The Wizard of the Wasatch (WoW)

 
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Bob Athey is remarkable for many things. One is that he was the first full-time paid field observer for the Utah Avalanche Center, back in the early days, a few decades ago, when it was a fledgling organization. He was the man-on-the-ground providing us all insight as to snow & avalanche conditions in the backcountry, on a daily basis. Back before the Internet, when we had to call in to get the report. Many of us called in daily. Oh, those were the days.
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Bob Athey is the Wizard of the Wasatch. His website is “Snow and avalanche conditions in the Wasatch range including photos, diagrams, snow pit graphs and trip reports in winter. Images of wildflowers, goats and other wildlife, changing season leaves, and trip reports from hikes and runs in the summer and fall.”

Spend some time poking around his site. You’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. One place to start is the Journal page. From there pick the season… You might also want to see what he’s got in his Gallery and on the Wasatch 100 race.

There’s a run named for him. It’s “Bob Sled” on the map. He calls it “Bob Slid.” You’ll find it on the Wasatch Backcountry Skiing Map which is best viewed on desktop, not mobile.

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“My profile can be found here, written for the Backcountry store by Kersten, who I thought did a great job of describing what I do in winter.”
— Bob Athey
 

Profile: Bob Athey, Utah Avalanche Observer: From Passion to Profession – 30 Years of Skiing the Greatest Snow on Earth
by Kersten Swinyard

As the only full-time observer employed by the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center, Bob Athey gets paid for reporting what he sees each of the 120 days a year he backcountry skis in the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City.

“I was going to be a lawyer, but I discovered powder snow,” Athey says. “So I went skiing instead, and have been working on a different education.”

Part of that education has been in tax law, apparently, as Athey now deducts work expenses from tax returns – meaning he gets to write off new skis, poles, packs, hats, gloves and any other gear he needs to work. It’s a ski bum’s dream.

“It takes a long time to be a good ski bum,” Athey chuckles. “You have to have fairly low goals, too.”

His first ski tour was sometime around 1975, give or take a few years – he doesn’t exactly remember. In those early days, Athey split his time between sporadic class attendance at the University of Utah and less sporadic backcountry skiing. The erstwhile sociology major earned his degree in 1981, 10 years after enrolling in his first college class.

But it’s not his book smarts that made him famous along Salt Lake’s Wasatch Front.

Decades of 100+ day seasons have created a legend of the mellow 50-year-old with an old school look. His blond, white and red hair frays out from under a heli free hat and down past his shoulders; his swirling winter beard nips the collar of a plaid half-zip flannel shirt.

Read the remainder of the profile »

 

 

Articles about Bob Athey

The Paradox of Adventure Sports: High-Risk, High-Reward, High-Five
Wasatch Magazine, September 11, 2018
By Liz Corrigan

…you don’t have to be a professional athlete to feel alive in the outdoors. Robert “Bob” Athey, better known as the ‘Wizard of the Wasatch,’ is a simple man who lives to ski and immerse himself in nature. He is a former field observer for the Utah Avalanche Center, averages about 100 days a winter in the Wasatch backcountry and continues to detail snow conditions every time he’s out— an adventure all its own. “I ski-board in avalanche terrain and have done this for well over 40 years,” said Bob.

 

 

The Wizard of the Wasatch
Wasatch Magazine, March 15, 2018
By Nick Halberg

 

"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."

Bob Slid off of Gobb’s Knob…

“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.”

 
 

 

Skiing Salty with the Wizard of the Wasatch: There's a wizard in them thar hills. An interview with Bob Athey”
Powder Magazine, February 9, 2015
By Kade Krichko

 

“For those who don't know, there's a wizard roaming Utah's Wasatch Range. He may lack actual supernatural powers and certainly prefers flannel to white satin, but if you've traveled outside the gates in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, chances are you've seen his tracks appear out of thin air. Bob Athey is the 61-year-old backcountry son-of-a-bitch branded the Wizard of the Wasatch, a legend who knows the range better than most know their first-born. The aging ski bum and his rasp-ridden cackle have spent the better part of 40 years discovering every nook and cranny along the Wasatch, providing the Utah Avalanche Center with his own renegade snow reports for over 15 years, while logging over 3,000 backcountry days in the process. His experience is unequivocal, his knowledge undeniable, but Athey remains a polarizing presence. His salty character earned him choice words from fellow forecasters, helicopter pilots, and backcountry travelers alike. Still, the self-indentified curmudgeon doesn't give a damn what other's think of him, as long as he's cutting the first track.”

A choice selection from the article. It’s classic WoW. He’s got a really good point too.

