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Getting Into Trail Running

I’m sure the thought of trail running seems like a superhero feat, but it’s actually not as bad as you might think. Trail running is similar to running on a track or road, with the added benefit of letting you reconnect with nature while getting in a little cardio. Trail running has other benefits that basic road running does not. Surprisingly, trail running puts less pressure on your joints, leading to fewer injuries in the long run. Now you’re thinking, “Well, running on uneven ground is dangerous,” which is true if you’re not careful, but along with road running, all sports have their pros and cons. For those who are just starting out, there are a few things you need to know before hitting the trails.

Start out slow

Obviously it’s called trail running for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you need to fully sprint up and down the trail. Start off slow to get into the groove of things. Rugged terrain can sometimes be tricky, so don’t be ashamed to slow down and take your time when running. If you’re prone to knee and ankle injuries, trail running is lower-impact compared to running on solid, hard surfaces like pavement or track, especially if you take it easy at first.

Be prepared

Like any kind of exercising, you’ll need water. Running up an incline while simultaneously dodging rocks, avoiding branches, and making sure your footing is correct can be quite the workout. Most small hiking backpacks will have chest and waist clips to strap that baby in nice and tight. I like to be extra prepared with snacks and a small first aid kit just in case as well.

Have proper footwear

Just like in hiking, ankle rolls are common. I suggest light weight, ankle high hiking boots for the extra support. Again, if you’re prone to ankle injuries, ankle braces can be helpful as well. If you just have tennis shoes, make sure they have a good amount of tread for footing purposes.

Know the rules of the trail

It’s good to know what kind of trail you will be running and the traffic it has because not all trails are the same. Yield to other hikers and runners and remember that it is better safe than sorry. Not doing so is potentially dangerous, and even without injury, no one wants to be shoved off the trail by someone else.

Elbows out

Use those arms! Balance is everything. Trail running is great in the way that it works out muscles you didn’t even know you had. Utilizing your arms will help you get better footing and help you balance as you run on rugged terrain.

Keep your eyes on the prize

While simultaneously watching your footing, dodging obstacles, and focusing on your breathing, always keep your eye on the trail. No one wants to trip over a tree root or rock and injure themselves. Running, tripping, and falling down a mountainside sounds like a nightmare. Avoid that by being attentive to your surroundings.

Take it all in

Last but not least, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers or the sheer sweat that you’ve worked up while running through our beautiful Utah scenery. The biggest benefit of trail running is the change of scenery anyway, right? Happy trail running!

a.duong@wasatchmag.com

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Epic Picnicking

Growing up in Utah really helps you to appreciate the outdoors and the incredible opportunities just past your doorstep. The possibilities for travel within this state alone can take more than a lifetime. The question for any individual adventurer then becomes, how do you make these commonly enjoyed places more unique? My spin off answer to this question is to have a picnic, and epic picnic, at every location you visit, either figuratively or literally. Take your stereotypical red and white table cloth, woven straw lunch basket, and deli sandwiches and create your own picnic table in the most epic places possible within the wilderness. Make each and every experience your own.

One such epic picnic experience is peak bagging. Yes, you might have to carry a little extra weight to bring up all those picnic items, but hear me out, the experience alone will stay with you the rest of your life. I can speak from experience. I hiked King’s Peak, and what I remember most is carrying a tripod in my right hand and a subway sandwich in my left for miles. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Am I insane? Most likely. Now, I have a great story to tell each time about how I hiked the highest peak in Utah, and I have the photos to remember the experience.

Another option is to take hiking to a new level. I recommend getting into mountaineering. This sport is truly breathtaking, and I’m not just talking about the lack of oxygen once you get above 10,000 feet. Mostly, I just feel like an astronaut walking on the surface of a foreign planet with the coolest glacial glasses known to existence on my head, ice crampons on my feet, and an ice axe in my hand. When you mountaineer this way, it is just you and the mountain. Let me tell you, once at the top of a peak after hiking through a glacial field, a delicious sandwich is one of the best tasting meals you’ll ever have. This was another epic picnic I have notched into my experience belt.

