Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Strava Killed Adventure, January 14, 2017

Beautiful day above the fog and inversion.

When I was 12 my Dad took our family to Disneyland for summer vacation. It was my first vacation that did not require sleeping on the ground in a ratty sleeping bag. My Dad was well-off, and we could've vacationed anywhere, but my Dad loved southern Utah and exploring canyons without anyone else around. All of our vacations required bouncing down sketchy 4X4 roads to get as far away from humanity as possible. That day at Disneyland was wonderful for a 12-year-old kid but it also drilled home a lesson. We got there before the gates opened and we were the first through the turnstile. There were no lines at first, so we pretty much walked onto every ride, that is until we went to Pirates of the Caribbean. It had a huge line and we went for it, shuffling through the maze with all the other followers. Over an hour later we finally rode Pirates. When we finished the ride my Dad told us we were leaving, he wasn't going to wait in anymore lines, so we walked out. We were stunned and disappointed, but I have to admit, that day at Disneyland struck a nerve with me. I've hated big crowds and congestion ever since.  

When I started back-country skiing in the mid-1970's there was one very vague guide book covering the whole Wasatch Range. It intentionally left out most details of access and that vagueness ensured that adventure was not lost. Those seeking to ski the high bowls and peaks of the Wasatch had to be smart, intuitive and work. Some days you got skunked but you always learned from your failures, and over time we learned the tricks and subtleties of access when the summer trails were deeply buried in snow. Another benefit, that vagueness filtered the riff-raff and helped keep the back country pristine for days and weeks after a storm. You had to be serious to get very deep into the Wasatch. The causal players would quickly burn-out and go away. Before this year Bountiful Ridge was free of the humanity found in the Central Wasatch but those days are gone. 

Strava is great for cycling and trail running. It motivates one to go bigger, longer and harder, but I don't like it when it comes to back-country skiing. Strava has introduced a 'spoon-fed' mentality which kills the spirit of adventure and discovery. It is a wonderful feeling to cross new boundaries and wonder if you are the first to ski those slopes? Maybe that is just me daydreaming but when you don't seen another ski track anywhere it's fun to entertain that fantasy. Conversely, when you are following anothers bread-crumb, that wonder is lost. I rarely ski in the central Wasatch anymore because of the crowds. Last year I skied off the top of Superior into Cardiac Bowl and I was mogul hopping down the Superior summit couloir. Moguls off Superior! What the hell! Crowding is a blow to adventure so I choose to ski places that offer a bit of solitude. 

So, our once private sanctuary of Bountiful Ridge has been discovered. Even last year the 'regular' skiers numbered just three or four people. This year the traffic has quadrupled and the reason is Strava. Bountiful Ridge is no secret, it is visible from anywhere in southern Davis County and it it clearly visible even from the Interstate. What was a secret (until this year) was the short cut which provides easy access without the hell of thick Gamble Oak.

The runs on Bountiful Ridge are notorious for being short, brushy (especially in bad snow years) and dual-fall-lines, but it generally holds great skiing if one is willing to explore the varied aspects and drainages. One aspect will be wet and sloppy a or crusted, but change the compass slightly, hiking a bit farther and you'll find soft dry snow. Plus I've never seen moguls up there. Strava is notorious for a "followers" mentality, evident with the new people now skiing B-ridge. One person follows a bread-crumb track, they share it and their friends who then follow the same bread crumb, as do their friends. And on and on. Traffic explodes overnight! 

Further, a weird, but funny, side-bar to the situation is the competition for the King of the Mountain trophy so well known to Strava. Claiming a KOM on back country skis is like claiming Lance Armstrong didn't cheat. Unlike cycling or running, where conditions are not nearly as variable, it is pointless to compare one day to the next while hiking on skis. Breaking trail in deep fresh snow is completely different than skinning the same route when the base is supportable. It would be like comparing Donald Trump to Albert Einstein, they're both well known but for entirely different reasons. Any KOM trophy should have a huge asterisk next to it for the conditions.

The point is this: where is the adventure in following anothers route on your phone? Yeah, Bountiful Ridge is no secret, but in the past it required work to ski it. It is clearly be seen from the valley and anyone can follow that summer trail to find the goods -  this is not rocket science - but following that summer trail takes time, it's twice as long as the "short cut" and that extra time and effort ultimately cuts in to ones powder skiing.

