58 episodes

Ski Utah's new Last Chair will take you inside Utah's resorts for the story behind the Greatest Snow on Earth®. In a weekly series of audio features, host Tom Kelly will bring you behind the scenes with resort leaders, athletes and fascinating figures who are the stories inside Utah skiing and snowboarding. Whether you're a passionate local snow rider, or a guest to the Utah mountain landscape, you'll learn about mountain life through the stories of the men and women who shape the Ski Utah experience. Each Last Chair episode is 30-40 minutes, with insightful questions and fun anecdotal facts. As a career communicator, Kelly weaves stories with ease bringing listeners inside the mountain tales of Utah skiing and snowboarding.

Last Chair: The Ski Utah Podcast Ski Utah

    • Sports
    • 3.4 • 5 Ratings

Ski Utah's new Last Chair will take you inside Utah's resorts for the story behind the Greatest Snow on Earth®. In a weekly series of audio features, host Tom Kelly will bring you behind the scenes with resort leaders, athletes and fascinating figures who are the stories inside Utah skiing and snowboarding. Whether you're a passionate local snow rider, or a guest to the Utah mountain landscape, you'll learn about mountain life through the stories of the men and women who shape the Ski Utah experience. Each Last Chair episode is 30-40 minutes, with insightful questions and fun anecdotal facts. As a career communicator, Kelly weaves stories with ease bringing listeners inside the mountain tales of Utah skiing and snowboarding.

    SE4:EP13 - Big Snow: Jim Steenburgh & Chase Thomason

    SE4:EP13 - Big Snow: Jim Steenburgh & Chase Thomason

    The 2022-23 ski season was the biggest on record in Utah! So, just how big was the snowfall? And what’s the science behind it all? Last Chair got together with Professor Powder himself, Jim Steenburgh, along with KUTV2 meteorologist Chase Thomason to review the records and share their own stories of skiing and riding Utah’s Greatest Snow on Earth.

    • 44 min
    SE4:EP12 - Sandy Flint: Stio on Sustainability

    SE4:EP12 - Sandy Flint: Stio on Sustainability

    Over the past few years you’ve probably noticed the brand Stio on the slopes. Born in the Mountain West, the company has become known for its extensive colors and a serious focus on technical materials that are sustainable. Last Chair did a visit with Stio Senior Materials Manager Sandy Flint to learn more about its products, which are both revolutionizing outdoor clothing performance and utilizing technology which is more friendly to the environment we all love so much.

    Stio was founded in 2011 by Mountain West native Stephen Sullivan, who had previously started the Cloudveil brand. Stio quickly became known for its focus on core technical apparel, fun colorways and direct-to-consumer sales. Today, the company has its own Stio Mountain Studios at major resorts across the west, including Utah on Park City’s historic Main Street.

    Flint grew up in the Northeast, skiing around New England and taking family trips out west. “It was the mountains I loved – being able to hike, raft and ski.” He went to college in Colorado, then moved to Utah, teaching skiing at Solitude. With a degree in engineering and a background in art, he found his way into a graduate program studying fiber science and apparel design at Cornell. The combination of those technical skills with his passion for art landed him at Stio.

    What you quickly learn in talking to Flint is his passion for sustainability, and knowledge of how to find that pathway. Most of all, you learn that he’s not alone, working at a company focused on the future. Today, preferred materials comprise 48% of Stio's collection and the brand has a goal to meet 75% by 2025.

    We also learn that sustainability is about more than just raw materials. It’s an accounting of everything the company does from travel to manufacturing to shipping to recycling. Everyone in the company is accountable!

    In this episode of Last Chair, Flint dives deep into the science and history of membranes and other materials. One of the most notable transitions is the evolution from the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)-based Gore-Tex of the past to environmentally-friendly ePE membrane that is per- and poly-fluorinated chemical (PFC) free.

    • 38 min
    SE4EP11 (Bonus) - Cottonwoods Plow Team: Ride-along with Shawn Wright

    SE4EP11 (Bonus) - Cottonwoods Plow Team: Ride-along with Shawn Wright

    The Ski Utah Last Chair podcast takes a ride all the way up to Solitude and Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon with UDOT Cottonwood plow driver Shawn Wright. A veteran drive, Wright takes us up in a snowstorm riding shotgun in a 30-ton Mack plow truck as he talks about the life of a plow driver and how exhilarating it can be riding the canyons in the dark at 4:00 a.m. on snow mornings.

    • 7 min
    SE4EP11 - Cottonwoods Plow Team: Keeping Our Canyons Open

    SE4EP11 - Cottonwoods Plow Team: Keeping Our Canyons Open

    Utah gets a lot of snow! And as skiers and riders, our objective is to get up to the resorts as quickly as possible. But who takes care of that 30 inches of snow that fell overnight? And who mitigates that cornice hanging a thousand of feet above the highway? Last Chair took a ride with the Utah Department of Transportation Cottonwoods plow team, talking with Jake Brown and riding with Shawn Walker on a snowy Big Cottonwood morning.

