Bob Athey – the Wizard Cometh

| October 22, 2008

The Wasatch is kind of unusual in that aside from the mountains themselves, there is little to no central gathering spots for skiers or climbers.  I’d be hard pressed to name a single bar where you had a chance of meeting other backcountry skiers on a consistent basis.   Maybe the Sitzmark in the Alta Lodge or the Porcupine down at the base of Big Cottonwood, but more than likely, if you are going to run into other backcountry skiers, you will most likely do it in the mountains.

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.

The Wizard Cometh… stand clear.
I met Bob years ago when he graciously reviewed an early copy of The Chuting Gallery.  After that, he did some testing on some skin designs I was working on at Black Diamond.  After using the skins for a while, I asked him what he thought of them.  “Those things are junk!”  I was crushed. 

“So, uhm, what was the problem with them Bob?” 
“That stupid little trim tool gets completely gummed up and you can only trim-out one pair of skins with it.”
“Oh, but, how about the skins themselves?”
“The skins?  Oh those are fine.  But that trim tool sucks.”

That’s Bob for you.

I also had a chance to work with Bob when I was at the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center and he was a full-time observer.  Various skiers would send in observations from the day before, but if you showed up at 4:00am to go to work and saw there was a “Bob Ob” you were golden.  A big part of this for me was that I think we shared the same evaluation criteria, but beyond that, Bob always had some killer little insight that everyone else seemed to miss.  Plus he’s incredibly passionate about snow.  Whenever I’d make a mistake, he be sure and send me an email with a picture of someone’s ass and a note saying “Huh?” 

One of my earliest photos of Bob skiing.  This was the last shot my first digital camera ever took.
One of my earliest photos of Bob skiing. This was the last shot my first digital camera ever took.

Bob is one of those guys you probably shouldn’t follow in the backcountry, although he is my wife’s favorite partner.  He’ll center-punch one slope, but somehow knows to stay off of the one right next to it, which is not to imply he has never been caught in an avalanche.

A few years ago an article was written about him where the author called him “The Wizard of the Wasatch” which has not only stuck, but become appropriately shortened to WOW. The article went on to note how he “ricocheted off the canyon walls while chuffing down an unfiltered Camel” which is always fun to remind him of.

Bob has an ongoing website with some of the best up-to-date snow and skiing (and boarding – he does it all) conditions from the Wasatch.  He picked up a new camera two years ago and has been putting it to excellent use.  If you get a chance, check out, or better yet, send a PayPal contribution to him so he can upgrade his software. 

I look forward to seeing you out there Bob!

Help support and get some great skins (with a sucky trim tool), the Black Diamond Ascension CliFix from! Click on the photo below…


Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

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  1. The Wizard of the Wasatch | Backcountry Beacon | January 18, 2011
  1. David says:

    Bob rules.

    He might be one of those guys “you shouldn’t follow” in the backcountry, but everyone should do it at least once.

    Nice post and good cig shot.

  2. John says:

    Bob is an inspiration to anyone that loves to ski. My boys met him at dinner a few years ago, I wanted them to hear the Wizard in all his glory. How many kids at 18 get to meet a real hero? They check his site every day, they use his backcountry tactics and managed to bag 164 days this ski season and come away with awesome (but never as amazing photos) as Wowa’s.

  3. Andrew says:

    Skiing with Bob is definitely a treat. Not only does he have a TON of history on the Wasatch, but he just knows so many cool little connector-lines that would never occur to me that it is always enlightening.

    Plus, it is always fun to hear his stories from the trenches of the HeliFree Wasatch Wars. I think if more people spoke up to them as Bob does, things would be different.

    164 days of skiing eh? Sounds like new Wizards in the making. :)

  4. Shawn Carter says:

    Bob is a character for sure. Never skied with him and probably never will (we are stylistically different plus I most likely can’t keep up with him anymore) but I love him never the less. Is that even possible, to love someone you have never met face to face. In the circles traveled by my friends we affectionately call him “Rock’in Bob” to this day. Another story, another time, long before the bc was hyped.

    It is not selfish to keep the sacred, quiet in your heart. Nor is respectful sharing of the sacred selfish. But……to manipulate and monetize the sacred for ones personal gain, fame, or worse money is beyond criminal. When the light shines the tree will grow.

  5. chris says:

    Every year we seem to take a trip from the Front Range of rado to visit the perfect powder, and often safe slopes of the Wasatch. Twice I ran into Bob. Once, being an amateur and knowing of WOW’s intimate connection with the snowpack, I simply skied where he skied. Last year we caught up to him beneath superior. He let us pass and when I commented on what a paradise he lives and skis out he got all grouchy. Maybe I took it too personally, or maybe his undies were in a bunch. I guess it gets pretty busy round there, I know I getting a bit edgy when there is too many people around to call it backcountry.

  6. Andrew says:

    That’s just Bob’s way of saying hello. If he was really grouchy he probably would have skied away like a cornered cougar long before you caught up to him.

  7. tony says:

    I ran into WOW one spring after driving out to Great Basin National Park. I have many memories of that trip, including learning when a corn slope is too soft to be on and how to narrowly avoid lightning, but my most lasting memory is getting lapped by WOW more than once after watching him smoke one herb or another at every stop.

  8. DJ says:

    Nice write up Andrew, the wiz is definitely a one of a kind. I’ve been fortunate enough to tour with him numerous times over the past five years, and every day I get out with him I learn something new. But I must confess, the most fun is witnessing his antics each time we bump into someone in the bc! The stories I could tell… Thanks for letting me tag along Robert.

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