The sheer sheet of ice rose sharply from Little Cottonwood Canyon, a steep climb under the best conditions, but for the mountaineers with the skis strapped across their back, it was a rare opportunity for some June skiing.
As they made their way up the Y-shaped chute, with some 3,000 feet to the bottom, one slipped and tumbled, skidding down the 50-degree ice slope, gaining speed as he went.
By the time he managed to stop, he had slid some 800 feet. The snow was covered with blood from where most of the skin on his left hand had been peeled away.
It was just another extreme adventure for Wayne Niederhauser, the new Senate president and the body’s resident outdoor maniac.
"He’s Clark Kent in the daytime and Superman when he gets off work," says Chris McCandless, Niederhauser’s long-time business partner, as well as climbing, skiing and cycling sidekick.
Clark Kent, of course, was a reporter, while Niederhauser’s is every bit an accountant — stiff demeanor, nervous, staccato chuckle, slicked-back hair and the wonkish, data-driven way he approaches issues.
But when the tie comes off, he’s a different person.
In a quest to make more time for backcountry skiing, Niederhauser began trekking up Little Cottonwood Canyon near his Sandy home after the Legislature adjourned with his sons or McCandless. They would strap halogen mountain bike lamps to their helmets and hit the slopes in Grizzly Gulch above Alta after dark.
He has climbed the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier twice and scaled many mountain peaks around Utah, an opportunity, he says, to bond with his boys.
He is, by all accounts, a fanatical bicyclist, either on the road or on the trails, and sets a blistering pace.
"There are few people in better shape than him. He’s an amazing climber up hills, whether it’s on skis or on a bike," says Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association and frequent riding partner. "Being up eight, nine, 10,000 feet, he just feels at home."
A video on Niederhauser’s website shows him knee-deep in water, strapping his bike to sticks and logs, building a makeshift raft to ferry his ride 50 feet across the flooded Cane Creek near Moab so they could get back to their car.
"There isn’t anything he does that he doesn’t do wholeheartedly," says his wife, Melissa Niederhauser. "He does throw himself into everything."
The outdoors were a big part of Niederhauser’s upbringing in Logan. His father, Larry, worked for the power company and his mother worked at the bank. The oldest of three children, Niederhauser wasn’t particularly gregarious or athletic.
"He was kind of a nerd," says his mother, Mary Beth Niederhauser.
Outdoors » But Niederhauser says he and his friends in the Boy Scouts would head up the canyon in the winter, dig a hole in the snow, and camp overnight. He would deer hunt with his father or take off on motorcycles with his brother.
"He was very adventurous," says Mary Beth Niederhauser.
She says her son nearly died of pneumonia when he was a baby, almost drowned in the ocean on a family trip and flipped his boss’s Jeep just after getting his driver license.
"He has a purpose on this Earth now, because he has survived," she says.
In addition to a love for the outdoors, Niederhauser’s father, who died in 2003 of pancreatic cancer, also passed on a sense of community involvement and public service.
"Looking at Larry, Wayne’s father, and looking at Wayne, you can see a lot of the common denominators," says McCandless.
Niederhauser served an LDS mission in Tallahasse, Fla., and attended Utah State University in Logan, where he met his wife. She says he was handsome, kind and knew where he wanted to go in life.Next Page >
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