    It’s just 13 miles up Little Cottonwood to Alta, 20 through Big Cottonwood to Brighton. But it’s some of the toughest snow terrain in the world. Little Cottonwood Canyon alone has nearly 70 notable avalanche paths which can easily take out a car or plow truck (yes, it has happened).

    When you walk into the plow shed tucked away in Cottonwood Heights, you are immediately struck by the enormity of the equipment. A fleet of 10 Mack trucks is complemented by two graders, two enormous snow blowers (and not the kind you use on your driveway), a couple snowcats and a handful of huge pickup trucks. Plus, there is an assortment of blades including a pull-behind that can add huge plow power behind the 35-ton Mack trucks. 

    Brown got his start simply applying to a newspaper ad for plow drivers 22 years ago. He was working I-15 for UDOT when after work on a Friday he was told to report to the Cottonwood Canyons two days later to take over a new role. “My first day here was a storm and I got baptized by fire on what it would be like in the Cottonwood Canyons and never looked back,” he recalled. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

    Shawn Wright is a Utah native who loves what he does. On a leisurely pre-dawn run up Big Cottonwood, he talks about his love for the state and its recreational resources. He chuckles as he talks about all he and his family do out in nature – “everything but skiing or snowboarding.”

    Jake and Shawn are typical of the men and women behind the plows. It takes a certain passion to report to the plow shed at 4:00 a.m. to open a road for skiers and snowboarders to get up the canyons.

    In this episode of Last Chair, you’ll learn about the challenges and the dangers. You’ll hear about trucks getting swept off the road by massive avalanches coming down from thousands of feet above. And you’ll hopefully gain an appreciation for what these crews do for us.

    If you’ve ever driven up Big or Little Cottonwood Canyon in a snowstorm, this podcast is for you. And even if you’ve dreamed about it! Listen in as Last Chair takes you behind the scenes with the UDOT Cottonwoods Plow Team. >

    Here are a few snippets to get you started:

    Jake, what is it that you and your team do?
    Our role is to orchestrate and schedule the plows up and down the canyon and also take care of the freeway and all the roads leading to the canyons, basically all the state routes. So our responsibility is to make sure that we have enough people for the heavy equipment and the plows and to make sure that we have enough salt and and make sure that everybody's up and and going and need where they need to be and take on the storm. So we become a weatherman and a kind of a jack of all trades.

    As a plow driver, what have you seen change in the canyons?
    Well, we have a canyon road and we have great resorts and we have the Greatest Snow on Earth. And a lot of people like to come to Utah for that reason. And besides minor changes, we really haven't done anything to the road in the last 10 to 20 years. And so we were getting higher traffic volumes. More people wanted to come ski, the resorts were getting more people that wanted to ski their terrain. And so we had to change with it. We had to adapt some of our ways. We did things where we plowed, some of the traffic safety devices, different things such as islands, high-T intersections. We had to install them to make sure that people could flow out of the canyon and people didn't get stuck in traffic because we do have such a high avalanche area in the Cotto

    • 45 min
    SE4:EP10 - Dr. McKenzie Skiles: Science of Snowmelt

    SE4:EP10 - Dr. McKenzie Skiles: Science of Snowmelt

    As skiers and riders, we hate to think of melting snow. But to Dr. McKenzie Skiles, snow melt is the lifeblood of existence in the mountain west. Last Chair ventured up Little Cottonwood Canyon to join Dr. Skiles in a three-meter deep snow pit to talk about snow melt, the impact of desert dust and what the future holds in store.

    An Alaskan native who started skiing when she was two, Skiles had a long fascination with snow. She chose the University of Utah for college because of the snow-covered Wasatch. And when she learned there was a course of study in snow hydrology, she was hooked. She also discovered the Utah backcountry, bought a split board, and ultimately decided this was the place to stay.

    Today, as an assistant professor in the U’s Geography Department, her passion is the study of snow – its water content, factors that influence the actual melt and how that water makes it’s way through creeks and rivers down to life-giving reservoirs. 

    Her research facility is a short skin up the lower flanks of Cardiff Peak across from Alta to the Atwater Study Plot, named for Monty Atwater, the father of avalanche safety. The study area is cordoned off from passing skiers and snow shoers to preserve the natural snowfall. A meteorological tower contains an array of instruments. And measuring devices in the snow weigh the snow pillow to gauge water content.

    Once a week or more, Skiles and student assistants head up the trail to dig a snow pit, taking a variety of measurements of snow cores and evaluating dark layers of dust in the snow white walls. The information is carefully analyzed on site and back at their University of Utah lab.

    The thought of melting snow is something we all hope is many months out. But this episode of Last Chair provides some fascinating insights into how our snowfall turns into water and fuels our lives here in the mountain west. Here’s a sampling of the interview. Listen in to Last Chair to learn more. >

    McKenzie, what is the Atwater Study Plot?
    Atwater is a snow energy balance study plot where we are measuring how the snow accumulates and how it melts out and what is controlling the rates of those processes.

    What do you do as a snow hydrologist?
    I am really interested in snow after it falls to the ground and I want to be able to assess how much water is held to snow in the mountains. And, very importantly, when that is going to be available as water downstream. So when and how fast will that snow melt? And that's really critical here in Utah and over the whole Western us, because up to 80% of our surface water comes from snow annually. So it's a really critical component of the water cycle in the west.