These are only two examples of  the “epic picnics” I have created for myself. I challenge you to create some of your own as well. You might be struggling at the present when trekking through the desert, but it is the memories you create along the way that matter most, and adding a picnic, to any already epic adventure, is a great way to make it even more so.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

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Bouldering Rockstar Alex Puccio

The history of bouldering is comprised of amazing feats initially thought impossible. The sport is made up of a wide variety of people, brought together by a similar love for sheer rock and tough holds.

Professional rock climber, Bouldering World Cup winner, and eleven time National Champion, Alex Puccio, is one such person. Raised in Dallas, Texas, Puccio, two months shy of 29, has been climbing more than half her life. At this point, her reputation precedes her.

“I started climbing at a gym called Exposure,” Puccio says. This indoor gym near where she grew up led to a youth competition circuit where she competed until turning 16, at which point she was legally able to enter adult climbing circuits.

“When I was 16, I competed in my first adult national bouldering series, or comp,” Puccio says, “And I actually won it, which was a big shock and a surprise to me.” What some may have thought a fluke, Puccio proved to be a matter of skill and strength soon after, she says. “Every comp, or at least 95 percent of the comps that I entered for adults from that first comp, I won.”

Puccio’s skill is not limited to the gym, either. She’s also conquered multiple V14 boulder routes, a level typically ranked in the “Elite” echelons of bouldering, and considers herself more of a boulderer than a sport climber overall. She explains she got into sport climbing first because, “When I was younger, I had to mostly sport climb because in the youth competition circuit” — a level of climbing competitions for those 18 and younger — “there wasn’t any bouldering,” she says. However, once she found bouldering, she says, “I naturally loved bouldering because I think I’m a more powerful athlete and I develop muscles just genetically like really easily, so I gravitated to the powerful side of climbing, and really loved it.”

Videos capturing Puccio’s sport climbing and outdoor bouldering are stunning to watch. When she’s moving, Puccio makes incredible jumps, grabs, and upside-down holds look easy as she scales sheer rock faces and steeply angled walls. Analyzing those same sections later, even having seen Puccio make her way through, it is hard to believe any upward movement would be at all possible.

Despite major injuries — like a torn ACL and MCL and, even scarier, a herniated disc affecting her spinal cord, taking place within a year of each other — Puccio earned her eleventh National Champion win this year, in February at the downtown Salt Lake City Salt Palace. Though as a result of that second injury, she says, “I think I have slight loss of range of motion, and some of the muscles in my neck get kind of tweaked or cramped,” she adds, “Other than that, I don’t notice that much.” In fact, injury seems to have been motivating for Puccio, who says, “I did my first competition about three and a half months [after surgery for the herniated disk], and went with expectations of just climbing and seeing how it went, and potentially backing out if I felt scared or not ready, and then I ended up winning the comp and I ended up winning every single comp after that for the next five months.” 15 professional competitions. 15 wins. Post-major spine-related surgery.

Ever improving, Puccio will no doubt maintain a strong presence in the climbing world. If you spend time in Orangeville, Utah’s Joe’s Valley during fall and spring, or Little Cottonwood Canyon, you may run into her. Of Joe’s Valley, she says, she and her boyfriend “love to go there for climbing outside. It’s a beautiful sandstone rock and really fun to climb on.…Little Cottonwood Canyon’s right in our backyard, basically. It’s a really good climb. Most people don’t travel really far [to get there], so if you go there, it’s pretty small and scarce, but there are a lot of classic lines, and a lot of classic boulder problems … and sport climbing. It’s definitely a nice area to have just to go local and to not have to go very far.”

c.koldewyn@wasatchmag.com

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

Cover photo by Kiffer Creveling.

