Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ski programs molding better lives for those living in Salt Lake City’s west-side communities

Voices of Utah 1Children living on the west side of Salt Lake City enjoying the snow and cross-country skiing. Photo by Peter Vordenberg

Story published by Martin Kuprianowicz on Voices of Utah 

It's Saturday. The sun is shining and snow is on the ground. Parents are dropping their children off at Mountainview Elementary in Salt Lake City and the kids are already exploding with excitement — they are going on a field trip. Juan Gilberto Rejón — or “Coach Juan,” as those in west-side communities refer to him — is patiently waiting outside of the school to take roughly 50 elementary students to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to view a population of wild eagles on this day.

Coach Juan is the founder, executive director, and coach for the Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families, which is a program that aims to create pathways to college for the underserved by getting students involved in the outdoors. Coach Juan started this program because he believes the experiences earned in the outdoors are valuable ones that can set children up to better handle adversity throughout their lives.

On weekends throughout the school year, Coach Juan often takes students on excursions to participate in a wide variety of outdoor activities, from bird watching to skiing. Recently, cross-country skiing has been a big emphasis of the program.

“It’s a blessing for our underserved and our underprivileged because they wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. It’s too expensive,” Coach Juan said. “For a family of five or six to go skiing at $200 a pop, that’s already over $1,000 being spent for just a day of skiing. There’s just no way these families living in poverty could afford that.”

His ski program is partnered with the Utah Nordic Alliance that takes students cross-country skiing on weekends in the winter. Another partner is She Jumps, an organization that motivates women and girls of all backgrounds to step out of their comfort zone in a fun, non-threatening, inclusive environment to learn outdoor skills.

Coach Juan's program has been operating for three years, but his inspiration to get students involved with the outdoors goes back almost two decades to the birth of his son.

Voices of Utah 2 
Coach Juan pictured outside of Mountainview Elementary, the meeting place for students going to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Photo by Martin Kuprianowicz

“When I first moved into a 300-bedroom apartment complex here (on the west side) there were a lot of things happening that were not safe for kids. We had a lot of robberies, carjackings, prostitution, drugs, alcohol, so as a community advocate I had to do something for my child,” Coach Juan said.

What began as a mission to improve the quality of life for his child then translated as improving the lives of everyone in his community, especially vulnerable children on the west side of Salt Lake City. Coach Juan started a community soccer program that would eventually grow into a multifaceted, multi-partnered community outdoor program for youth.

The program focuses on helping students to pursue higher education. Coach Juan’s son went through it. Now, his grandchildren are enrolled. Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families has since grown and is now partnered with the Utah Nordic Alliance, headed by former two-time Olympic ski racer Peter Vordenberg.

Vordenberg coaches ski racers who have won gold medals in the Winter Olympics and World Cup championships. In addition, he helps Coach Juan organize the single-day cross-country ski trips by providing students with everything they need to go skiing.

But he didn’t always plan to be a community advocate. It all started by chance one day when he was invited by a friend to tag along with the kids on one of these ski programs.

“I was out there hanging out with all the kids and with Coach Juan and I was like, ‘Oh man, I got to be more involved, not just take pictures but I got to see what I can do to help out.’ So, I joined the board,” Vordenberg said.

Vordenberg has been on the Hartland Community 4 Youth & Families board for three years. He says that his favorite thing about being involved with the program is watching the kids develop a love for skiing and the outdoors. “It really builds their confidence and helps them dream bigger,” Vordenberg said.

Another opportunity for the west-side youth is the Parks and Recreation program that is affiliated with world-class ski areas Brighton and Snowbird. The Northwest Recreation Center is one of many centers throughout the Salt Lake Valley  that shuttle elementary and middle school students to those ski areas and provide them with gear, lift passes, and instructor training.

Snowbird Mountain School Director Maggie Loring has run this program on Fridays in the winter for 18 seasons. She said programmatic goals include developing new skiers and riders who may be interested in one day working as staff at the resorts, and providing a community service to children who may not otherwise get the opportunity to enjoy winter sports.

