Minnesota native turned Wasatch powder fiend Randy “killer” Vannurden has spent his last few seasons split boarding throughout the Wasatch despite less than stellar snowpack conditions. We caught up with Randy and talked a little bit about his experiences and his transition from Mid-West park laps, to Brighton side country, and eventually to full blown split board adventurer…
Arkade: So we want to talk about your experiences split boarding around the Wasatch, but before we do answer me this question. What is a guy from the rope tow mid-west (Minnesota) doing running around on a split board in the first place? Aren’t you supposed to be out here doing park laps?
Randy: Well that is definitely how I grew up. The hills at home wouldn't even open until 4pm during the week so it was all night riding, rope tow, park laps, and you’d get in a million laps you know. I always knew though all through high school that I’d end up in Salt Lake. It wasn't even like a conscious decision for me it was just a given you know. It is kind of hard to explain, but I knew it would happen. I moved out right after high school and had some OG dudes like Ezra Jacobson show me around Brighton backcountry and it grew from there.
Arkade: You got that pow bug pretty fast?
Randy: Yeah. It started out with Brighton side country you know little mellow hikes in or riding Milly inbounds on pow days. Then it would progress from there: one more ridge back, one more lake back, and you start to realize that wow there is so much here to really get into you know. That turned into wanting to go farther and farther out especially the last couple years with below average snow totals. Going farther back is the only way to keep riding pow you know. That naturally translated into getting the split and making the pow last as long as possible. It was never a hippy thing for me, and if you’re into it for that cool, but for me it was purely about getting to fresh pow as much as possible. The only way to do that is going to where people haven’t ridden.
Arkade: Over time have you become that “no tracks bro” split board powder mentality?
Randy: Oh for sure haha. Last year (2013 season) I remember saying I could see myself not needing a season pass within five years. This year (start of season in 2014) I knew first day I didn’t have to have a season pass. I still rode Brighton a good handful of times and it was, of course, awesome, but I know I could ride the Wasatch every day, get great pow, not need the season pass, and be completely stoked.
Arkade: What about the safety aspects? Do you feel not having that season pass to fall back on potentially puts you in sketchy situations because the backcountry is your sole option?
Randy: There are definitely times where we have been in somewhat sketchy scenarios but myself I’ve taken Avy 1 and 2 plus just getting that knowledge from watching the snowpack from day to day and year to year really helps you make informed decisions. It is like watching a baby grow. You can tell based on the previous and current conditions what the pack will be like. If it hasn't snowed in a couple of weeks and it has been sunny you know everything is crusted and a two-foot snowfall won’t stick to that. However consistent snowfall, even if it is a few inches, provides pretty stable and safe conditions to get out in. Finally there is the terrain aspect you have to consider. Like knowing if there were to be a slide how the terrain can help or harm you. Will a run off go into a gully, which is very dangerous. if so that’s something you would pass up on a questionable day where as something with a long mellow run out is something you could take a bit more risk on. Knowing snowpack and terrain gives you the ability to ride on high avy days safely. When the danger goes down to green you can up what you’re riding to bigger terrain.
Arkade: There has been an exponential growth in the amount of people in the backcountry these past few seasons how has that affected your riding?
Randy: Well, there has always been a lot of people in the backcountry in the Wasatch specifically because of the city. The mountains are already crowded and there are parts of the Wasatch backcountry that look like a moguled out resort you know. There are times I have counted 70-80 plus tracks in a quarter mile. Especially when you start looking at places with easy access like Upper Cardiac Bowl but I’ve also been riding where I can see faces like that through my binoculars while standing on untracked terrain. If you want to put in the extra effort, maybe get a little Jeremy Jones on it and get Deeper Further Higher, there are always untracked runs in the Wasatch. You may just have to dedicate a day to one or two runs, but if you are stoked on that you can have whole areas to yourself, and still make it to work that night.
Arkade: Well continuing on that that thought tell us about your longest ascent you made for a single run.
Randy: Probably the Grunge Couloir on Timpanogos which was about a nine and a half hour day for technically two runs because it was broken up. The Grunge Couloir proper was about 1000 feet and then there was another mellower couloir run after that of about 2000 feet. The snow in The Grunge was great and the upper half of the lower couloir was total glare ice but the second half was probably one of the best corn snow runs of the year. So little bit of everything in that descent but it was a long long day. We had to boot pack in with hiking boots for the first hour and a half, then a couple more hours of skinning to the base of the couloir, a couple hours of verting up that to the base of The Grunge and then finally an hour plus up to the top of The Grunge itself.
Arkade: Have you done a lot outside of The Wasatch?
Randy: No, not really. I mean there is SO much to do here and it is so easy to access. I’ve traveled the backcountry around here for the last two years and you could really spend a lifetime here and not know all of it. There are places I’d like to go; Jackson, The Uintahs, and we had a trip planned to the Ruby Mountains in Nevada last season but that fell through because of their low snowpack. There are definitely other places, but everything so far has been based here in the Wasatch. Which is totally fine with me because it is so totally sick. The fact that you can go split in some amazing mountains then go to work each night and make a decent wage is so amazing.
Arkade: So you’ve been at it for a few seasons, but those have been lean seasons. Are looking forward to getting a “real” Utah season under your belt?
Randy: Oh man I can’t even tell you how ready I am. When we were getting good seasons out here I was still primarily inbounds with a little side country hiking you know. So I didn't really get a ton of days in the “real” backcountry before that so I have a hard time wrapping my mind around five six or seven hundred inch season is like back there. I will say though a low snow year gives you more terrain features. Little four and five foot trees become pillows to launch off of, but at the same time there are things that don't get filled in you know. There are lines you know that you need an average or above year to really fill in to get a good run on them. Those are on my hit list for sure. Once we get a good year I’ll be checking some more shit off the list.
Arkade: Well here’s to hopefully checking some of those off the list in the upcoming months.
Randy: Yes for sure!
- You can Follow Randy's adventures on Instagram as @sledkiller
- Interview by Daniel Cochrane