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Your Bucket List is Wrong

Everytime I unlock my phone and click that little, pinkish-purple, camera shaped app, I’m bombarded by stoke. Pictures of The North Face expedition team climbing vertical walls in Antarctica, Renan Ozturk and Chris Burkard flying on ultralight trikes over Bears Ears, and Zion canyoneer guides putting first descents into “superslots” in the remote backcountry all roll down my Instagram feed as my fingers vigorously like images. Soon, my mental bucket list overflows with ideas.

Initially, this is motivation. It pushes me to make the most of every weekend, staying up late finishing assignments ahead of time and driving far too late at night to get to my weekend destination. However, the pressure mounts. For every one check I get on my list, another five boxes appear. I’m pushing harder to do more, go bigger, and become as objectively rad as the people I’m trying to imitate on Instagram. What started out as fun motivation turns into a competition, and I find myself living less in the moment and more for the checkmark.

The epitome of this came last July when my Colorado peak-bagging/backpacking trip was outvoted by my friend’s California beach trip. I was bummed, climbing a 14er had been on my list for months, but I clambered into the car packed with my five friends, flip flops, and sunscreen all the same. I figured California was just as cool, and I could still make the trip worthwhile. As it ended up, nothing extraordinarily adrenaline-pumping or groundbreaking happened. We took short day hikes on small, beautiful trails, slept on friends’ floors, and sat on many beaches. I didn’t even get a clear picture for Instagram, but it was the best trip of my summer.

For once, I was relaxed. I didn’t worry about whether or not what I was doing would make me a better canyoneer, gain me points on the radness scale, or check a box on my arbitrarily decided list. I was living for myself and made the decision that brought me the most happiness. The freedom we had during those five days brought a joy greater than any I had felt after checking any box before.

That trip forged a model for my friends and me that summer. Instead of choosing what we were going to do, we would decide where we wanted to go and go with the flow from there. We’d purposely avoid all pictures so we could be surprised by what we saw, we brought plenty of gear so our options wouldn’t be limited once we got there, and most importantly, we always did what sounded the most fun. We didn’t have goals for our outings, because goals are inherently structured and require planning. We just went.

We discovered a way to truly adventure. We headed into our trips blindly, but full of enthusiasm and ended up creating memories we all cherish deeply to this day. No firsts were made, no feats of adventure completed, and nothing we did would get us sponsored by some cool company. At the end of the day, we would all sit down together and watch the sun set, the fire burn, and the stars slowly creep out. My bucket list didn’t see many checkmarks over those months, but nothing could have made me happier.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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Weed Outbreaks and Why You Should Care

Last fall, while taking a homework break to hike around the Bonneville Shoreline trail, I ran into two guys bent over ahead of me. At first, I couldn’t tell if there was something serious going on, but as I got closer, I realized they were leaning over their bikes, trying to pump up their tires.

Isatis tinctoria. Photo by Sierra Marty.

“This is the fifth time in two weeks that I’ve gotten a flat tire riding on Salt Lake bike trails,” one of the men told me. His tire had a few goat heads, a spiky weed famous for popping tires, sticking into the tube, which he had picked up biking around the city. As spring time starts to approach the valley, it becomes a notorious time for noxious weeds to start spreading around the valley and repopulating.

Onopordum acanthium. Scotch thistle. Photo by Sierra Marty.

I sat down with Neal Dombrowski, a botanist at Red Butte Gardens, who told me about some of the weeds they have problems with here in Salt Lake City, which include yellow dtarthistle, myrtle spurge, goat heads, dyers woad, and medusahead.

Most outbreaks of noxious weeds start in wildland-urban interfaces, where human population ends and wildlife begins. The avenues, mouths of the canyons, and Capitol Hill are good examples of this. “Within the city we can contain it, but once it starts creeping into the wild areas, it’s a lot less controllable,” said Dombrowski.