“One anecdote I can share is that the current manager of our programs was initially in our 4th-grade program, became a junior instructor, and kept going. It's really an opportunity for resorts to capture both new guests and new staff,” Loring said in an email interview.

However, the impact of these programs is also a lot simpler than getting kids involved with the outdoors and setting them up for potential life paths in the ski industry.

“One of my favorite things about this program is the opportunity to see the kids pour out of the buses so excited to get onto the mountain,” Loring said. “Many of them may not be able to sleep the night before because of how excited they are for this new adventure. I remember from my own childhood how excited I was to get out of school to go skiing!”

Voices of Utah 3 
It's nothing but smiles when the kids get off the bus and go skiing. Photo by Peter Vordenberg

The Curious Case of the Colombian Climber Dog

Suesca Rocks, Colombia.
Journal entry from Dec. 12, 2018

Since the semester ended in Barranquilla, I've been traveling through Colombia and having a lot of fun, doing things like surfing, rock climbing, dancing salsa, and not writing in my journal. But as I sit painfully bored in the bus en route to Ipiales to cross into Ecuador, I am reflecting back on recent adventures and enigmas. One from last week in Suesca --  South America's rock climbing mecca -- especially comes to mind.

It was night time -- pitch black -- and my climb guide Felipe and I were approaching the crag alongside the railroad tracks to nocturnally climb  "Libro Negro," one of Suesca's most classic traditional rock climbing routes. As we approached it we spotted a set of eyes up high on the wall reflecting back the light from our headlamps, and we wondered aloud what it could have been. I suggested it was some sort of feline or rodent before we agreed that we had no idea. We soon forgot about it, geared up, and began the climb in the dark.

When Felipe was almost to end of the first pitch he said something about there being a dog up there but I thought he was joking. No way a dog is all the way up there on this deadly thing. So I climbed the 30-40m to where Felipe was on the ledge, and sure enough, Felipe was not joking. There was a very ugly, very scruffy, and very frightened dog up there on that ledge.

The approach. 

We were both astounded. There was no apparent explanation as to how this pup made it up to this ledge we had just climbed up to as everywhere surrounding it was sheer rock face. Puzzled, we stood there for a while on that ledge trying to decide if we should keep climbing to the top and finish the climb or if we should rescue the poor little guy and rappel down.

At first, we decided we were going to rescue him but the little fucker kept escaping our welcoming hands. Felipe kept trying to fit him into a makeshift harness fashioned out of anchor loops and carabiners and I was trying to hold him still. But the pupper just wouldn't do it. Felipe and I eventually came to the conclusion that if he got up here somehow, surely he would be able to get down somehow as well. We kept climbing.

Felipe began scaling the second pitch of the climb and after not even ascending a few feet, the dog began to cry and whine hysterically. He was utterly terrified and we just couldn't leave him up there. So there we went again to try and rescue him.

Felipe to the rescue. 
After another 20 minutes of frustration and trying to get this stupid dog to collaborate, Felipe and I managed to get him into the improvised harness but only after much squealing from him. We rappelled down. We were practically heroes -- saving this dog -- or so we thought.  We walked back along the train tracks we had followed on the way in to go eat at Doña Ma's (the go-to eating spot for local climbers in Suesca), and this little dog followed us all the there, happily wagging his tail the entire way.

At Doña Ma's, ironically enough, we found out the dog's name was 'mono,' which translates to 'monkey' in Spanish. We were also told that this wasn't the first time dogs have been spotted high up on treacherous segments of the wall, either. But when we went back to complete the route the next day in broad daylight and when we had a good look at the entirety of the wall, we were still bewildered at the impossible nature of this dog's ascent. We saw no such possible route up to this high mountain ledge for Mono or any legged creature for that matter. At least, not without the use of ropes and standard certified rock climbing gear.


