Meet the CUSA Team
Somewhere between one-man operation and multi-national corporation, CUSA has a human resource structure that shuns easy description. Though nailing down our staffing plan may be difficult, we undeniably enjoy some incredibly talented and enjoyable help.
I began rock climbing in 1974 and did a lot of that, eventually working for Black Diamond as a product designer of technical sewn products (harnesses, harnesses, harnesses, plus packs, gaiters, webbing products, etc.). We moved the whole company to Salt Lake City in 1991, and a few years later I discovered the DESERT.
Not having much talent for it, after 20 years I got bored with climbing and started spending more time down in the desert, taking photos and hiking around. I bought the Steve Allen book, Canyoneering: The San Rafael Swell, and immediately highlighted all the places where it said “and from here, the canyon is impassable." From this, a hit list was born.
I survived my first couple of technical outings, more by luck than anything else! I was enthusiastic, but lacked steady partners. Brain Cabe took me under his wing, which helped a lot, but my appetite for canyons was larger than his. This was 1999 and the Internet was just getting going, so I started a website and posted up what I was doing. Eventually other partners showed up, we built a community and entered the silver-age of Internet-assisted canyoneering.
If you'd like to get in touch with me, you can do so on Facebook or directly via email. Even better, turn off your computer and come find me in the canyons!
Admittedly, I am one of the “elders” of canyoneering. I began playing in the slot canyons in the 1970s with early descents in Zion and Escalante. As a school teacher, summer months offered free time to take advantage of Utah’s recreation wonderland. By the 1980s, my appetite for adventure led me to merge avocation with vocation and my wild adventure resume grew. I earned certifications as a Whitewater River Guide, a Professional Ski Instructor of America and a Wilderness Medicine EMT. I became Technical Director for Utah State University’s Outdoor Executive Ropes Course in Logan Canyon; at the same time, I taught rock climbing and telemark skiing for the University of Utah Outdoor program, and I founded the mountain bike/cycling programs there. I spent glorious years working with not-for-profit SPLORE, guiding on the ice, snow, rock and waters of North America. Narrowing my focus in the mid 1980’s, I became Program Director with Maxcomm and Associates, where I built an experience-based curriculum promoting team and leadership skills for executives across the globe.
At the ripe ol’ age of 40, I pursued my greatest achievement, motherhood.
I slammed back into the "new" sport of Canyoneering in 2010, thanks to Tom and Ram. While movement and beauty of the canyons fuels my passion, I am equally drawn to the joy of camaraderie with my adventure partners. Now single and retired, I get out more than I stay in meeting hundreds of wonderful folks in the Canyoneering Clan. I love how the common love of these canyon slots tends to mute the delicate topics within today’s politics and religion.
As time and gravity inevitably take their toll, I strive to step lightly and gratefully through my days in the canyons. It is an honor to share in the commitment to develop safe techniques that honor the privilege of passage by leaving as little trace as possible. I hope to see you out there soon!
Coming from a family that was active, but not adventure-sport oriented, I caught my interest in mountaineering and canyoneering from the New York City Public Library, as an 8 year old, looking at the pretty pictures and reading adventure stories. I spent the summers of my youth in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, hiking and scrambling, first as a camper, then as a counselor at Camp Idylwold. I moved out west in 1974 and continued climbing; I began canyoneering when I first visited the Grand Canyon in 1975. Most of my partners came from my old summer camp, allowing me to cajole them into misadventures near and far. Before settling down in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1983, I clocked 105,000 hitchhiking miles from Alaska to Mexico, and many peaks, canyons, and quixotic surprises along the way. In 2001, I found a whole new collection of adventure partners through the Yahoo! Canyons Group, a canyoneering discussion forum. I have been blessed with many fine friends and adventures, some of which I have written about on the Latest Rave and also on Canyon Tales, a canyon story site.
Having the grand canyon as my first glimpse of the vast southwest created an undeniable ache to be within the red rocks and pale sands. I became a canyoneering guide at Zion Adventure Company, with my adage 'work hard, play harder.' My third technical canyon was Imlay, and it was then I understood the draw to the sport—the teamwork, camaraderie, trust, and incredible beauty. I started planning more trips, began going to festivals, received invites with stellar teams, incorporated ghosting into my repertoire.. between work and play, I was usually canyoneering 7 days a week. Since then, I’ve been able to develop my skills and transfer them to my main means of transportation—climbing. After my first guiding season at ZAC, I showed up in Yosemite Valley with a single cam, my bouldering shoes, and a borrowed helmet. What a month, and I’ve continued to pursue the sport, from bouldering and clipping bolts to climbing big walls and documenting international expeditions. Both canyoneering and climbing have brought me to some of my favorite places on Earth—deep down in it’s haunting depths and up to its pointy peaks and exhausting scale.
My fast paced lifestyle became pleasantly intertwined with photography, first as a means to slow down and smell the desert roses, and then eventually to tell stories. Using photos and video to tell these important stories has brought me all over the map from Patagonia to Tibet, with my heart remaining in little nooks surrounded by the sandstone I continue to call home. For more, check out my media portfolio!
Canyoneering entered my life in 1998, when I first visited Zion National Park with college friends. Zion's mystery, beauty, and adventure were evident everywhere, but nowhere were they quite so raw and vibrant as in its slot canyons. I returned to Zion that summer, taking on a guiding apprenticeship with Jonathan Zambella at Zion Adventure Company, and began exploring Utah's canyonlands in earnest.
I first came to know Tom through his website, Tom's Canyoneering, where I would go to find canyon beta and do some serious armchair canyoneering. "Who is this guy?" I wondered. Eventually, I had a few chance encounters with Tom at Zion Adventure Company, both annoyed and impressed with his brusque, slightly awkward social disposition. One day, Tom sent an email to the canyoneering world advertising his interest in guiding, and we hired him about 20 minutes later. Four years later, Tom hired me to help him revamp CUSA, which had grown unwieldy and outdated under the sheer weight of the volumous information Tom shares with the world.
Tom and Canyoneering USA (is there a difference, really?) embody a strange, fascinating polarity. Both intelligent and low-brow, professional and messy, cocky and humble, it's difficult to pin Tom or his business down as one thing or another. Is Tom a bold and dedicated entreprenuer, or just a big kid muddling through an adult world? Is CUSA a for-profit business making a killing, or a service organization for the canyoneering community, just barely scraping by? The only right answer to these questions is, "YES", an answer Tom might give you himself, with a big smile on his face. For me, Tom and his business illustrate how one person can exert an enormous influence by simply and passionately following his interests, loves, and relationships. Thanks to Tom for fervently pursuing adventure and canyoneering over many years, and for sharing his knowledge to help so many of us get out into wild country.
For more about me, check out my work as a Madison, WI photographer, my Wisconsin climbing business or my website design work.
A native of rural central Utah, Shirlz is no stranger to the great outdoors. The ideals of love, appreciation and respect for the wonders of nature were instilled in her by her parents since the day she was born. Growing up, her favorite activities always centered around exploring, camping and hiking in the mountains near her home. Over the years she has added rock climbing and Canyoneering to her long list of outdoor passions and is also an accomplished and talented photographer. In the past she has experienced much success as a technical canyon guide in Southern Utah and a noted expert of the Utah National parks, citing Zion National Park as her favorite. Her mantra of, “the journey is the destination” along with her passionate thirst for knowledge has gained her a wealth of information pertaining to Southern Utah’s trails, geological makeup, wildlife, ancient cultures and more – a true expert in the field. She joined the team at Imlay Canyon Gear in 2014.
"Not all those who wander are lost!"