These different kinds of harmful weeds can be a huge problem for mountain bikers, because they could get their bike tires popped; hikers, because certain weeds could cause skin irritation and blistering; animals, because certain noxious weeds could be poisonous; and the environment, because they can kill native plants. Botanists like Dombrowski are able to control weed outbreaks by chemical, mechanical, and biological methods. Chemical methods can include any kind of herbicide, but chemicals don’t always work particularly well at killing weeds, and can have other unknown effects on the environment. Mechanical methods include weed pulling by hand, or using tools such as rakes and vacuums. Biological methods are used when native predators, such as weevils, are introduced to an environment to kill and control a specific weed. There are a few ways we as students can help prevent outbreaks. We can control what grows in our yard, and make sure we get rid of any kind of noxious weed that begins to grow. We can rinse off our shoes and bikes after hitting up different trails to make sure that we aren’t transporting potential seeds. Also, we can report outbreaks that we see before they spread to places like the Shoreline trail, leaving bikers at the risk of getting popped tires.

Myrtle Spurge. Photo by Sierra Marty.

The most effective way to get rid of weeds is with the help of volunteers. However, one must be very careful not to just go pulling anything that looks like a potential weed. For example, many plants in Utah look like different thistles, and while most thistle plants are no good, there are actually a few native plants to Utah. “Proper identification is key,” said Dombrowski. One good way to figure out whether a certain plant could potentially be a nuisance weed is by emailing Salt Lake County a picture of the weed just to be sure. Last year, weed pulling events hosted by Red Butte Gardens had an average of 37 volunteers, and were sponsored by big names such as REI, KRCL, and the Nature Conservancy. While spending a Saturday pulling weeds may not sound like tons of fun, knowing that I get to help protect the outdoor environment in Salt Lake City (and my bike tires) is enough motivation for me to get out and do it regardless. Anyone interested in learning more can contact Neal at nealdombrowski@redbutte.utah.edu

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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Using Home Crafts to Make A Wilderness Adventure Amazing

Contributor article by Sally Writes. Photo by Chris Schog on Unsplash. 

Spring has truly sprung, and Americans everywhere are revving up to hit the great outdoors. In the spring of 2008, 41.75 million Americans went camping, and this jumped by over 5 million at the start of spring of 2017. This growth continues and an extra million households are expected to start camping each year. The camping industry generates $2.5 billion annually, and while it is possible to camp on a budget entry, any luxuries can quickly drain your disposable income. Is it possible to glam in the wilderness on a shoestring budget? It is if you are canny.

Keep Your Brain-Box Warm

As the sun vanishes below the horizon and temperatures drop, the risk of hypothermia increases. You can’t help radiating heat, so anywhere you don’t have clothing can become a source of cooling from radiation heat loss. On the other hand, effective use of clothing and layers of air can help trap heat while camping. A simple knitted hat can help keep you warm by trapping the heat lost from your head.

Upgrade Your Sleeping Arrangements Cheaply

For first time campers, it is the night that worries them most. There is nothing like a rock hard, freezing cold floor to take all the enthusiasm out of even the most excited camper. Air beds can be extremely expensive, bulky, and a pain to inflate. Roll mats are great but the affordable options don’t always work, and the ones that do, cost too much for a budget camper. Instead, it is far cheaper to go directly to foam suppliers, where you can purchase a roll of 1/4 inch Closed Cell Foam, and cut it to size. If the idea of lying on the ground doesn’t appeal even with a mat, a DIY hammock offers an incredibly cheap and comfortable alternative. Visit your local military surplus shop and get some parachute fabric; you will need a piece around 7 foot by 4 foot and some paracord. Fit brass eyes at each corner, thread your rope and firmly attach your bed to a couple of trees. If you feel too exposed, use any surplus fabric to fashion a makeshift flysheet.

