Story by Jack Wise
When one door closes, another opens.
Tanner Rosenthal, aka “TanSnowMan,” the Panda Chief, has lived this cliché, especially over the last two years.
Last winter season, TanSnowMan received notice that he was being investigated for commercial operation of a drone on United States Forest Service land (leased by his local ski resort) without a permit. The potential $25,000 fine for the violation would have likely meant the end of Panda Poles. Fortunately, the Forest Service let Rosenthal off with a warning.
Still, the episode left a sour taste in the Chief’s mouth. Not only had he been dealing with the Forest Service’s fine looming over his head, TanSnowMan had been dissed by his home ski hill.
Even though he had spent decades skiing there, and years promoting it, the resort’s management pushed back on the Panda Chief. He couldn’t understand--was it due to the change of ownership and operations, or out of other ulterior motives or circumstances? The resort officials were less than transparent when asked for their reasoning behind turning Rosenthal in to the feds.
Around this time the Panda Chief was invited to film an event at Powder Mountain, UT. After learning of his Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or Part 107, certification, Powder Mountain’s marketing team offered TanSnowMan a season pass for the 2018/19 winter season.
He reached out to a friend from the early Panda days in Little Cottonwood Canyon, your author, who now lives in Ogden, UT and works at Powder Mountain. The two-hour drive from his home in Pocatello, ID would be more manageable with a place to crash for multi-day missions.
With the advantage of a friend and guide to show him around, TanSnowMan started to settle into the new digs.
Powder Mountain has the largest skiable acreage in the United States, with the lowest skier-per-acre ratio. “PowMow” or, simply “Powder,” as the locals refer to it, has so far experienced a stellar winter, beginning with its earliest opening date in its history. As is the case for most resorts, though, the terrain openings were incremental.
TanSnowman was introduced first to the Timberline lift. The 900-vertical-foot, three-person fixed grip lift creeps and shakes to the top of 360 degrees of skier access. The hunt for early season sends got the Panda Chief juiced and warmed up, going big on some creative hits and hidden slash-stashes.
As the snow continued to fall, the open terrain quickly expanded. To the east, Hidden Lake lift and the Saddlehorn surface tow, beyond that the Sunrise Poma, Village and Mary’s lifts. To the North and downslope, Paradise lift ascends over a ridge that bisects Powder’s steepest terrain with exposure, cliffs, and steep tree skiing.
To the South, Powder Country is accessible through gates that open onto ungroomed, open glades to the bottom of State Route 158, where a bus shuttles guests back to the base areas. The first stop on the way back is at Sundown lodge, South-West of the Timberline base.
Sundown is the night skiing area, but during the day, the lift mostly accommodates ski school. But for TanSnowMan and like-minded big-mountain-shredders, a quick traverse west from the top of Sundown to the Lightning Ridge snow cat. From the top, Lightning Ridge accesses chutes, cornices and most of the ski patrol’s avalanche mitigation terrain. Terrain to which TanSnowman had unlimited access through his media pass. From the ridge, hikers can boot or skin up to the top of James Peak or traverse farther to Y Chute.
After a quick scoot across wind-affected BMX-style rollers and rimed trees, Waterfall and Big Middle drop fall-line back to the bottom of Timberline lift. The two chutes are wide enough to open up the turns and speed, and are littered with airs to boost and waves to slash.
On January 2, the coverage at PowMow was thin but the snow was fast and soft. It was sixteen degrees Fahrenheit. Wind whipped at the top of Lightning Ridge, but after the traverse over and looking into Big Middle, it was only a breeze.
With icy fingers, visible breath and palpable excitement, TanSnowMan launched his DJI Mavic Pro toward the cobalt sky.
A few minutes later, he skied to the bottom, high-fiving his friend/ski-actor (and author,) beaming from accomplishing a goal that was years in the making and the primary reason for attaining his Part 107 certification; TanSnowMan had filmed a skier from the air.
This moment christened TanSnowMan’s adoption to the PowMow family. Introductions from his local connection have blossomed into new friendships with the energy that only comes from sharing rad and silly moments.
Friends like Marko Djordjevic, another Powder-fam adoptee. Born in Wisconsin, Marko raft guides the summers in Southern Utah but skis and climbs and hot-springs harder than the average ski bum.
Young blood was injected into the crew through Alec Finke, a 21-year-old Utah State University marketing graduate who skis for Fatypus.
Powder Mountain is a community. For all the press it receives, the soul of the mountain is kept alive through the employees and local shredders. A lot of days, workers outnumber guests. Busy days still see minimal lift lines, if any. Day tickets are capped at 1,500 and season passes are limited to 3,000.
Even though he put on a resilient face, another door had been closing on TanSnowMan. At the beginning of February, he announced on Facebook Live that he would be closing the Panda Dojo at the beginning of April. For the last nine years, TanSnowman has been wearing multiple hats and trying to climb out of debt. Some days, the pressure of the business weighs heavily on the Panda Chief.
But again, doors opened. The outpouring of love from the community, local and abroad, was enough to lift his spirits and encourage him to crowdsource and crowdfund for the future of the brand.
With over sixty volunteers to help propel the next version of the coolest bamboo ski wands in the galaxy, Panda Poles 2.0 plans feature new interchangeable grips and baskets and a telescoping design.
The energy from the Panda Tribe is strong. TanSnowman sometimes reminds himself that Panda Poles came to him in a vision. Seeing Alex Hall winning Slopestyle Gold at the X-Games and Andrew Pollard taking second place in the Freeride World Tour stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria have restored some faith in that vision.
So look out, and look up, Panda Tribe. Exciting things are yet to come.