Good times in Colombia's best climbing zone. 

Felipe belaying on the tracks. 

"Bandeja paisa" -- a local delicacy. 

Doña Ma's. 

The house where we stayed in Suesca. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Miles of Utah Mountain Biking Trails Saved from Oil and Gas Companies

Mountain bikers enjoying the Sand Flats Recreation Area near Moab, UT. Photo:

The sale of several parcels of land near Moab, UT that included up to two-thirds of the popular SlickRockmountain biking trail has been reversed by the BLM, sparing the pristine area from oil and gas companies who were looking to drill there. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Bureau of Land Management decided against selling the land to oil and gas companies after receiving much pressure from Utah officials and local groups.
In January, the BLM was considering selling parcels of land at auction in June, including two on the Sand Flats Recreation and a 10.5-mile section of the Slickrock trail. If sold, these parcels could be in the possession of oil and gas companies who would use the areas for drilling purposes, permanently closing them to outdoor enthusiasts. But after much public scrutiny on their announcement to put these areas up for lease including a request from Gov. Gary Herbert to "defer these parcels, the BLM backed out from the sale. It's good news for mountain bikers, trail runners, and anyone who enjoys the area.

The Sand Flats and the Slickrock Trail are huge contributors to Moab's economy which is hugely dependent on outdoor activities and recreationists. The 9,000-acre Sand Flats area is visited by 160,000 people a year, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. To allow drilling in these areas would cause severe impacts on the economy and keep a lot of people from doing what they love in remarkable, natural areas like these in Southern Utah. It's a sign of progress for local government who clearly has heard the voices of those concerned with the degradation of these pristine areas.

A snapshot from the SlickRock mountain biking trail. Photo:

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Fool for Florence

Florence is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I'm not talking about the picturesque Italian city tucked away in the hills.

Half-Spanish and half-Dutch, she's got golden, sun-kissed hair, bright, emerald eyes, a devilish smile, and a curvy physique that'll make you look twice. She also has the ability to put some sort of foolish, love-struck spell on you with just a glance and a smile that'll have you chasing her around a foreign country for nearly a week, or at least for me she did.

We met on a dive boat outside of Taganga -- a small fishing and diving village hiding behind some mountains just outside of Santa Marta on the Atlantic coast of Colombia. I took one look at this girl and was like DAMN. Her name was Florence -- Flor for short. I chatted her up in between dives and she ultimately invites me and my two great friends, Markus and Rob, to a pool party at her hostel in Santa Marta that night. The party was bitchin'.

Rob the Welshman drank his weight in cerveza and jumped into the pool with all his clothes on, and I cooled inside the pool with Flor and her friends until it got late. Upon leaving, I very awkwardly tried to kiss her, which seemed like an excellent idea at the time, but it didn't exactly pan out nor happen at all. I left Santa Marta with my head held high but also with my tail between my legs.

A few days passed, and I was back in Barranquilla, where I was living, and still had this girl on my mind. I mean, I didn't even really know her that well at all, but like shit, I still wanted another chance with the girl. Doing the backpacker thing at the time, she was something else. Living freely and doing basically whatever the fuck she wanted to, traveling to wherever her heart desired and all that. While we were in Santa Marta, she told me that Medellin was the next spot on her trip. And, as I'm sulking there in my room in Barranquilla, I get a text from Markus inviting me to go on another adventure with him and Rob to guess where...

"Ok yeah, I think I'll go to Medellin with Markus and Rob then. Flor will be there, maybe I'll see her," I thought before impulsively purchasing my plane ticket to the Cocaine capital of the world and telling Markus and Rob that I was down to tag along for another "bros trip."

Indeed, when I got to Medellin, Flor was there. I had been texting her prior to my arrival and I was getting excited. But when I was there I saw her for a total of about five minutes.

I actually ran into her -- by chance -- while bar hopping with Markus and Rob in the El Poblado district -- Medellin's most touristic, party district. So, upon running into her and her friends, we all went to get a drink at the nearest bar, which I think may have been a gay bar.