Prepare Homemade Emergency Rations

Sometimes you just need a lift. When things go wrong in the wilderness, nothing can give you a boost like a hit of glucose. Traditionally hikers have kept Kendal Mint Cake on them for those occasions when nothing else will do. Save yourself money on this emergency ration and have fun making it for yourself. All you need is sugar, milk, and peppermint oil. Eating well when on an outdoor adventure is absolutely key, so those emergency rations shouldn’t be overlooked.

Get Organised and Relieve Stress

If you are staying at your chosen campsite for any length of time it’s important to get organized. Scrabbling through wet clothes and smelly bags can get old really fast. Camping cupboards and shelves are a great solution, but they don’t come cheap. Thankfully, in the woods you can find all the raw materials you need to make as much furniture as you want, provided you got your pioneering badge in Boy Scouts, or have read this guide. For a first time camper, the simpler solution is pallets. If you have a group of families camping together, each can bring a pallet on their roof racks, to which other equipment can be tied. Pack a good claw hammer and some nails and even the most inept carpenter can knock up a simple shelf/table unit in minutes. Combine your unit with dollar store car organizers, and you’ve got something really useful. When you are finished you can take your creation home or use it on your last big fire of the camp.

Every Problem Has a Cheap Solution

Don’t want to squat over a hole in the ground but can’t afford an expensive camping toilet? Buy a cheap but sturdy bucket from a builder’s supply shop and a swimming noodle from the dollar store. Wrap the noodle around the top, cut it to size and then slice it lengthwise so it will fit around the rim.

Can’t afford an expensive battery powered fridge? Get a metal ammo box from a military surplus shop, bury it to the rim, half fill with water and keep things in it sealed in bags. If it starts to feel warm inside, place damp tea towels on the lid.

Miss your warm shower? Buy industrial strength black trash bags. Cut a hole in the bottom corner, use duct tape to attach a small length of hose, tape the rose from a dollar store watering can at the end, add a bulldog clip just above the hole, hang the bag up in direct sunlight and fill with water. By the end of the day, you will have a bag of warm water ready to be released through the rose when you release the clip.

Don’t like the dark but can’t afford a power light for your camp? Fill an empty wide-mouthed bottle with a mixture of bleach and water duct tape a headlamp to the mouth of the bottle pointing down into the liquid, fashion a handle out of some string, hang it on a branch above your camp, and then turn the lamp on. The bottle will glow as brightly as an incandescent bulb and illuminate your whole campsite.

Your budget does not have to stop you from enjoying the wilderness this spring. The only thing in your way is planning, research, and original thinking. Don’t slum it and have a break you wish you could forget—prepare a budget glam and create memories to treasure forever.

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1976 vs. Now: What do you do with no snow?

Photo by Peter Creveling.

Winter here in Utah is a very exciting time. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and there are plenty of ways to keep yourself occupied. Utah is known for its “Greatest Snow on Earth” for one thing, and all the locals will testify to that greatness. The Wasatch Mountain Range is a world class destination for snow skiing, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year. With all that importance placed on our snow, what happens when snow doesn’t come?

Snow is an essential element in the ecosystem. It is a storage system of fresh water that can be utilized during Utah’s typically dry summer months, it regulates the global temperature with its ability to reflect 80 to 90 percent of incoming sunlight, and it also provides insulation that prevents moisture and other gases from escaping into the atmosphere. In short, snow serves many vital purposes that we often take for granted.

Here in Utah, we mostly look at snow as a recreational good, but its importance in other ways cannot be overstated. With the current lack of snow this season, Salt Lake City will most likely be experiencing a drought of varying severity.

Have we always been this concerned about the lack of snow in years past within the Beehive state? The simple answer is yes. In years past, ski resorts have delayed their opening days significantly due to the lack of snowfall, in fact. There are many patterns in history that cause a large fluctuation in weather, such as El Niño and La Niña years, but it seems that there is a general trend: the Earth, on average, is getting warmer each year.

Skiing and pond skimming with Blake, and Kristen at Snowbird on Sunday, June 4, 2017.
Photo by Kiffer Creveling.

