatest snow on Earth. People travel all over the world to experience some of the greatest terrain provided by the Wasatch Mountains. In the winter, there are locations that receive upwards of 50 feet of snowfall in a season. It’s no wonder thousands of people travel to Utah to engage in the plethora of snow sports available. One of the most interesting things about snow, however, is snow itself. The variety and types of snow seem endless. There is even a subject known as snow science, which you can earn a degree in through Montana State University. As beautiful as snow is, there is so much we don’t know about it. This is what makes photographing snow and snowflakes that much more special.

Photographing snowflakes with Kiffer in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Photo by Peter Creveling.

Photographing a snowflake comes down to having the right kind of gear. Since the first photographs of them in 1885, taking a photo of a snowflake has become significantly easier. You no longer need to attach a microscope to your camera, and you no longer have to wait until the film is processed to see whether or not you captured the perfect photo. Today, taking a photo using a DSLR allows anyone to get great photographs. Even with modern gear, there are a few things you will need to get a great shot.

First, you will need magnification. Snowflakes are really small. The average snowflake ranges in size from a few micrometers to a few millimeters. To get this magnification, it is necessary to use a macro lens, which allows you to shoot close-up photography and make objects appear greater than life-size without having to perform any significant zoom — all of the magnification is in the lens. To get even greater magnification, use an extension tube to help you push beyond the limits of your lens. An extension tube physically extends the lens further away from the body of the camera, allowing you to adjust the focal length for increased magnification.

Photographing snowflakes with Kiffer in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Photo by Peter Creveling.

Second, you will need an old piece of dark fabric. The idea is to have a material that is dark in color to contrast the color of snowflakes. It is also used to catch the snowflakes as they fall. The frayed fibers of an old fabric will catch a snowflake and suspend it above to prevent heat from being transferred that would otherwise melt the snowflake. Snowflakes that land on metal surfaces, for instance, would turn into a water droplet instantly. Try using colors other than black to help bring out the beauty of each snowflake, but make sure to keep the color dark.

Third, it is important to have good lighting. Almost always use some sort of external light source. Providing your own light helps you capture the exact photo you are looking for. It is rare that you will get a photo of a snowflake when direct sunlight is present, so using an external light source will help bring out the elegance of the individual branches and their reflectivity to light.

Photographing snowflakes with Kiffer in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Photo by Peter Creveling.

It’s important to note that taking photos of snowflakes requires a lot of practice. First, you have to wait for snow, and not every snowstorm produces the picturesque snowflakes we commonly envision. It will take a lot of patience as well as keeping warm in the cold, but with luck maybe you can be the first to find two snowflakes that are alike.


Photographing snowflakes with Kiffer in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. Photo by Peter Creveling.











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Wasatch Winter Mountaineers

Through each season, the peaks of the Wasatch transform with the elements to take on a radically different façade,

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

and during the period of snowfall and cold, this range is an entirely different beast. While the notion of climbing to the apex of one of the many cloud-carving goliaths seems intimidating and prohibitive to most in the valley during the summer, doing so while the Wasatch is encased in snow is downright unimaginable. For some impetuous local mountaineers, however, the endeavor is exhilarating, sublime, and worth the struggle and risk. If you’re an individual with a bit of cardio, grit, and interest in learning, surmounting one of the glistening peaks in the winter is merely a matter of will and determination.

Sports like this, of course, are contingent upon connecting with a community; knowledge is often best passed-down by a mentor, as it is not wise to approach these expeditions alone (particularly on one’s first attempt). While social media may be among the modern practices keeping people either indoors or buried in their smartphones, it has served as an incredible mechanism for bringing together like-minded folk from all walks of life. This sport is no exception.

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While many local groups have existed long before the induction of social media in contemporary consciousness, platforms like Facebook have played an essential role in uniting and organizing mountain junkies and their activities. The most prominent and active among them include the longstanding Wasatch Mountain Club and the accurately named Wasatch Mountain Wranglers, collectively comprised of 7,375 members (the latter having the most at 5,502). Each group routinely organizes a variety of expeditions into these mountains throughout the year, serving as an inclusive environment in which locals at any level of practice can get connected with exhilarating trips, as well as experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate mentors.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I reached out to some of the impetuous Utahns to determine just why they do it, what it takes, and what advice they may have for newcomers. At every level of expertise, these determined individuals all have something that drives them to these peaks.

Nicole Frazier Condie is a lifelong Mapleton local, mother, self-proclaimed mountain-lover, and is relatively new to winter mountaineering. She explains that while she has spent her entire life treading the slopes of the Wasatch, she has found recently that “the winter brings a gift: a quiet extreme. You experience this rush while at the same time you feel so at peace —  safe but not safe at all. It is an absolute juxtaposing experience. Its beauty is truly something straight from Narnia.”