It was at this moment -- when I took a shot out of a purple squirt gun in the shape of a giant cock with Flor -- did I realize that I had to come to Medellin for all the wrong reasons. I realized that I had come to Medellin to try and woo some girl as my main priority instead of just enjoying the trip and the company I had come with. Somehow, taking this shot out of this dick-gun with Flor in this gay bar made me reevaluate things, and provided me with the clarity I needed.

So, with a heavy heart, I said goodbye to Flor, knowing that it was probably the last time I would ever see that lovely girl, and went out and wreaked havoc on El Pobaldo's bar scene with Markus and Rob like I should have been doing in the first place. I knew now that the chase was fun but the chase was done. But I wasn't heartbroken for long. Because from that moment on, the trip couldn't have been any better.

After parting ways with Flor and her friends, nothing but the best times ensued for the next few days while Markus, Rob, and I were exploring Medellin. We hiked up hills, walked through vibrant neighborhoods with the most amazing street art I've ever seen, ate local delicacies and drank to our hearts' fulfillment in the savviest salsa bars and tastiest breweries. We became kings in a city of kingpins, or at least so we felt. And, by exploring the city and enjoying ourselves, we all really got to know one another for who we were.

In this strange but beautiful foreign land, these men became my brothers in a matter of only a couple of days. The deep conversations we had are some that I'll never forget, and the memories we shared will last a lifetime. So what started off as me foolishly chasing Flor to another Colombian city for another chance, ended up making for one the best trips that I didn't even ask for. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cheers bros 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Cartagena is for Lovers

Cartagena is for lovers. 

Cartagena is the ideal city if you are both a hopeless romantic and a dirty backpacker. It might be the most romantic city in the world, and one that won't hurt your wallet, either. That is, of course, if your wallet hasn't already gotten pickpocketed or robbed from you upon your arrival, like my shoes during my first visit here.

Beggars, prostitutes, tourists, and stray dogs roam Cartagena's historic district after the sun goes down. The streets are narrow and made of cobblestone. The buildings are quaint, colorful, and very old-looking. Street art is everywhere. The food here is as good as it is cheap, depending on where you go. There are elegant, high-end seafood restaurants with humble street vendors selling delicious arepas and other local foods right next to them. Beautiful, blossoming trees lurk in shaded spots and there's always a breeze as you walk along the water's edge.

Isaac y Marta during a celebration of sorts in Cartagena, November 2018. 

Night falls and club lights flicker on, music blares, and women in tight dresses now roam the streets. But you pay no mind. You got everything you need.

For it is in the godforsaken hours of the morning when the world has gone to bed do you actually encounter Cartagena's best hour. The skies are still dark and dreary parakeets slowly begin to sing as they start their day. The blowing breeze cools you after a seemingly endless night full of eating, drinking, dancing, and walking. Love is in the air, literally, since the only other sound you hear besides the breeze and the birds are the sounds of those making love freely somewhere in a far off alley.

As you walk back to wherever you are staying, a dusty slice of concrete in a gutter somewhere looks like a fine spot for two lovers to sit for a while. A stray dog tugs at your ankle as you and yours are rolling around in the street dirtying yourselves, and you can't help but laugh. You laugh when you realize that you're no different than this hungry new buddy of yours, in behavior or appearance. You laugh when you realize that you are hungry, too. But you don't leave. You happily stay for a while, enjoying the breeze and wishing that moments like these would last.

