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 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.
Over the years, I never strayed far from desert adventures until I married, moved to West Africa and became a wife and mother in 1992. In 2010, I slammed back into the "new" sport of Canyoneering, thanks to Tom and Ram. I often tell folks that while my underwear drawer is on a little island near Vancouver, Canada, my soul lives in southern Utah’s redrock country. In the last two years, I have seen a couple hundred canyon descents and met even more wonderful canyoneering friends. While movement and beauty of the canyons fuels my passion, I am equally drawn to the joy of camaraderie with my adventure partners. 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!
I would describe myself as an individual that loves to be outside. I grew up in a rural community that afforded me the opportunity to run free as a kid and explore all that nature had to offer.
Arriving in Southern California as a young adult, I became an avid hiker, backpacker, white water rafter, camper, skier and occasional climber. I perfected the art of jamming as much adventure as possible into a two day weekend and was still able to make it to my desk on Monday morning by 8:00 AM.
When I attended a "Tom's Fest" in 2005 with my husband, I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready for a new adventure. I was not disappointed! Since then, I have been hooked on canyoneering. I have enjoyed sharing my love for canyoneering with my kids and friends and I continue to pack as much outside adventure as possible into my life.
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.
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!"
After many years working in the finance world in Virginia, I accepted a position with the non profit, United Service Organization or USO. The USO supports service members and their families. I'm a military kid and almost everyone in my family is retired from a branch of service. The position evolved from Duty Manager in Kuwait, Programs Coordinator in Sharan, Afghanistan to Interim Center Director at USO Arizona. In Arizona, I managed a booming volunteer program/staff of 300, a 3800 square foot, state of the art facility in Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and outreach programming to local bases.
During my 2.5 years in Kuwait and Afghanistan, I traveled voraciously. Russia, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia were my playgrounds and I became very comfortable in that role. Moving stateside in October of 2011, I decided to explore my country. Living in Phoneix was an excellent starting point. I made many friends in the outdoor community in Phoenix and we explored The Grand Canyon, Sedona, Payson, Phoenix, Apache Junction, Utah, Vegas, and California. The canyoneering bug infected me in 2013. It's an amazing adventure that brings me to Imlay Canyon Gear as "website lackey" and Virgin, UT in 2015.
During a trip to Zion, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom in Englestead Canyon. The Emperor inspired my move to Utah the following year. My story continues to be written from a Starbucks in Chesapeake Virginia.