Utah Avalanche Forecaster Drew Hardesty slides his skis from the back of his pickup, the dome light above illuminating his face, giving his bearded visage a wizened look. It is clear from his movements that this is a routine so often repeated it has become habit. Skis, poles, pack. Check. Drew glances around the parking lot, already filling with cars in the predawn light, and walks to the trailhead, stepping into his bindings. Click click. Watching Drew move uphill, it would be easy to imagine that he is moving across flat ground, his steps brisk and precise. As he reaches the top of Toledo Bowl, before the sun has fully risen, he points across to Mt. Superior.
A heli group has landed on top, and a single skier is arcing down the pristine run. Despite the silence of the morning, Drew is not alone in the mountains. No one is, and the presence of this skier makes that reality strikingly clear. As, each year, the number of backcountry users rapidly expands, the level of risk increases. And Drew knows that we sit at the edge of a precipice. For him, establishing a clear set of expectations is imperative to the future of the backcountry. And as such, his livelihood, and his life, depend on it.