As night turns into day, a brightly-painted wall of an already brightly-colored house gently starts to glow as the morning sun spills into the street.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Skier Triggered Avalanche in Coalpit Headwall, Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

A skier unintentionally triggered a soft slab avalanche in the Coalpit Headwall last Friday, Feb. 21. Photo: UtahTransplants

Last Friday, Feb. 21 a skier unintentionally triggered a soft slab avalanche on a Northeast aspect at 10,400 feet on the Coalpit Headwall in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT. The avalanche danger in the Salt Lake area mountains this day was LOW. The slide was about 35 feet wide and carried one person without burying him. This is the skier's detailed first-person account provided by the UAC:
I made a bad choice.
Skier 1 (myself) dropped into the Coalpit headwall performing a ski cut to a safe sub-ridge with manageable sluffing that proceeded down the ski line. I then skied the headwall about 1/3 down and stopped skier's right on a sub-ridge dividing two of the lines. Skiers 2 and 3 skied from the top to me then proceeded to continue down to safety towards the bottom. Prior to skier 3 leaving me, we talked that I would go right into the next line. This is my bad choice letting skier 3 leave before I headed into the other line because I became a solo skier at this point not visible to my party. I did a ski cut at the top without any release. 3 turns in I was part of nature and sliding on my side head uphill with snow rushing around me and behind me. I hit rocks with my skis then bounced off one with my hip. I did yell hoping my party could here me but to no avail. I came to a stop about 150 feet down from the initiation point on the bed surface, and watched the toe of the slide proceed another 460 feet below. I was able to stand right up, didn't lose anything, and ski down the soft avalanche debris to my group, on my one good ski, around the cliffs and regroup. Broke a ski, bruised a hip, and am lucky.
Soft slab that broke at my feet but knocked me down in the process. Couldn't tell you how deep. About 35 feet wide and ran about 600 total feet.
I wasn't going to post anything but here it is. I don't regret where I skied or the slide but I do regret skiing where my partners couldn't watch out for me. If I had been buried they would have had no idea and by the time they figured it out it likely would have been too late.
Please make better choices than I did.
Coalpit is one of the biggest and most classic lines in the Wasatch with a beautiful, steep headwall, glades, a windy gully, and nearly 5,000 vertical feet of drop. It is a favorite among backcountry skiers in Utah. Unfortunately, last Friday the conditions were unfavorable and a skier-triggered avalanche was released, proving the ferocity of this gorgeous zone. Thankfully, the skier lived to tell the tale, allowing us to learn from his experience.

An intentionally triggered soft slab avalanche in Hogum Fork, Friday, Feb. 21. Photo: UAC

On the same day, another avalanche was triggered in Hogum Fork on an east aspect at 9,400 feet. It was an intentionally triggered, 30 foot wide, 18-inch deep soft slab avalanche. The skier who triggered it said in a comment,
Intentional ski cuts in small wind loaded terrain yielded multiple small avalanches. Consistently saw poor snow structure on higher east face aspects. Both hard and soft wind slabs that ran on the feb. 7 crust. Seems steep east facing lines should be approached with caution.
Stay safe out there!

Avalanche Forecast for Saturday, Feb. 22. Photo: UAC

Friday, February 21, 2020

Gear Review: Pit Viper's Gogglés

Pit Viper makes goggles now, or shall I say, Gogglés. Photo: SnowBrains

The Pit Viper Gogglés FUCK. French for "goggles," (don't fact check me) I can't tell you just how magnificent these puppies really are because, frankly, it's immeasurable. I can tell you, though, that in the week that I have owned and been testing these Gogglés, I have gotten more compliments for a pair optics than I have ever gotten for any piece of gear in the cumulative total of my life. Mostly from the opposite sex, too.

They're also really good goggles in terms of functionality -- not just in status. The first day I had them, I put them to the test at Brighton Ski Area in Utah on a 22" blower powder day. I made sure to really let my face have it just to see how many face shots these goggles could take. I discovered that there is no limit with the Gogglés. They come with a low light lens which works pretty great, too, and they have yet to fog on me -- even when ascending Mount Superior wearing nothing but my Gogglés and a beacon.

