Introducing Shannon Finch! Skier. Kayaker. Badass.
We had a chance to sit down with the newest addition to the BAR-U-EAT Collective team, Shannon Finch for a little get to know you sesh. To say that she's an inspiring human is an understatement. Read on below to get to know Shannon through some truly epic stories! They're worth the read.
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Your a ski guide/patroller, kayaker, entrepreneur… many talents!
A. I was born & raised in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains. Growing up, I had ample opportunity to recreate, explore, and just live fully. My family spent our vacations exploring wild spaces, rivers & mountains were our destinations. After high school I attended Utah Valley University and studied Recreation Management & Outdoor Leadership in college and began my career working on rivers and mountains during that time. I was a ski patroller at the local mountain, Sundance Resort, in the winter and chased whitewater in the summer making a yearly migration to the Kern River in the southern Sierras in California where I worked as a Whitewater Kayak instructor.
During my time working as a ski patroller I became fascinated and obsessed with studying snow science. I became an Avalanche Educator for AIARE and an Avalanche Rescue Dog Handler for Wastach Backcountry Rescue. My avalanche dog is likely the best thing that came out of my 13 year career as a ski patroller. Leif Roweyn is an English Shepherd, we worked 7 years together at the resort before moving on to bigger things. Currently we work together at a backcountry cat ski operation called Park City Powder Cats, located in the Uinta Mountain range. Although Leif dog is more or less retired from his work as an avalanche rescue dog, we still get out and work training missions together.
I've learned so much about mountains, travel, risk, companionship and trust from hanging on to his tail over the years. When I'm not working on the river or working as a ski guide you might find me at the sewing table working on products from my company finkedesigns.com
Q. Let’s talk bucket lists. Do you have a bucket list river trip? What about a bucket list ski trip?
A. My bucket list river trip would have to be the Futaleufù, a Chilean river located in Northern Patagonia. This river and region has been on my list for a long time — its crystal blue waters and lush mountains look absolutely incredible. One of these days I'll have to pull myself from my winter world and head south for what is sure to be a magical time in Chile. If I were to choose a bucket list ski trip I would have to say heading back to Norway would be high on the list. I would love to plan a spring trip in Northern Norway and ski tour in the Lofoten Islands and bike tour the length of the country, I'd probably be well off to find some whitewater kayaking along the way...
Q. How do you prepare for a big river trip?
A. Preparing for a big river trip has a lot of different facets... From selecting the right crew, river and shuttle logistics, to packing and watching water levels. I usually start with the right crew, good group dynamics on a river trip are essential, with the right crew, the rest of the details seems to just iron themselves out seamlessly. I'm a big list maker, so once I've got everything written down I slowly make my way through the list, double checking everything even up until launching.
"I saw two little kayaks dancing their way down the rapid, with such ease, grace and style. I told my dad in that moment, 'that is what I want to do!'"
Q. How did you get into skiing and kayaking? Did you have a mentor?
A. I owe a lot of thanks to my Dad for helping me fall in love with skiing and running rivers. We didn't have a lot of excess money floating around when I was growing up, but getting our family on the ski hill all winter seemed to be a priority to my parents. We ski raced in family Coca-Cola races all around Utah, we rented cabins with other families, I raced around the ski hill trying to keep up with my older siblings until my legs were jello. The same goes for the river, my Dad took the family fishing and whitewater rafting any chance he could. I remember the moment I decided I wanted to become a Whitewater Kayaker, I was in a raft with my Dad, we had just navigated one of the crux rapids on the Middle Fork of the Salmon river in Idaho, as we looked back up river I saw two little kayaks dancing their way down the rapid, with such ease, grace and style. I told my dad in that moment, 'that is what I want to do!' My dad responded that he had no doubt I would... The next time we floated that section of river together I was following my Dad's lead in my own little kayak... dancing my way through the rapids.
"It was a hard slab avalanche and it went rocketing down the mountain"
Q. Scariest moment on snow?
A. I was skiing in the backcountry, our group triggered a sizable avalanche from the ridge, it was a hard slab avalanche and it went rocketing down the mountain through the pines below. One of the members of our party was really shook up from seeing the incredible force that exists when snow moves. I moved to him quickly to assure him that he was ok, pretending that I was some sort of hero or something... In doing so, I moved with too much haste and triggered a piece of hangfire, a remaining pocket of snow that didn't slide with the original avalanche but had the same potential, as soon as I crossed this piece of snow, CRACK!, it released and took me with it. Being a hard slab, I was able to stay on top of the surface as it went rocketing downslope. I was taken off my feet for a moment, and I was able to pull the trigger on my airbag, this may or may not have helped me rebound back to my feet and I was able to ski off the slab before taking a wild ride through the pine trees below. I learned a lot from this experience and hope never to repeat my mistakes in the future.