Years ago a few of us got off the summer trail started scouting short cuts, which were mostly choked by gamble oak and willows. Skinning up was painful and coming down was worse. I'd often come home with my face scratched and bloody and my pants shredded. Wearing sunglasses during the descent was mandatory to avoid losing an eye, but we persisted in finding a route that shortened the approach and was free of brush because shortening and simplifying the approach provided more skiing. It took years of work, blood, sweat and tears by a few who were committed to the area. This year the crowds have arrived. The area is not huge compared to the drainages in the central Wasatch, and some argue there is plenty of room, but if the traffic quadruples every year this will become just another Powder Park or Grizzly Gulch. Can you see the problem with sharing the access to the electronic world? The secrets are spreading at an exponential rate merely by sharing your conquest to a few acquaintances.  

It's a free country and Utah is great because it holds enormous tracts of open-access public land, available to all who are willing to get out and explore. All I ask is go small and don't broadcast the route to the world. Don't forget who is saving that $1K Arc'Teryx fashion-statement from certain ruin due to extremely tight gamble oak. That oak-brush-hell is now avoidable thanks to those who endured it for years and years before finding the way. There is a history that is now lost on many who are following their iPhones up the mountain.. 

Lower down, three logs I left in the drainage. One day I may do some trimming.

KPF and hardly a sapling to be seen. This route took years of bushwhack-scouting to dial, not to mention torn GorTex, bloody eyes, cheeks and and neck, and then weeks of "trimming" to make it ski-able, as seen today. One post on Strava and the route is now taken for granted by the new generation of skiers. I guess that's evolution?

Sessions' Mountain from the top of KPF (as in Peregrine Sessions, the original settler of Bountiful in 1847).

100 centimeters (39 inches) at Rudy's Flat .

139 centimeters (54 inches) in lower Rectangle Bowl.

Antelope Island barely above the fog.

John breaking trail and I still couldn't keep up. I took yesterday off work to ski, but was down with the flu or something and ended up sleeping all day. Today, still feeling sick, I figured I'd feel like shit whether I lay in bed or skied. As you can see I chose skis over a sick bed. But I'm just making excuses. I can't keep up with John on my best day, on steroids, after blood doping and after drinking a six pack of Red Bull. John is fast and strong.  

Upper Rectangle Bowl. The skin track is on a ski run I call "Scott Cutler's Yellow Coat." 

Oquirhs on the left horizon, rising above the smog.

City Creek Canyon and fog.

Antelope Island, now hidden, came and went all day in the fog. 

John on top of Rectangle Peak, Cescent Peak is the next high point and Sessions' is across the canyon. Burro Mine is just over the ridge on the far right side.

Ski tracks in Rectangle Bowl. John is the dot at the top next to the Mahogany on the sky-line

The Mueller Park trail about 1/2 mile north of Rudy's Flat.

Fog coming and going.

The last bridge before reaching Rudy's Flat. The bridge is often wet in the summer and when riding a mountain bike the rear tire often spins causing problems for the inexperienced. Like skiing, go with some momentum and you'll roll right over. 

I'm not a Grinch, but Christmas was so last month. Besides, humans are such lemmings that one person leaves a mark and everyone then feels a need to out do it. Before you know it that poor Douglas Fir would be covered with bras. beads and panties, so I cleaned up the mess before it got out of hand. 

The 'snow-stake' rock nearly buried. It's over four-feet high in the summer.

North, towards Bountiful Peak and Francis Peak.

Ski tracks: Rectangle and Rectangle Bowl

Ski tracks and skin track in Recatangle Bowl.

Ski tracks agin, Rectangle Run.

Downed tree on the North Canyon road. We need a scout in need of an eagle project.  


  1. Hmm. I knew you felt this way already and I feel bad that I've contributed to your angst about people skiing up there. So, sorry for that. Since we're friends (at least I hope so!)I'd like to make a few retorts if I may.

    In the 1970s when you started skiing up there, there was plenty of empty farmland, marsh, and open space in Davis County. Now those are filled with Ivory homes. So, yeah, there are probably a few more people out recreating. Ever tried to ride Mueller on a Saturday? How about Adam's canyon?

    The strava comment. Yeah that is a fair point there. I am on it. Alot of friends are on it. You're one of them. And I know that you've scouted beta of mine that I've worked hard at and trimmed as well (Farmington Spine to Rice Bowl). I do find no small bit of irony that I've known you for a while, at least electronically, and I can't count the number of pictures and videos that I've seen of the poorly kept "secret" Bountiful Ridge area. I live in DC and like skiing in DC, so I'd have skied it eventually, beta or none.