    How did you get into the field?
    I was interested in studying climate and the impacts of climate on snow cover in particular. But I didn't really know that snow hydrology and studying snow was a career path you could have until I went to school at the University of Utah. My graduate advisor who was a snow hydrologist, and as soon as I figured out that was a job you could have, I didn't really ever look back.

    How do you evaluate the particulates on the snow?
    Actually you can see a dust layer in this snow pit, it's pretty varied. So we're weighing the total amount of dust that's in the snow pack. We get multiple dust events through the winter and then they get buried by snowfall. And so there are these individual dark layers within the snow pit. So we can track those individual dust layers, but then they don't get carried away in the meltwater they combine at the surface as snow melts. And that is a compounding effect where each layer sort of comes to the surface, the surface just gets darker and darker, accelerating absorption of sunlight and snow melt.

    What’s a good melting pattern in the spring?
    The ideal scenario is that as days get longer and sunlight gets more intense in the spring and into the summer, that we get a gradual melt. We want snow to come out slowly. And what that allow

    • 34 min
    SE4:EP9 - Henri Rivers: Diversity in the Mountains

    SE4:EP9 - Henri Rivers: Diversity in the Mountains

    Since the day he found an old pair of skis in his family’s hotel attic, Henri Rivers has found a special joy in skiing. It didn’t matter to him that he was the only black skier on his high school ski team. He just loved to ski. Today, as president of the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS), Rivers is making a difference helping the ski industry better understand how to embrace black skiers with programs like Ski Utah’s Discover Winter.

    The first thing that strikes you when you meet Rivers is not that he is black, but the importance of family and his passion for skiing that comes through quickly in a conversation. Before they married, he told fiancé Karen that he would be skiing six months a year. Without hesitation, she learned to ski and is always at his side. And it became the same for their triplets, who have long been a part of their family ski trips to the mountains!

    Since he found that old pair of wooden skis with leather thongs when he was 10, skiing has been a part of his life. He long ago discovered NBS and passionately engaged in the organization’s mission to put a black skier onto the U.S. Ski Team. It was pretty natural for the outgoing Rivers to take on the presidency of NBS in early March, 2020. What was not natural was the pandemic that swept the world a few weeks later, or the Black Lives Matter uprising that came that May.

    Within NBS, he held the organization together through the pandemic. Outside of NBS, he became one of the most sought-out leaders in the sport as ski industry executives from every corner reached out to him for help navigating the diversity waters.

    This month he will preside over the 50th anniversary of the National Brotherhood of Skiers when it comes together for Black Summit.

    But what he’s most proud of is the undying support NBS has provided towards its mission of advancing Black athletes in the sport. He speaks proudly of athletes of the past, and with eagerness when he talks about today’s Team NBS. And he’s set lofty fundraising goals for the organization to support the cause.

    “We're always hoping that people can see the value of what we do and donate to our cause,” said Rivers. “So once we decided or once they decided to come up with that mission. That's when we got a different drive. You know, we went from just partying and having fun on the hill to gathering funds to support young athletes of color so that we could promote them and get them to training, develop them into elite racers.”

    This is a conversation that blends the passion for skiing we all share, along with a special message of diversity. Take a listen to this episode of Last Chair featuring Henri Rivers: Bringing Diversity to the Mountain. >

    How did you discover skiing yourself?
    I grew up in Jamaica, Queens, in New York. Around ten years old, my parents moved us up to upstate New York – a little town called Big Indian in the Catskills, about six miles from Belleayre Mountain and 10 miles from Phoenicia Ski Center. By Thanksgiving, you had three feet of snow outside. Either you stayed inside from Thanksgiving to March or you found a way to make all that snow out there your friend. I found a pair of skis in the attic of my parents' hotel – skis, boots and poles. I tried them on and they all fit.

    But how did you learn?
    I had no clue what I was doing. I figured out how to lace up the boots and strap in. They were cable bindings. I would put them on and I would just push off and go straight down the hill until there was an obstacle. And whenever a tree popped up, I would just tip over and fall. 

    As a skier in the Catskills back then, you probably were the only person of color on the mountain. How was that?
    That was part of life. That's part of the American society. In most areas, if you're outside of an urban community, you're usually one of the only persons of color. Now you ratchet that up a little bit more when you're in a mountain community. You're definitely one of the only people o

    • 47 min

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5
5 Ratings

5 Ratings

David in Seattle ,

Worth hearing

Definitely an interesting show about the Great Salt Lake. Good interview & guest.

Park City ROCK ,

great insight into a man with a passion for the sport

Tom does such a great job interviewing people and knows how to get the best out of those he he is chatting with... I learned so much about John Cumming as a complete human being, and was so impressed with his passion for nature, the sport, and his deep feelings of stewardship as an employer.. my family has gained much joy from John’s efforts, our 40 years in park City have been great because of his works... may John continue to maintain that work / life balance and thanks Tom for another inspiring podcast

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