‘All hail the Whale’: How the 9th and 9th sculpture became a mascot for Utah’s snowiest winter ever

The sculpture called “Out of the Blue” has become an unofficial mascot for Utah’s snowiest winter ever.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Snow falls on the whale sculpture "Out of the Blue" in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022.

If you want this historic snowfall to stick around for a while, prepare a sacrifice. Something small. Try krill perhaps.

If the snow has you blubbering, maybe your pleas can help ensure this is winter’s tail end.

Either way, all hail the whale.

The multicolored whale sculpture in Salt Lake’s 9th and 9th neighborhood has become the unofficial mascot of Utah’s epic winter, with tongue-in-cheek devotees crediting the creature for an unprecedented ski season.

“It’s 100% the whale,” Dave Amirault, a Sugar House resident and former ski industry executive, said jokingly this week as an April snowstorm blanketed the state. “It’s been ‘scientifically’ proven.”

The whale’s place in this winter’s lore started with a dry spell.

The beginning of last winter seemed like it would be a snowy one. December 2021 saw new snowfall near 130 inches in Salt Lake City, with other areas like Park City, Heber Valley, Heber Valley and Ogden hovering between 75 and 90 inches, per Ski Utah historical data.

But after the year turned to 2022, Mother Nature turned the snow tap almost completely off. In the next two months, no area got higher than 32 inches of average new snowfall. It was similar in March, although Salt Lake reached 70 inches, per Ski Utah.

Meanwhile, the 9th and 9th neighborhood prepared for a whale sculpture named “Out of the Blue” to be erected at a traffic circle. It went up on April 1, and soon after, snowstorms were on their way again.

OpenSnow Utah forecaster Evan Thayer noticed the coincidence and made mention of it to his Twitter followers.

He joked that every fall, people should give “sacrifices” to the whale. Then he started making puns, like saying more people would embrace the whale sculpture if it was given “a porpoise.”

This ski season has been no different. As Utah has continued to break snow records this winter, both overall and at ski resorts, the joke hasn’t died.

“As this season has gone on, the joke has snowballed that everybody has latched on to this idea of the whale is the good luck charm that’s bringing us snow,” Thayer said. “So I just rolled with it.”

Thayer is not the only person who’s been having a fintastic time with the joke. The notion that the whale is responsible for the record snow has gained steam and even birthed the catchphrase “All Hail the Whale” among internet users on Twitter and Reddit, as well as skiers and snowboarders.

“I think the nice thing is no matter where you ski, if you’re a skier or snowboarder, it’s something that’s in the culture,” said Amirault. “It’s not unique to skiers or snowboarders or one specific resort, and something that everyone can share in, which is super special.”

After a particularly snowy weekend about a week ago, Utah resident Travis Callison and his fiancé, Rachael Jampolaky, wanted to one-up their neighbors from across the street who made giant snowmen on their front lawn. Callison originally thought to make a snow shark, but then it dawned on him: Why not a whale?

(Travis Callison) Two snow whales are shown in front of the home of Travis Callison and Rachael Jampolaky. The couple made them after two recent snowstorms.

So he and Jampolaky spent three and a half hours making a large snow whale. A few days later, after another snowstorm, they gave their whale a calf.

“We’re kind of going with the theme that, well, since we put the whale [snow] sculpture up, we actually brought some more snow — enough snow that it made a baby,” Callison said.

Earlier this year, during his annual State of the State address, Gov. Spencer Cox made mention of the whale as he talked about ways to get out of the severe drought Utah has been experiencing for years.

“So, whether you believe in God or karma or the whale at 9th and 9th, I ask again that we join together to ask for relief from this drought,” Cox said.

Now the movement even has its own merchandise and splinter groups alike.

Thayer, who runs the Wasatch Snow Forecast account on Twitter, recently made an “All hail the Whale” T-shirt featuring the whale and Mt. Superior that he is selling to raise funds for the Utah Avalanche Center.

Someone also started the Church of the Sacred Whale of Ninth-and-Ninth. While it does not appear to be an actual church, its website says that every Tuesday at 7 p.m., followers gather at the statue to “pay their respects and show their devotion to the Sacred Whale.” There is also a form one can fill out to become an official member of the organization.

Stephen Kesler, who sculpted the whale, said the website is selling merchandise based on his design and that the organization has been asked to stop. But, he said, they “cynically refused.”

“I feel like this is more insincere work by this group,” Kessler said. “So it’s nothing I support, personally.”

But to what extent people actually believe the whale of a theory that the statue is directly responsible for Utah’s exceptional snow?

Even the man who made the sculpture can’t help but indulge in the theory.

“It’s kind of hard to ignore the facts, right?” Kesler said. “We had a pretty heavy April [snow] after it went in, right? I think that’s when it kind of started. And now to see all the records being shattered, it’s kind of hard to ignore. I mean, it’s just as valid [a] belief system as some others out there. So sure, why not?”

This winter is considered a statistical anomaly, so it’s not likely that Utah will see snowfall like this in a very long time. And whether it’s a weather phenomenon or an unlikely deity, the whale has certainly made its impact on the Beehive State.

“I guess this will go down as the season of the whale,” Thayer said.

And when might that season stop?

Forecasts show warmer weather on the way this weekend. Perhaps more importantly, a Twitter account dedicated to the whale had this message for its 3,500-plus followers:

“Last week of snow and not so sunny weather. Promise! This weekend will be spring!”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.