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

This quiet extreme is something Condie came to learn most profoundly on her perilous group expedition up South Thunder Mountain (11,154 feet) last March. While the weather had fared well for her group throughout the day, Condie says “the wind changed dramatically up after 10,500 feet to 50-60 mph gusts. One smaller woman on the team was actually lifted and fell from the wind during the last push to the summit. As sharp ice flurries burned past my face I worried that the wind would pick up one of those large pieces, sending me over the edge. But I pressed on, unable to see or hear the others in my party.” Despite the treacherous conditions, including — at one point —  making a wrong turn  toward a precarious ravine and later having to learn how to glissade with an ice axe on-the-spot. Condie persevered nonetheless, leaving her with the sense of accomplishment.

Courtesy of Nicole Frazier Condie.

“I really had done something. I really lived in that moment. Something beautiful truly awoke in me,” she says.

Each individual capable and driven in winter mountaineering seems to develop their own intimate relationships with the mountains and motivations for climbing them. Joe Butcher, an experienced mountaineer and Kaysville native, affirms his motivation for climbing “really is spiritual.”

“I enjoy being reminded how small I am in the grand scheme of things. I also enjoy the difficulty, and training my mind with the fortitude to overcome some of the most difficult obstacles I have ever encountered. My experiences in the mountains have provided me with the wherewithal to endure many other trials in my personal life,” he says.

Jonathan Scott, a Utah County native and active all-season mountaineer in the Wasatch Mountain Club, finds himself drawn to these peaks in winter due to the sublime challenge they hold.

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

“[In the winter] there are more variables that make it more difficult, but also more rewarding, like solving a 1,000-piece puzzle as opposed to a 100-piece puzzle. I like challenges, and the winter offers that for me,” Scott says.

Scott urges newcomers not to shy away from the challenge, however daunting it may seem.

“Don’t be so afraid of a winter objective that you don’t try it,” he says. “Just like when you project a boulder problem or climbing route outside of your current abilities, start at the bottom and work your way up the mountain, even if it takes you 10 times.”

Tanner Maxwell is an avid Wasatch Mountain Wrangler and photographer. He finds a sublime aesthetic and self-actualizing potential on these ridges.

“Solitude and incredible beauty that can only be found in high places in the winter is what drives me to the Wasatch in the winter months,” Maxwell explains. “Challenging myself and setting summit goals is what keeps me sane. There is no place like the mountains, and seeing them firsthand in all types of weather and seasons is what makes it worth undertaking. I feel like I better myself when I am up there.”

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

Each of these practicing winter mountaineers had their own perspectives on the greatest risks associated with the mystifying sport and tips to ensure a safe and positive experience, but one thing that remained consistent in their responses was that avalanches are among the greatest possible dangers. One must always be mindful of conditions on the mountain — to “know before you go,” if you will.

Mike Gibby, a well-seasoned climber and mentor figure in the Wasatch Mountain Club with dynamic experiences both domestic and international, claims that the ideal conditions to keep an eye out for are “low avalanche danger, snow consolidation, cold weather — to help stabilize the snow — good visibility, and no wind.” It is ultimately best to pick a cold, clear day and push-off as early as 2 or 3 a.m. This is such common practice in the sport that it has been named an “Alpine Start.”

Gibby also advises aspiring winter mountaineers to recognize that safety must be taken as the primary objective, and to always “be prepared to turn around if conditions change.”

Other potential dangers associated with this sport are dehydration, exposure to the elements, snow and ice hazards, like melting cornices and snow bridges, and, of course, involuntary sliding and falling.

Regardless of outdoor experience level, potential newcomers to winter mountaineering are encouraged to 1) begin by practicing in shorter and less precarious winter hiking locations to familiarize themselves with the equipment and conditions, 2) take at least one avalanche course, 3) develop a habit of assessing snow-levels on the Utah Avalanche Center site, and 4) acquaint themselves with people well-experienced in the practice, like the Wasatch Mountain Club and Wasatch Mountain Wranglers. It is also important to 5) be transparent with yourself to ensure you have the composure to lead your body up such an icy mountaintop. Aside from a firmly level and clear head, the essential equipment for winter mountaineering largely depends upon conditions, but the basics include:

Courtesy of Jonathan Scott.

>ice axes


>full-shank boots

>many layers (top and bottom) for varied conditions

>multiple glove layers

>water with freezing prevention methods




>trekking poles with snow-baskets

>snowshoes or skis with climbing skins for the approach

>short, mountaineering, or climbing rope depending on route

>avalanche safety equipment (like a beacon, shovel, and probe)

>knowledge of weather and avalanche conditions

Courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.

While you don’t necessarily need to break the bank when attaining equipment, particularly while you are still uncertain whether or not the sport is for you, you should always err on the side of quality equipment, since cheap and unreliable gear can either ruin your day or even cost you your life. It is a general rule of thumb that any gear you will trust your life with — this includes ropes, harnesses, carabiners, etc.— should not be bought for just this reason.

Though virtually any snow-covered peak or route can be taken on with sufficient gusto and preparation, some of the most popular and appraised are the Pfeifferhorn, the Everest Ridge, and Timpanooke routes on Mount Timpanogos, South Thunder Mountain, White and Red Baldy, Lone Peak, Mount Olympus, and the Tripe-Traverse goliaths: Dromedary Peak, Sunrise Peak, and the Broadsfork Twins.

Stay safe out there.

Title photo courtesy of Tanner Maxwell.





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