Kyle Wagstaff Dances With Gods

Kyle Wagstaff

As one of the world’s best backcountry skiers and underground surfers, Kyle Wagstaff maintains an astoundingly candid and humble demeanor. His passion and rebellious style of backcountry skiing and underground surfing  embodies the unchained human spirit. Kyle recently won Best Music Video for “Dance of the Gods” and Best Documentary Short for “Dances With Clouds,” at Scorpiusfest 2022 in Park City.

Scorpius recently had the chance to interview the eccentric and unpredictable man behind the myth.

By Steffon Olsen
Scorpius: Where was your passion for skiing born?

Kyle Wagstaff: I grew up in Utah. My dad was a research scientist for the US Forest Service, so he did a lot of work in the outdoors doing range and wildlife management research. That’s how I gained interest in the outdoors. Every weekend we went hunting, fishing, or hiking. That is how my ecological education began. My uncle was also the Southern District Ranger for California’s national forests. Many of my relatives skied and so all of those factors planted the seed. We moved around quite a bit, we lived in Montana, California, and Utah. I began skiing when I was 12 years old I started going with friends and those first years were during the big winters of 1982 and 1983. So my very first skiing experiences ever were with the most massive snowfalls that Utah’s ever experienced.

Scorpius: Who were some of your major influences growing up as a skier / surfer?   

Kyle Wagstaff: The mountain men from the Lewis and Clark era are my all-time favorites clear back to my childhood days, particularly John Coulter.  I wanted to become like them:  self-reliant, independent, adventurous–and to earn my living from nature, whatever the cost.  My dad, Fred,and uncle Bard were also great contemporary role models, since they both worked in outdoor occupations and helped mentor me along. I was born 150-years too late, and didn’t wind up being a beaver trapper or buffalo hunter like I imagined as a 10-year old; however, my life as a restoration ecologist has been very exciting and enabled me to spend plenty of time working in and exploring the natural world.

There are many skiers I admire, but none were influences as a youngster.  My style is self-developed and not patterned after anyone in particular.  I have enjoyed quite a few Warren Miller ski films, and also Bruce Brown’s surfing films.

Scorpius: How did your love for surfing begin?

Kyle Wagstaff: My love for surfing grew simultaneously with my passion for skiing. When I was 13 years old my parents divorced and my mother moved back to Southern California where her half of the family lived. So I spilt my time between my mother and father over the next few years. I was looking for an outdoors sport in Southern California and surfing was obviously the natural choice, being a skier. So I’ve had those two sports going up until now and I’m currently exploring jet surfing.

Scorpius: Tell us about the new movie you’re producing titled “The Soloist”.

Kyle Wagstaff: I’m developing a new movie titled “The Soloist” because I spend most of my backcountry skiing and underground surfing sessions alone. Probably about 90% of all of my lifetime sessions have been alone. So I thought at this point in my life after surviving all these years, the film is a good idea. All the experts say don’t go into the outdoors alone or participate in these dangerous sports alone, yet, I have a blast! I’ll take my dogs with me once in a while but I’ve just been completely out there on my own almost. It will capture some of the greatest moments I enjoy as a backcountry skier and a surfer. We are now in the final stages of post-production and we are looking to release the film by spring or summer of 2022.

Scorpius: Have you ever become injured skiing or surfing?

Kyle Wagstaff: I’ve had some minor injuries, but I’ve never been really seriously injured except when I was a kid. I fell off a cliff backwards about 50 feet and just miraculously happen to hit a bush because I didn’t see the landing. I got a concussion and broke about 30 bones. I was alone so I had to drag myself out of the mountains about a half a mile from our house where we were living in Montana at the time. I made it to the edge of the road where I finally collapsed and some stranger found me and took me back home. My mother was always worried about me, that’s for sure. It’s kind of strange, I’ve never had any fear of dying but when I was falling off the cliff that day I thought that was it. There’s no logical reason I survived that fall so I’ve figured everything after that moment is just a gift. The only other time I was really badly injured, I was about 20. My girlfriend worked at a convenience store and a guy came in with a knife to rob the place. They say don’t take a knife to a gun fight, I took my hands to a knife fight with pretty much the same result. I jumped on the guy and I got slashed up pretty bad. The guy took his attention off of me for a moment and I was able to get out of the store and grab my shotgun from my truck. Since it was currently hunting season.  I was able to prevent the robbery and survive the incident.

Scorpius: Do you have another profession?

Kyle Wagstaff: I’m a Restoration Ecologist for a living. I travel around the western United States collecting native plant seeds that are then used to restore the areas that are burned by the wild fires such as the ones we’ve been seeing in California. I’m the guy who comes in after those fires and restores them to their natural state. I’m kind of like a geologist, I’m always out by myself so it’s a pretty solitary occupation. I own a seed company so I do take some crews out to do large scale government contracts when they have these massive fires. That’s how I earn my living but it’s great to be out in these natural areas and because I work for myself I always take a fishing pole and some skis or a surfboard with me to enjoy all of those activities. Also, my professional training as an ecologist gives me an appreciation for nature and wildlife. So that’s how I’m able to stay in tune with nature.


