Take 5: Tyler Wood, Copper instructor and Pacific Crest Trail nomad
On April 28 last year, Copper snowboard instructors Tyler Wood and Joey Bartl set out on the 2,659-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a legendary route that runs the entire length of the U.S. from the Canadian border at Manning Park, British Columbia to the Mexican border just south of Camp, California.
On Sept. 28 — exactly five months after the two began — the 24-year-old Wood reached the end of the trail and the end of his longest expedition to date. Bartl left after about 1,000 miles, but his counterpart from Indiana was committed to seeing it through to the end, hiking solo to the summit of Mount Whitney (14,505 feet) and trekking across all of Oregon in just two weeks. His pace then: 30-plus miles per day.
For five months, one of Wood’s biggest influence was the duo’s cause, High Hopes Head Injury Program, a California-based nonprofit that raises funds for traumatic brain injury awareness and treatment. It’s a cause close to Wood’s heart: He suffered a TBI during a car accident when living in New Zealand and wanted to tie his PCT trek to something greater.
Now, Wood wants to take the cause even further with a new nonprofit, dubbed Hike for Heads. But first, he needs to finish a season on the snow, in his natural elements at Copper. The Summit Daily sports desk caught up with him after the first snowstorm in two weeks to talk about teaching at Copper, his memories from the PCT and how it all fits into Hike for Heads.
Summit Daily News: You just wrapped up with lessons for the day. How was it out there after a few fresh inches?
Tyler Wood: It was perfect conditions to teach in. I didn’t get to explore the mountain much but people were loving it, just gripping edges and making turns on their first day. As the instructor that’s always a good feeling, to see people connecting turns on their first day. It gets them hooked.
SDN: You’ve been teaching at Copper for three seasons now. How does the mountain and terrain compare to back home?
TW: Coming from Indiana I grew up surrounding by cornfields — just nothing but cornfields out there. I learned to snowboard on a landfill. It’s a major contrast. I had never felt very passionate — well, I won’t go quite that far — but I knew as soon as I was in the mountains it was where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do.
SDN: What first drew you to Colorado? Why here for winter instead of a beach?
TW: It was a pretty regular thing for me to visit the landfill in Indiana. That rush of flying down the mountain with best friends just made me want to come out and ride some real mountains. Here there is just so much to explore in the mountains, you know what I mean? Back home on the landfill there are just a couple of runs — there’s really not much more than that. Once I started riding here I fell in love with the trees, fell in love with exploring in a way. There are just so many hidden spots and gems. People who have been riding here for years and years can still find new spots and I think that’s a really awesome element to it.
SDN: Is that what brings you back to the snowboard school winter after winter?
TW: I’m just passionate about snowboarding and I’m eager to share that passion with others. If I can make a living — if I can even just get by — by sharing my love of the mountain with others, that gives my passion meaning. That’s what I like to say: giving my passion meaning. It’s about seeing the glow in someone’s eyes when they make that first turn, when they fall in love.
Copper is also just a great mountain to be at. It’s kind of tucked away from the towns so that it becomes its own little world over here. I really like that aspect. I’ve realized that I’m more of a small-town boy than a city boy.
SDN: Have you always been drawn to small towns? Or did that start to change after moving to Colorado?
TW: Out here, the beauty of humanity really does come out. You see it more in the mountains than when you’re in the city. You surround yourself with good vibes in a place like this, as opposed to inner-city Denver or somewhere else, where you have those mixed vibes. You park your car on the street and might come out to see that it’s been hit by some stranger. Out here there’s no worries.
SDN: Onto your summer excursions: When did you first set your sights on the Pacific Crest Trail?
TW: I honestly hadn’t even thought of long expeditions until I moved to Australia and started leading expeditions with Outward Bound. That was when I fell in love with making miles by foot. I had a good idea of what I was getting into when I started the Pacific Crest Trail because of that. If I can take care of 18 kids who have never been camping before on a week-long expedition, I was pretty confident I could take care of myself.
I moved to Copper Mountain after I got in a really bad car accident in New Zealand, and Copper Mountain really felt like a place where I could be comfortable. I met a new friend, Joey (Bartl), another snowboard instructor here last year, and it was his initiative to head out on the trail. I was questionable about it at first, then I came up with the idea to make it a fundraiser for traumatic brain injury. Like before, it was giving my passion meaning. That was when I made the decision.
SDN: Was the Pacific Crest Trail what you expected? Or did the distance and terrain catch you off-guard, even after your experience with Outward Bound?
TW: I didn’t really go into it with many expectations. I had worked and spent lots of time outdoors to get ready for a trip like that, and there were a lot of people I knew who didn’t have the right mind frame at the start. That was one of the cool and beautiful things of the trails — seeing how people form, seeing how people manage. The faces you see at the beginning of the trails aren’t always the ones you see at the end. I was disappointed by that at first, but then you learn to embrace it. Once you learn to accept that it makes it worth it.
SDN: You talk about giving your passion meaning. Did you find any connections between snowboarding and hiking when you were on the trail?
TW: Just the simplicity of it. For me, after my brain injury — when I was away from technology ad possessions and everything else in normal life — it really simplified things and brought my mind to peace. On the trail and in snowboarding, there is nothing that forms a better friendship than shredding hard all day with close friends, right? Nothing becomes more organic and real than that sort of friendship.
SDN: Five months is a lifetime on the trail for most folks. Do any moments stand out from the others?
TW: One of the big highlights from the trip was my solo summit of Mount Whitney. I’m all about going out of my way to have peak experiences, and when I did that I was alone on the summit, playing my harmonica as the sunlight was shining across the entire western coast.
For snowboarding, I’d compare it to sitting at the top of Loveland Pass under a full moon and watching the bowl glow. It’s always worth it to put that little extra bit of effort into something to make it special. That’s one reason I loved the PCT so much. I challenged myself with miles, trying to make as many as I could in certain days. You walk all day, every day.
SDN: The winter season is more than halfway finished. What’s on the horizon this summer? Another expedition?
TW: That’s a big question. I’m busy trying to figure that out too, but the name I gave the fundraiser — Hike for Heads — was something a lot of people already thought was a nonprofit. So I’ve been thinking lately, “Why not?” In the next year or so I want to form a nonprofit called Hike for Heads, where anyone can dedicate any journey — biking, kayaking, walking, anywhere from a day to a year — for a cause of their choice.
Once the framework for that is set, I plan to take off from my back door in Indiana and kayak down to New Orleans, do the north to south across the United States. After that it’ll make it into South America and eventually Patagonia.
SDN: So the plan is to kayak the entire stretch, from Indiana to Patagonia?
TW: No, it’ll be a mix: kayak to the Gulf of Mexico and then sail from there to Patagonia eventually, with as much self-propelled travel as possible. That will be my way to spread the word about Hike for Heads and set the tone for what it’s all about.
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