Photos by @michaelaasheimohotography
On April 28, 2020, Mike Meru became the first person ever to snowboard all 90 Northern Utah couloirs in the famous Chuting Gallery guidebook when he successfully completed the final descent of his project on the NE Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn.
The two-year-long mission took him through ups and downs and valleys and mountains — quite literally.
But his story as to why he began this project is much deeper and meaningful than you might think. It’s not all just about powder turns and shredding sick lines.
SnowBrains reached out to Mike via email to ask him some questions about his recent triumph and he was more than happy to chat about his journey of determination and growth with us. Here’s what we asked him and what Mike had to say:
SnowBrains: Can you give a little bit of a backstory as to what got you interested in this project?
Mike: As I’ve sat and reflected about finishing the gallery and all of the experiences over the past 13 seasons in the Wasatch, the biggest takeaway is that there is no way I could have done this alone. My main ski partners Michael Aasheim (most talented big mountain photographer in UT), Justin Morgan, Eduoard Saget, and so many others have been there each step of the way. We rely on each other and I literally trust my life with them. There are countless other great individuals I ride with and am grateful for, but two others are would be remiss if I didn’t mention. A great friend and absolute all sport slayer Taylor Palmer who led the Ribbon, and Don Hatch who was a huge support and inspiration for me right after I broke my back.
In the end, there are so many absolutely inspiring splitboarders in the Wasatch who rip harder than I do. I just feel honored to be listed amongst the names of the guys and gals who get after it here.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, and how long you been skiing the Wasatch?
My name’s Michael Meru. I’m from Thousand Oaks, CA and I’ve had two stints in the Wasatch totaling 13 years. Most recently, I’ve been here full time since 2012.
What initially inspired you to embark upon this quest?
I first moved to the Wasatch right after high school in 1999 to shred pow, build jumps, and hike in the backcountry. I remember hearing about this couloir book that had just come out. I took a look but didn’t give it much thought at the time as my focus was elsewhere. Fast forward 8 years and my passions had turned to splitboarding, so I grabbed a copy, stuck it in the bathroom, and would peruse the lines every so often. I wasn’t focused on getting them all at the time, but I looked to it for inspiration and new ideas of lines to ride. Fast forward another decade or so to the beginning of last winter and a few of us were talking about how many of the lines we had already ridden. I hadn’t counted them until that day and when I did I realized I was already about halfway there. It was then I decided I wanted to finish and from there it was on.
A bit more backstory. In March of 2013, I broke my back freeriding. I jumped off a cliff, landed on my feet but hit something hard underneath, blacked out, and when I woke up I was paralyzed from the waist down. For an hour and 15 minutes, I had zero feeling in my legs as I lay in the snow with my friends holding my head. I thought my life was over, but after about that 1:15, I started to be able to feel my toes again. We got to the hospital and I had to have emergency surgery to place a cage in my back and fuse T11-L3 together. My neurosurgeon told me I may never walk properly again, let alone snowboard. It was during the lengthy recovery that I told myself I would never let this end my life and I pushed hard to accomplish a lot of things many thought I couldn’t. Snowboard off the summit of Denali, do huge days in the backcountry, and shred lines that pushed my limits, not ones chosen by them. So a couple of years ago when I looked at the book again and how many I had left, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it despite the injury and years of recovery it took.
As for the time it took, the short answer is It took about 18 years of not thinking about it, and another two seasons of focus to finish.
“We got to the hospital and I had to have emergency surgery to place a cage in my back and fuse T11-L3 together. My neurosurgeon told me I may never walk properly again, let alone snowboard. It was during the lengthy recovery that I told myself I would never let this end my life and I pushed hard to accomplish a lot of things many thought I couldn’t.”
What were some high and low moments during this project?
Oh man, I’d say that most of the lines were high moments. The Wasatch and specifically the Central Wasatch is this tiny little compact range with so many absolutely incredible lines in it that I honestly enjoyed most of them. I think the main challenge for me was trying to get back into shape both physically and mentally after breaking my back. Another moment that was pretty wild was when Taylor Palmer was leading the Ribbon on Devils Castle with Justin Morgan and I behind. Taylor was at the crux where literally half of your board is hanging off an 800′ cliff when a 4’x3′ chunk of the wall came off and hit him. His board creased, his binding high back snapped, and he came unstrapped. Such a scary moment. He held his composure, strapped back in, and took a selfie haha. That’s Tay. All while Jamo and I were about to drop a load in our pants haha.
“Taylor was at the crux where literally half of your board is hanging off an 800′ cliff when a 4’x3′ chunk of the wall came off and hit him. His board creased, his binding high back snapped, and he came unstrapped. Such a scary moment. He held his composure, strapped back in, and took a selfie haha. That’s Tay. All while Jamo and I were about to drop a load in our pants haha.”
How does it feel to accomplish something of this magnitude?
This one meant a lot to me personally, simply because I was able to prove to myself that I could still shred and ride big lines after the broken back. And whether it was me, or one of the slew of other absolute crushers splitboarding in Wasatch, I think it’s great to show that snowboarders are also pushing the limits of big mountain riding, and that despite having only one edge, we can get into technical and consequential terrain safely as well.
Well in the immediate future: get out and start canyoneering in the desert with the three ladies in my life (my wife Melissa and daughters Elle & Emme). But as far as snowboarding goes, the overarching goal of finding solace in remote and beautiful places remains. My drive in snowboarding is visiting remote ranges in search of striking couloirs. My main ski partners, Mike Aasheim, Justin Morgan, and Eduoard Sage have a very similar mindset, so I’d love to get out with them next season in search of big lines!
Best/worst line in the Chuting Gallery?
Oh man, that’s a tough one! I’d have to say the best line in the Gallery in my eyes is the Grunge Couloir on Timp. It’s one I go back to at least once a year. When you get it in pow it’s hard to beat! A few others that are high on the list for me are Montgomery, Lone Peak’s NE Couloir, and Lisa Falls. And for the worst… I know I’m going to offend someone with this, but I’d have to say for me it’s the Hallway. It’s just my personal opinion, but I don’t love it. Still better than a ski resort though haha.
Do you have any advice you’d give for people who want to do what you did and ski all the lines in the Chuting Gallery?
Get the education, find partners you trust, be patient, and make it happen!