From Snow to Flow

December 7, 2023
Christ Whitaker WW Splashy water

By: Ayja Bounous

As we head into the darkest months of the year, Holiday’s warehouses in Green River and Vernal are cleaned, the rafts packed away, the fridges emptied, the leftover beer passed around. But while the warehouses head into months of hibernation until the desert warms and the rivers rise in the spring, the Holiday guides—on the other hand—do not hibernate through the winter. Most stash away their Chaco’s and PFDs, dig out their skis and snowboards, and head into the mountains to seek fresh snowfall. 

trees among the snowIt’s no small secret that there is plenty of overlap between river running and Snowsports. The two recreational pursuits complement each other in many ways. The most obvious connection is, of course, water and how water changes through the seasons and landscapes of the West. Snow that falls in the mountains of the American West in the winter melts into the mighty rivers of the desert come springtime. Because the two industries are on opposite sides of the seasonal wheel, those water-obsessed folk, like river guides, can jump ship and follow the water. And at the end of the winter, when the resorts stop running their lifts and skiers pack away their winter gear, the swollen spring rivers become ripe for rafters. 

This phenomenon is something that my grandfather, by marriage, Bud Gaylord, called “From Snow to Flow.” Bud, who built the original Cliff Lodge at Snowbird Ski Resort in the 1970s, would be quite familiar with this seasonal routine. His son is none other than Holiday River Expeditions Director of Operations, Tim Gaylord

Starting back in the late 1970s, Tim worked as a guide for Holiday. He spent his summers navigating rafts safely through some of the world’s most notorious white-water rapids. As a river guide, Tim would rise before the sun, preparing for 100+ degree heat in the desert canyons. He’d read the water, analyzing how it moved through rapids to determine the smoothest route. 

In the winters, Tim worked as a ski patroller at Snowbird Resort, which is located up one of the world’s most avalanche-prone canyons, Little Cottonwood Canyon. He would rise before the sun, venturing out in blizzards to drop explosives on the tips of peaks. He’d read the snowpack, analyzing the striations of snow crystals to determine avalanche mitigation. Tim’s ultimate goal in both jobs was to provide guests with the safest experience possible in these wild and raw landscapes. 

If you ask your Holiday River guide what kind of work they do in the off-season, don’t be surprised if they say they work in the Snowsports industry. They might work as an instructor, lifty, patroller, in snow production, at events, or as a photographer. Even if they don’t hold an official position, plenty pursue Snowsports just for fun. They follow in Tim’s footprints, moving along the path from snow to flow. splashy water on cataract

Both industries require much of their participants—from dedication and commitment to patience and practicality to a respect for the landscapes in which they occur. Neither can necessarily be considered “easy” or “low maintenance” activities—skiers and river runners seek some of the most extreme environmental conditions, from intense desert heat to frigid winds and flying ice. They require specific gear and a level of physical competence (shoveling snow certainly helps keep rowing arms from atrophying in the offseason), and pursuing a profession in these activities probably won’t lead you to earn your first million any time soon. Someone unfamiliar with either activity might wonder who in their right mind would choose to pursue these situations. 

Despite these obstacles, both recreations are wildly alluring. People who partake often don’t just do it casually—their participation stems from passion that edges on obsession. As any dedicated skier or river runner could tell you, these activities are not just sports—they are a lifestyle. In a world of desk jobs and computer screens, they are lifestyles that seek to incorporate awe, joy, and beauty. It’s a lifestyle in sync with the rising and setting of the sun, the atmospheric wonder of snow, and the song of a canyon wren. Perhaps wonder is what is at the core of both lifestyles—the draw that keeps bringing skiers and rafters to these landscapes. Perhaps we are addicted to the canyon walls—be they the crimson shades of spice or covered in crystalline snow—that make us feel as though we are really quite small, and the world around us is really quite magical.

Ayja Bounous profile photoAyja Bounous grew up at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah and was born into a family of skiers whose world revolves around snow. Passionate about place-based writing and the ways our identities and selves are connected to the landscapes we live in, she received a Master’s in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah in 2017. She has two published books, Shaped by Snow: Defending the Future of Winter and Junior Bounous and the Joys of Skiing: A Biography. She is a slave to her garden but still manages to hop on the river every chance she gets. You can get in contact with her at www.ayjabounous.com