Scorpius: Do you have a death wish? Why do you enjoy backcountry skiing and having a helicopter drop you in the middle of the ocean with your surfboard?

Kyle Wagstaff: I don’t know a lot of people who have been killed in avalanches. I’ve been backcountry skiing for a long time and I’ve only known one person, Matt Pierre, he was a friend of mine and an incredible professional skier. He passed away about 10 years ago caught in an early season avalanche at Snowbird. I still always keep him in my mind and the people who get killed in the back country, every year. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw just like how surfers get attacked by sharks. The sharks aren’t after any particular surfer, sometimes they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I just have the fatalistic view that when I go out to surf or ski, that could be my day. But that’s how I want to go out anyway. I’m not anthropomorphic I don’t believe animals are humans. Mountains don’t have feelings, they don’t love me back and they’ll kill you if you turn your back on them for even a second. They have a great aesthetic beauty, they’re really inspirational but I have a pragmatic or nihilistic view. You kind of have to be that way to be a backcountry skier or an underground surfer because those are sports that people just get killed in suddenly and without warning and there’s not much you can do to prepare for it except for stay home. However, staying home doesn’t save people from dying, it just saves people from living a full life. I’m not suicidal, I’m not trying to go out and get killed. It would be the most tragic thing I can imagine to harm another person by requiring rescuers. I always take care of myself, and that’s the code of an anarchist anyway. That’s why we reject rule of law, because we don’t need the codes that other people imposed upon us. That’s also reflected in my free skiing and surfing. I don’t ski with restrictions. If you notice the lines when I ski, most people ski with lines in rhythmic order going down the hill. And I have a syncopated rhythm right next to them that matches the terrain instead of an internal metronome.

Scorpius: What’s the whole heli-skiing experience like?

Kyle Wagstaff: The helicopter flight is truly, easily as thrilling as the skiing. That’s why I love heli-skiing. It’s not necessarily for the great powder, I could get that back country, I could hike for it, or I could snowmobile for it but the thrill of riding on those jet-helicopters is just amazing. It’s like being Aladdin on the magic carpet. They just lift off so effortlessly. I know a lot of these helicopter pilots from my summer work because they’re the guys flying over forest fires putting them out. They have as much fun as we do because after they drop us off they just lift up a little bit and dive off the side of the mountain and just freeze ball it! It’s really thrilling. Sometimes there’s literally only a three foot ledge, the helicopter blades are beating, it’s really snowy and windy, the snow’s blowing everywhere. So it’s really chaotic right at that moment, you’re perched on top of a 11,000 foot peak, and your adrenaline’s rushing before you clip into your skis.

Scorpius: What is your favorite peak to ski from? 

Kyle Wagstaff: heli-ski:  10,400-Ft Mill Canyon Peak–the views of American Fork Canyon/Timpanogos/Box Elder Peak are spectacular, and it is comfortably away from the very heavy backcountry traffic of the Cottonwood Canyons (known locally as the “WasAngeles Freeway System”).

Pure backcountry skiing:  11,000-ft Moffit Peak Couloirs in the Uinta Mtns.–views of the western Uinta Range, and no access up to the numerous chutes except for good old-fashioned hiking.

Scorpius: What brand of ski gear and surf gear do you use?   

Kyle Wagstaff: Ski:  Mainly North Face outerwear.  I mainly use Nordica GT (84mm waist/174mm length) skis for spring corn conditions or hardpacked surfaces and Line Prophet (98mm waist/187mm length) for powder and backcountry A/T touring.  I have several sets of skis in various lengths and widths to suit specific conditions.

Surf:  Gerry Lopez SUP paddleboards (he is also a surfing influence); O’Neal and Rip Curl wetsuits; Radinn Jet-Surfboards (from Sweden).

Scorpius: If you could offer any advice to the new generation of skiers and surfers what would it be?

Kyle Wagstaff: I would encourage all the young people to get to know the outdoors. The two most important events in history were the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution. They were both about our technology and inventiveness and if you embrace that, then we’re all going to be around for a long time and enjoy comfortable lives. 200 years ago my relatives travelled from Norway and Scotland to America in wooden boats and then had to walk to Utah and I’ve spent half of my life just playing here. As I mentioned in “Dance of the Gods”(music video) “We become our mythology”. It’s all of the things that humans have conceived for thousands of years that have now come to fruition. We’re really living in the golden age so take advantage of it but don’t forget nature. Try to seek out balance in your lives. Definitely, ski and surf as much as you can. It will teach you to respect the mountains, the ocean, and the planet that we live on. Always seek to conquer your fears and enjoy your life as much as you can.