Fresh out the box. Photo: SnowBrains

The Science behind the Gogglés (for you nerds):
  • 1 x Aerodynamic frame built from space-grade materials
  • 1x Ultralightweight adjustable nylon/spandex Pit Viper sport-band strap-on system™
  • 2x State-of-the-art flexible sport-lens™ (Mirrored and Low Visibility)
  • 1x Washable & absorbent dual-compartment soft fiber Limpcloth™
  • 1x Sleek and convenient Experts Only Firmcase™ to keep it all handy
  • Typical modern goggle bullshit
  • 100% UV protective interchangeable lenses
  • 1993 Mirrored lens VLT: 20% VLT.
  • Midnight Mirrored lens VLT: 15% VLT.
  • Low light lenses VLT:: 26% VLT
  • Frame: injected nylon
  • Interchangeable lens: One-step easy-change lens, see packaging for instructions
  • Note: DO NOT touch or wipe the interior lens. The lens is coated with an anti-fog treatment that is easily wiped away, like all other goggles
  • Size/Fit: 16"- 30" circumference
  • Will these fit with my helmet? Click here for some examples
  • No magnets - Government agencies will not be able to monitor your brainwaves.
With the Gogglés I go from a soft 7 to a hard 9 JUST LIKE THAT. Photo: SnowBrains

The Gogglés come in two color schemes: '1993,' and 'Midnight.' Here are the Pit Viper-approved applications for the Gogglés:
Originally designed to block champagne spray from the eyes of World Champions™, Gogglés may also be repurposed for all sport applications such as:
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Skijoring
  • Mountain biking
  • Water
  • Dog walking
  • Sailing
  • Ball stuff
  • Hood rat stuff with your friends
  • Surfboarding
  • Inline
  • Snowblower
  • Video games
  • Volleyball
  • Aerobic competition
  • Sex
As you can see, the applications for the Gogglés are practically endless. So, if you really want to knock it out of the park this season, you know which goggles -- or Gogglés, -- you want. Purchasing info can be found here.

They come with a neat case and low-light lens btw. Photo: Pit Viper

You've been warned. Photo: SnowBrains

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

'Historic weather event' in the Wasatch: 48 avalanches in 72 hours

Tom Derks posing with his buried Subaru after 3 feet of snow and several avalanches dropped on Alta Ski Area, UT. Photo: @tdawg21lolzzz/Instagram
Last week's storm that hit the Wasatch has now been dubbed as a 'historic weather event' and it's not hard to tell why. Brought about by an upside-down storm, which is when a snowstorm deposits denser snow over less dense snow, rapidly creating a slab/weak layer combination, the snowpack in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons became extremely unstable incredibly fast. This lead to 48 total avalanches - 21 of which hit the highway leading to Alta and Snowbird, keeping it closed for 54 hours.

Utah Department of Transportation officials had an extremely busy 3 days with all efforts mobilized towards clearing the road, meanwhile, everyone still stuck in Little Cottonwood Canyon was interlodged and prohibited from venturing outside. An Alta lift operator told me that "they ran out of beer on the first day," and a dozen cars in Alta's Wildcat base parking lot were completely buried by an avalanche that nearly hit the Peruvian Lodge. It was Snowmageddon. UDOT posted on their Facebook page:
So Feb. 6 - Feb. 8 were pretty remarkable for our @utahtransportation road and traffic operations crews, the @udotavy team, @snowbird and @altaskiarea mountain ops and snow safety, @unfiedpolicedepartment and the Alta Marshal. There were an impressive amount of avalanches - 48 - and of those, 21 were road hits, impacting a total of 4,850 feet of the roadway (debris up to 15’ deep!), closing the road for 54 hours. Suffice it to say, we had A LOT of snow to move so it was an all hands on deck sort of affair to get things cleared. There is still more clean up to do yet.
We send a huge thank you 🙏👏 to all our partners - it couldn’t have happened without you! The great communication and collaborative efforts of all involved was crucial to getting the roads and the Town of Alta safe to travel again.
Interlodgers and powderhounds stuck in the valley, we appreciate the patience you had during dangerous avalanche conditions and #snowmageddon!
Things were looking scary up there last weekend and thankfully no one was injured by any 1 of the 48 avalanches that wreaked havoc on the mountains. Alta Ski Area reported nearly a 3-foot storm total as a result of the storm. Fortunately, conditions in the canyons are now improving tremendously and the snowpack is re-transitioning towards stability.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Detailed accounts from 2 avalanche survivors on Utah's Mount Olympus Memorial Couloirs