Back in 1976, Colorado ski resorts almost didn’t open. In a place like Salt Lake, this is almost unthinkable. Today’s technology has come a long way since the ‘70s, and artificial snowmaking is now an important part to a successful ski season, but there is no way to control the temperature. This day and age, the air temperature must be at or below freezing for snow to be made.

If you look at the snowfall over the past 60 years in Utah, the average is around 470 inches of snow. All the records of large snowfall were set back in the ‘90s or earlier, and the only records set between 2000 and now recognize how little snow we have received.

This may just be the cycle of weather we are experiencing in the new millennium, but I sure hope that end of the cycle is near. It’s scary to think that one day it could no longer snow in Utah. For now, make the most of what snow we have received so far by getting out and going skiing as much as possible. When you ski, also be mindful of the potential snow has for more than just a ski slope and do your best to cut down on carbon emissions to help preserve it in the future. Ski resorts are already beginning to close throughout the world for good. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen within the Wasatch Mountains.

p.creveling@wasatchmag.com

Cover photo by Kiffer Creveling.

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Stoked Roasters: Coffee in Park City

Photo by Samira Guirguis.

Few coffee shop owners can say they’ve run a marathon, let alone, been the first woman to finish the Four Deserts Grand Slam Plus. Yeah, you heard me. That’s the Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, and Arctic deserts as well as Sri Lanka all in one calendar year, and she was crowned its 2016 Female World Champion. Jax Mariash has faced the whirling sand and glaring sun, temperatures that leave limbs numb, and has stood in spectacular environments that capture the essence of nature in its unadulterated form. What really animates Jax, is not the fact that she can endure long distance running, but that she loves coffee. So when Jax announced she was opening a coffee Roasting facility and tasting room in Hoodriver, OR, and now a coffee shop in Park City, UT on Main Street, no one doubted that she’d pull it off.

STOKED ROASTERS coffee is all about inspiring people to get outside and get “stoked” on their adventures while bringing craft coffee to the outdoor industry. People might think that that these two ideas don’t mix, but most outdoorsy people are very health

Photo by Samira Guirguis.

conscious about what goes into their bodies and environments. Whether that might be trying to live a summer on a vegetable garden or trying to support brands that invest in protecting national monuments. It would only make sense that this niche of people would seek out a coffee that aims to do that as well.

“Roasting coffee is like wine, where various green beans from different origins all carry unique flavor notes to them depending on what beans you choose or how long they are roasted. You get different gradients of coffee flavors when you produce a light roast, medium roast, or a dark roast,” Jax said proudly. What makes STOKED ROASTERS stand out from other coffee shops is that they don’t cut out the extra steps when roasting and watching every batch by the minute. STOKED ROASTERS has a variety of blends all named after different outdoor adventures such as Bluebird, Double Overhead, First Tracks, Soul Session, Dawn Patrol, and White Out. Furthermore, STOKED ROASTERS is the only coffee company to support a fleet of sponsored athletes.

Photo by Samira Guirguis.

Another signature that is making Jax’s coffee stand out in the outdoor community are her STOKED STIX instant coffee. Stoked will be wherever you might be, whether that is camping with your kids in the Wasatch or on a plane dreaming of heli-skiing. You will always have premium coffee with you in two roasts: medium roast and a dark roast. “Anything that is beyond the required is a luxury in the outdoors because you’re adding weight to your pack, but [coffee] was something I couldn’t do without,” laughs Jax. Every morning during the Grand Slam Plus she would have dehydrated muscle milk, oatmeal, and a STOKED STIX as her breakfast. STOKED STIX are good whether you are in isolated wildernesses or tramping through the urban jungle. This coffee shop is worth a try and it will give you the fuel to kick start your next adventure.

s.guirguis@wasatchmag.com

This article has been updated to reflect more accurate information.

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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.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

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.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

Photos by Peter Creveling.

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