“Your time in the backcountry actually got you a job with the Utah Avalanche Center, how'd that come about?
In the late ’80s they started this volunteer program and they told me that if I went someplace obscure I should call in an observation and see what they think. I kept doing it and doing a good job at it and they set up this nonprofit, Friends of the UAC group, so they could hire me. So I was a private independent contractor for the UAC, and getting $12,000 a year for six months work. I got paid for 120 days of observations and that was not a bad gig. I did that for 15 years.

Do you still have a relationship with them?
No, I don't. I don't use their information. I think their information is geared to danger. It's all danger all the time and it used to be about snow. You can get good information on weather and snow off the Internet and then start up the trailhead and determine whether the snow is stable or unstable. I adjust my route depending on what I find.

What if there was no avalanche report? Then what would all these people do? You look at these accidents and you start thinking people should learn more about what the fuck the snow is doing, not just what the avalanche report says the danger is. Too many people are dying when they shouldn't be.”

 

 
 
 

Staying High with Athey
Part 5 in 10 of my personal avalanche avoidance theories…
Straight Chuter: Backcountry Skiing & Beyond, February 17, 2012
By Andrew McLean

If you’ve spent time skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, you’ve most likely crossed tracks with Bob Athey, aka The Wizard of the Wasatch. Bob has excellent snow science skills and observations, but more than that he is the grand master of avalanche avoidance through terrain management/route finding. After decades of skiing here, he not only knows every little ridge and pass, but he also knows how and when to connect them all up.

Read the full (short) article »

 
 

 
 

Bob Athey – the Wizard Cometh
Straight Chuter: Backcountry Skiing & Beyond, October 22, 2008
By Andrew McLean

If you’ve been skiing around for a while, or are just unlucky, you will sooner or later meet Bob Athey. People either love or hate Bob, and I’m psyched to say I’m in the first category – I love seeing him and always have a good time catching up. He is by far and away the most avid backcountry skier I’ve ever met and I remember at one point he said it was easier for him to count the days he didn’t go into the backcountry, rather than those when he did. Because the Wasatch is so small, this means that Bob knows every single little shot, variation of shots and connect-the-dot routes between them. I don’t think he ever skis anything but deep powder, mainly because he always knows where to find it.

Read the full article »

 
 

 

Videos with Bob Athey

The Wizard of the Wasatch | The Backcountry Experience, Ep. 5
EpicTV, December 3, 2013
Director: Noah Howell – Producer: Jonah Howell

Bob Athey has been hiking, skiing and snowboarding around the Wasatch mountains in Utah for the past four decades. He is known as the Wizard of the Wasatch because of his looks and his ability to navigate in backcountry avalanche terrain. Anyone who gets out into the Wasatch backcountry has run into Bob and either loves him or hates him. His knowledge of snow and the mountains is rivaled by few.

 
 
 

 
 

Choose Your Adventure – PW06 A Telemark Ski Film
Powderwhore Productions, September, 2012

Despite the underwhelming winter of 2011-12, in which snowfall reached near record lows and unstable avalanche conditions,the Powderwhores were able to make the most of the conditions at home and abroad, with trips to Cerro Castillo, Chile; La Grave, France; the Antarctic Peninsula; Svalbard, Norway; Mount Foraker, Alaska; British Columbia, Canada, and the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. The film features an array of characters from salty backcountry veterans to some of the top skiers and snowboarders, including Chris Davenport, Jake Sakson, Andrew McLean, Seth Wescott, Dylan Freed, Noah Howell, Matt Reardon, Drew Stoecklein, Forrest Coots, Ian Provo, Neil Provo, Chuck Mumford, Darrell Finlayson, Bob Athey, PY Leblanc, Jason Thompson,Todd Stuart and Hugo Harrison.

Powderwhore athlete and founder Noah Howell says, "Our interest lies in finding exotic locations and people with real stories and objectives. We wanted to tag along and capture their actions and motivation for heading into the mountains. It's more of an authentic experience this way. Instead of a staged video shoot we arranged, we traveled light and moved fast to avoid interfering with the actual adventures unfolding."

Chris Davenport joined the filming while on a boat on the Antarctic Peninsula. "I have had the opportunity to ski on the Antarctic Peninsula three times and it has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world for ski mountaineering," Davenport says. "I love life on the boat, and the easy access to incredible ski terrain make it hard to beat. Throw in the amazing wildlife and gorgeous ocean views and you have a location second-to-none for the new film 'Choose Your Adventure.'" In the end, this is a feature-length ski film that celebrates exotic locations, wild adventures, and the dedicated personalities writing their own stories in snow.
– YouTube description

Teton Gravity Research description.

WildSnow: “I Laughed Out Loud with the Powder-hoes,” by Lou Dawson, Oct. 18, 2006.

(PowderWhore ski movies called it quits in October, 2015. FB postBackcountry Magazine post.)