An avalanche in Mount Olympus' Memorial #5 Couloir nearly claimed the lives of two skiers today. Photo: UAC 02/06/20
Author of the "Chuting Gallery," Andrew Mclean, describes Mount Olympus' Memorial Couloirs as "hard to see, hard to get to and hard to find, but quality skiing nonetheless." The Memorial Couloirs are a series of easting-facing chutes with about a 45° pitch that flank the Mount Olympus Couloir which is tucked behind the far left-hand (north) shoulder of Mount Olympus if you are looking up directly from the Salt Lake City valley floor. The couloirs are roughly 1,200 vertical feet, appearing steep and desperate from a distance, but are worth skiing in the right conditions.
Today, however, was not the day to ski them, as you will learn from the harrowing accounts of the two skiers who survived two separate avalanches that nearly ended them on Memorial Couloir #5 this very morning. An avalanche warning was issued by the UAC earlier today detailing the high avalanche danger for the Salt Lake Area Mountains. Below is the warning and the reports of those two skiers, provided by the Utah Avalanche Center:
Avalanche Warning



- UAC 02/06/05
The aftermath at the bottom of Memorial Couloir #5 where the booter begins. Photo: UAC 02/06/20

Skier 1 Report:

Close call early this morning. The plan was to get out early and ski Memorial #5 before the heavier snow and winds made the danger higher. On the lower skin up we saw some cracking in the new snow at the new-old snow interface, and were not overly concerned as the cracking was only about 1-2” deep (see pic). We skinned over and into the chute at about 7400’. We saw that there had been a few tracks in M5 from the prior days and that the snow in the chute had settled with skier compaction and had about 2-4” of new on top, with a very little bit of wind buffing. We transitioned to booting in Billy Goats and began to make our way up M5. The snow in the chute was soft and not condensed into any form of slab. We could see that near the top the winds were stronger and there was snow transport occurring up there. We discussed safety again and felt that the danger would be slough management on the way down and kept moving upward. We hugged the lookers right wall on the ascent. At about 8000’, my partner yelled “Look out! Move!” and I looked up to see a small cloud of snow coming at us. I moved quickly to the right to hug the right wall, expecting it to be a small slough released by the winds and push past us. What I did not expect was that because my skis were on my pack and they were the most exposed, the slide hit my skis with enough force to knock me over, pointing me face down facing downhill. I was able to right myself with a tumble and thought it was over, only to look up for my partner and see a much bigger and faster moving slide coming at me. I was hit and knocked over, tumbled a bit (all with skis still on pack) and was dragged downhill in an upright position with my head uphill but at the level of the moving snow. My skis on pack were pulling me under as it moved and I was pulled below the moving snow for a couple of seconds before I popped up and was able to see clearly. I was still on the far side of the chute and saw my partner being tumbled down in moving snow in the center of the chute. I kept eyes on him until he stopped tumbling and got upright out of the snow. I lost my hat and both poles in the tumble but was able to retrieve them after things stopped moving. I could see the slide still moving around the left hand bend at about 7200’. I estimate I was pulled downhill approximately 3-400’ vertical. I have skied a lot of technical terrain with my partner, but neither of us have skied M5 before. I believe the slide was caused by snow coming off one of the walls near the top of the chute and entrained snow in the steeper parts as it moved down. I was wearing an airbag pack, but did not have the trigger out (mistake), though I’m not sure if would have done much good opening against skis on pack when the skis on the pack were what was pulling me under. We had followed safe protocol throughout, and I believe our mistake today was unknown objective hazards. Because we had not skied this before, and because we could not clearly see the final upper reaches, we could not know how much snow was on the upper rock walls and/or what danger they may have posed. Being a very early start, the UAC dawn patrol forecast was not on the phone lines when I started driving so we did not have that added resource for wind/snow transport knowledge. Being in a tight chute that runs for a lot of vertical provides no escape from something like this where the danger was not the conditions in the chute itself, but what may happen from the surrounding landscape.

