As a backcountry ski guide, Dean Cummings has descended hundreds of different mountains in his lifetime. On more than 50 of those he has claimed first-decent rights. Last year, he reached a culminating career point when he conquered his 21-year dream of being the first to descend the pinnacle mountain in Alaska's Chugach mountain range—The Tusk.
Even with a guiding group and a Cottonwood Heights, Utah-based gear company, Cummings still keeps focus on his family. Many of those peaks are named after his relatives, though he is still searching for one to name after his daughter.
“I haven’t found one big or pretty enough yet, but when I find that first decent we’ll name it after her,” Cummings said in an interview at the Outdoor Retailers Winter Market in Salt Lake City.
Because of his love of the outdoors, Cummings started H2o Guides, one of the largest backcountry guiding companies in Alaska.
H2o Guides has rights to over 2 million acres of some of the most majestic terrain in the world, he said. That's partly why Cummings has been able to claim so many first descents.
“It’s what our life is,“ Cummings said about the guiding company. “My wife and I run it, and it really is what supports us.”
While the majority of Cummings time is focused on his guiding business, he is also growing his gear offerings.
“H2oG [gear] is just another extension of H2o Guides. It is something to support our life and family,” said Cummings. The guiding company was doing so well that it made sense to create a gear company, he said.
“We were selling so many skis through our platform with H2O guides it’s like, ‘Let’s just start our own company.’ Why should we be promoting someone else’s brand when I’ve made skis for other brands, and I’m good at it!“
Cummings has named each of his three different lines of skis after a member of his family—The smallest is the Tazlina after his daughter Tesslina, the mid-width is the Kodiak after his son Wyatt Kodiak and his signature ski is the Karen-cito after his wife Karen.
Cummings wife, Karen Cummings, said that Salt Lake City was the perfect place to set up shop.
“It’s a central location for our industry—Manufacturers are close by, distribution is easier, trade shows happen often, and the airport is a hub that makes it convenient and economical to do business here.”
She says that other ski towns, such as those in Colorado, are expensive to live in and don’t have a good airport.
While Cummings might come across as a focused businessman and an adrenaline junkie, his real focus is on his family.
Karen Cummings says that he adores their children.
“He’s the best dad ever! He’s always inviting the kids to try and learn new things. He always makes time for them,” she said.
Karen says that while her husband loves the crazy adventure, he has a true guiding spirit and is very safe with his children.
“He’s very patient and he’s good at teaching them. He’s the master guide and is always teaching them about safety.”
Cummings recently launched a video biography titled “The Steep Life” that is focused on his intense passion and commitment to skiing. While the documentary seeks to capture one of the culminating points of his life where he descended two of the most intense peaks in the Chugach mountains, The Tusk and The Dragon’s Back spine, the real purpose of the movie is to provide a platform for Cummings’ backcountry safety program.
“Dean’s programs are very simple and easy to understand,” says Lee Hart, H2oG’s spokesman. “He’s been using these methods for over two decades and hasn’t had a severe injury yet.”
A free screening of the documentary will be open to the general public Saturday, January 21, at 6 p.m. at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
Logan works on the Deseret News online products team, where he manages online development projects. He loves running, biking, swimming, and almost anything else outdoors.