    There may be a fresh skinner in there a little more often now by me, or another local, but I wouldn't fret that it's going to start getting skied out by everyone because it's not--it's too far of a walk for most people, and the tri canyons are so close.

    I would be happy to help shoulder some of the maintenance work this summer to help out and help pay my dues so you old timers can't complain about me skiing up there. See you out there!

    1. All good points Layne. And I partially agree. It's a bigger world now with more people getting after it, and I realize my whining wont stop the progression. I'm just slow to change.

      Yes, I've posted plenty of pictures and videos, but the big difference is I'm pretty vague on the actual route to get there. Plus most my FB and Strava friends just don't do this. They are mostly bikers who hibernate come winter. Further, I don't give many details, if any, about the access route whereas Strava is quite literally a real-time guide complete with micro details. The skiing on Bountiful Ridge is no secret, it is very visible from the valley, but until recently the short cut was still unknown. This year I've seen the use of Bountiful Ridge explode, and my short-cut and Strava is the only explanation. I use to use another short cut (even shorter) in the next drainage south, but it is still quite brushy. In the past if someone was really serious about skiing Bountiful Ridge they always had the summer trail, it IS published on USGS maps, yet very few people actually used that route. Seems like if they went up that trail they were totally gassed just getting to Rudy's Flat and they turned around.

      In past years I've been surprised that skiers did not follow my skin track up my short cut. Some tried but aborted quite low on the route, presumably because of the brush, and a big reason why I didn't "trim" any lower than I did. Strava on the other hand has introduced a new group that are willing to tough out the brush. Plus they like to follow their crowd?

      As for Farmington, I started skiing up there in the 1970's and split my time between there and Bountiful Ridge, at least until the Farmington Road closed in winter. I was spoiled back then with the Farmington Road being plowed. The route I used in Farmington has pretty much gone unchanged since then, from the upper parking lot it follows a contour line that didn't lose any elevation up to Mudd and Rice Bowl. By and large my route required no cutting. In three decades I think I've cut three or four wind-fall trees and that's it.

      I hate to sound so territorial but it goes beyond that. I've had council tell me to keep my head down, if you know what I mean. That said, I have no problem with you using my short-cut. You've kept it private which I really appreciate that. I'm only bothered when someone post it then starts bragging on it, but like I said, I come from a different world.

  2. When I moved to Bountiful a few years ago, I was interested in the possibility of skiing the mountains here. I searched the web for trip reports or any information I could find, and your blog was easily the most prominent and abundant source of that info.

    Since I found it, I've been a pretty faithful reader, and yes, I found your Strava account which showed me your shortcut. That said, in the four or five years I've lived here, I've only skied North Canyon a handful of times, and until this year wasn't able to find and follow your shortcut uphill. I never used a phone or GPS showing me each micro detail, I only had a general idea of where the low and high point deviated from the main trail. And although I was "helped" by Strava, I don't think it's entirely to blame. On my last hike up there, I encountered splitboarders who made the poor choice to ascend Mueller Park trail, but were descending via your shortcut. It's much easier to find and follow when traveling downhill.

    Anyway, I'm not interested in bragging rights. I just like being outside. I like the exercise. And skiing is a lot of fun. Presumably, anybody who would repeatedly choose to ski the long approaches and thin snowpack of Bountiful shares a similar mindset.

    Since becoming a reader of your blog, I've hoped to ski with you someday. I admire your "snow sense" and knowledge of the Wasatch and its history — especially this less well-known area of it. Having a ski partner like you would be so much more beneficial than skiing with another young know-nothing like myself. And like Layne, I'd also be happy to help with any maintenance work once the snow melts.

    Sorry for crowding up your corner of the Wasatch, but I like it here for the same reasons you do.

    1. Anonymous,

      I apologize for any angst I caused and for jumping to conclusions. I really do not want trouble. Just hoping it doesn't become another Grizzley Gulch. Perhaps crop your posts to start/end at Rudy's Flat?

      I scope B-ridge with binoculars - a lot (according to my wife way too much) - and I get a rush every time I see ski tracks up there, both mine or others. (Don't roll your eyes, I mean that!) When I see that others have gone up there it motivates me to keep after it, and that is always a good thing. And you are correct, I did post this on Strava so I'm as much the problem as anyone. In my defense, most my Strava and FB followers are not back-country skiers so I figured my posts were fairly safe. As you know that was bad logic.

      I love that others like you feel the joy when outdoors (I wish my boss had that vision, it would be so much easier to get away). Anyway, peace! We should all get together and ski it!