Skier 2 Report:

I won’t go over the conditions to much as my partner already went over them, but I will go over my account of the event as well as a few red flags I noticed but didn’t factor into the actual hazard of the location. As stated above I was leading the bootpack in billygoats on the lookers right of memorial #5 roughly 400’ up from the start of the bootpack. I looked up from my booting to see a powder cloud moving toward us at high speed, yelled “MOVE MOVE MOVE”, and had time to run 3-4 steps to grab onto the wall. The slide also caught my skis on my pack and pulled me off the wall after roughly 2-3 seconds of the initial impact and more into the center of the chute than my partner. As I was coming to a stop, my head was buried but could tell that my arms were above the snow surface and that I wasn’t very deep. I was then hit by a secondary avalanche and pushed back under. I was able to swim to the top where I caught a glimpse of my partner on top and hear him say “I SEE YOU” before tomahawking once or twice and swimming back on top and coming to a stop. My skis were ripped off my pack during the tomahawks but were right next to me when I stopped. My estimation is that I was carried almost 500’ from start to finish.
As stated we were discussing the unstable top layer most of the way up and intended to put in some good ski cuts and ski behind our sluff on the way down. When we were booting up the chute, a small sluff released off a 10’x10’ little hanging snow patch on the right rock wall and sent more cracks shooting out in the shallow top layer in the chute. This should have been a huge red flag that if there is a bigger hanging snowfield up high it could release off the rock wall and let all the sluff in the whole chute loose at once (which is what we believe happened).
Cracking in new snow at ~6600'. Photo: UAC 02/06/20
It should be noted that the avalanche danger for the Salt Lake Area Mountains today was HIGH at upper elevations which have been exposed to the most snow and the most wind, CONSIDERABLE at mid-elevations where soft slab avalanches were easy to trigger, and MODERATE at low elevations.  On top of this, Highway 210, which leads to world-class ski areas Alta Ski Area and Snowbird, did not open today. Both Alta and Snowbird were placed on interlodge restrictions due to high avalanche danger.
High avalanche danger in the Wasatch today. Photo: UAC 02/06/20
Location of Memorial Couloir #5. Photo: UAC 02/05/20

Plans finalized to open up Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante to drilling, mining, and cattle-grazing.

Once protected lands in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument have now been opened up for oil drilling, coal mining, and cattle grazing. Photo:

Plans have been finalized by the Trump administration today, Thursday, Feb. 6, allowing energy drilling, cattle grazing, and mining on nearly one million acres of land in Southern Utah that once belong to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This land includes Bears Ears, which has been subject to heated controversy in recent years. These companies are now one step closer to having full access to the land for industrial purposes.

The New York Times reports that approximately 861,974 acres of land will allow oil, gas, coal, and cattle companies to lease mines and wells on once protected lands in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The lands became protected during the Clinton Administration in the mid-90s, however, since then, they have been downsized drastically.

December 2017 was the largest rollback of public lands protection in United States history. Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument's acreage was cut almost in half, and nearly a million acres (roughly 85% of its original size) were removed as protected from Bears Ears, NPR News reports. Both decisions were enforced by the Trump administration in 2017.

Trump administration officials are calling Thursday's move a "win for the Utah economy." However, not everyone stands on his side with this recent decision as environmentalists remain in fierce opposition to the opening up of once protected land to these companies calling the plans, "atrocious, and entirely predictable,” according to Sharon Buccino, senior director for lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council.