"I was safe. I hiked out of the river that day happy to be alive"
Q. Scariest moment on the river?
A. I was paddling the Kaweah River in South-Central California with one of my best friend's, Johnny Chase. We were dropping into the crux of the run, the 420 gorge, I was following another paddler into the entrance and Johnny was sweeping. As I dropped off the first drop I recognized that something was off with my boat, it wasn't tracking where I was trying to go, it was pulling to the left and acting very sluggish. It may have been the adrenaline that prevented me from realizing immediately what had happened... My skirt, the neoprene fabric that extends over the cockpit to prevent water from coming into the boat, had imploded, and I was filling up with water fast.
The line I was meant to take in the rapid after the first drop was to the right, as the left line was choked with sieves and dangerous rocks. My boat was quickly filling up with water and heading straight for a sieve, the water was flowing through a crack in the rock, as quickly as I realized this I flipped my boat over and took one big sweeping stroke underwater with both arms, as I surfaced I could see that my boat had been sucked into the sieve, it was stuck, just an inch of the stern was sticking out. Trying not to hyper-focus on the fact that I could have just as easily been forced into that sieve I had to continue to figure out how to get out of the river, as I was still at the beginning of this class V rapid and now was out of my kayak. Johnny appeared quickly, I refrained from grabbing the back of his boat, knowing that he needed to make a precise move to catch one of the micro eddies before the river continued downstream. He was able to catch an eddy, superman out of his boat and hit me with a throw bag in seconds, he swung me into the eddy and out of danger. We sat for a long time starring at an inch of baby blue plastic sticking out of the sieve... I held onto him close. I was safe. I hiked out of the river that day happy to be alive, I returned a month later to retrieve my kayak when the water dropped.
Q. Best memory on snow?
A. My best 'recent' memory on snow was early this year, it was my 36th birthday, I was working for a Heli-ski operation in the Chugach Range of Alaska. I was guiding three strong skiers from Sweden. I had scouted a cool line through the cliffs and rocks on our last pass up the mountain. The rock features were really interesting, there were two spine line features that jutted up and created a narrow hallway for about 50 yards and then opened back up again. As I rolled into the line I had a marker rock that indicated where I would enter this hallway... The first part of the pitch was super mellow, great 30 degree slope with beautiful sparkly knee deep pow. I moved effortless through the snow, grinning from ear to ear, I could see my marker rock ahead, I was online to catch the hallway, as I dropped past my marker rock and into the hallway the incline steepened up considerably, I changed the cadence of my turns from nice hippy-bouncy turns into wide-fast downhill turns as I ripped through the hallway...
This alone would have been a line to remember, but as I dropped into the hallway and began to open up my turns, the other group sharing our Heli came ripping overhead, felt like they were just 20' off the deck, flying right up slope, directly above me. I heard the pilot on my radio shout, "Hell yeah Shanshine! Happy Birthday!" Filled with stoke and adrenaline I ripped down through the rest of the slope and down the fall line where I waiting, buzzing, form the Swedes to pick their way through the rocks. High Fives all around.
"We had 3 gutters, 2 mandolins, an electronic keyboard and a drum set..."
Q. Best memory on the river?
A. I recently had the opportunity to run the Grand Canyon with a group of strangers, I only knew one of the women in fact, and she happened to be the trip leader. I had met her years before while working at Otter Bar Kayak Lodge in Northern California, she was a kayak student of mine. This trip would mark my 8th decent of the Colorado River through the magnificent Grand Canyon... Not knowing any of the crew, remember the importance of group dynamics I mentioned earlier, I was a bit hesitant about the trip when I arrived to the put-in at Lees Ferry. I can't quite put my finger on one exact moment or thing that made this trip so memorable, except that once I opened my heart up to the crew I saw the river in a whole new way, as if I was my first time experiencing it at all. The crew was made up of incredibly smart, talented humans from Oregon, Idaho & Utah. We bonded of cribbage, adversity with wind/snow storms and incredible music every night. We had 3 gutters, 2 mandolins, an electronic keyboard and a drum set... yes, a drum set. I'm a guitar player myself, and loved playing music with the crew. A true highlight was camping at Blacktail Canyon, a side canyon that parallels the river and becomes absolutely dark and silent - perhaps the first time you get away from the ever constant white noise of the Colorado River, the silence is defining. We had such an incredible night of music in the canyon, with lights strung overhead. Magic.