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Sizing up the slopes when only knee-high

On skis at age 2, Nick Loomans was racing competitively by age 6

By Jesse Drake

HR Analyst Nick Loomans; Above right, with his dad, George.

HR Analyst Nick Loomans; Above right, with his dad, George.

Nick Loomans was on skis before he could walk.

"My dad would carry me on his shoulders before I could stand, or he'd place me on his skis, holding me as we skied down," said Loomans, Human Resource analyst for UIT employees.

Loomans grew up in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. His parents, George and Mary Jo, are both level 3-certifed Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), the highest ski certification offered. His father is also a level 3-certified U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA) coach. Together, his parents founded the non-profit organization, Southeastern Wisconsin Alpine Team (SWAT) Racing, a junior ski race club at nearby Alpine Valley Resort geared towards athletes ages 6 to 18. What started with 11 athletes, now serves around 100.

Loomans was racing competitively by age 6, eventually achieving national USSA point ranking, and international point ranking in the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS), a.k.a., International Ski Federation. Within FIS, he has competed at the Mid-America level. FIS has different divisions that include Mid-America, North America, Europa Cup, and World Cup, the level at which U.S. Ski Team athletes compete. Skiing for the University of Minnesota, Loomans was two-time All-American his senior year in the overall and slalom standings.

Loomans has been racing competitively since age 6.

Loomans on the slopes. Photo credit: Crystal Sagan

Loomans holds a Bachelor of Human Resource Development and Management degree, but his first job out of school was hardgoods manager at Vail Sports in Vail, Colorado. He went on to work in sales at Nordica USA while living in Vail. He moved to Utah in 2014 for a scientific recruiter job at Aerotek in Salt Lake City before taking his current HR position at the U in 2015.

"I was looking for a bit of a change. It was hard to get away from the resort atmosphere in Vail," he said. "Utah has the kind of terrain I wanted to ski, and working at the university has allowed me to build on my field of education."

Moving to Salt Lake City was "kind of a no brainer" for its proximity to the mountains, compared to a city like Denver where, he said, "There are so many people going up that if you don't leave by noon on Friday, you're sitting in traffic for four to six hours." He enjoys skiing the Solitude, Alta and Snowbird ski areas, in addition to slopes around Park City, near his home in Kimball Junction.

Another bonus is the work-life balance he's afforded at the university.

"My HR managers and the leadership here are super supportive. That allows me to continue to be involved in the ski industry," he said.

Some workdays, Loomans rises before the sun to lead a "dawn patrol." Under headlamp, he and a small group of friends are mountain-side by 5:30 a.m. By 6:00 a.m., they "skin up" (affixing synthetic skins to the bottom of skis for grip is called "skinning"). They typically summit and start skiing around sunrise, return to their vehicles at 8:00 a.m., and arrive at the office by 9:00 a.m.

Loomans errs on the side of caution on any ski trip, but especially dawn patrols.

"There's always a risk-reward factor in this sport, but we're very selective about where we ski," he said.

"Skinning" up – affixing synthetic skins to skis for better grip.

"Skinning up," a.k.a, affixing synthetic skins to skis for better grip.

Loomans, who is AIARE 1 avalanche certified, always reads the latest reports from the Utah Avalanche Center. The relative unevenness of snowfall this winter created an array of avalanche hazards, particularly along northwest and east-facing aspects.

Ideally, snow falls heavy then light, which is considered right-side up. Light then heavy is called upside-down. Often, avalanches occur when an underlying layer is weaker than the snow on top. A "persistent weak layer" may lie three feet within the snowpack and trigger a slide weeks after a storm, even when no other red flags are present.

"The best I've heard persistent weak layers described is like dominos," Loomans said. "It doesn't matter whether you're at the bottom, middle, or top of a slope, you might even be on the side – on a ridge, gulley or couloir over. The 'dominos,' a.k.a. snowflakes, are all connected, so if one goes, they all go."

Loomans tries to scout out the least avalanche-prone slope. He conducts tests along the way like digging pits, and looking for visual and structural red flags in the snowpack. But sometimes fortune works against him.

The view from the top during "dawn patrol."

The view from the top during "dawn patrol."

"That's the hardest part of it, putting all that work in, only to get to the top and realize, 'You know what, it’s just not worth it,'" he said. "At that point, you can ski a different slope that's not as risky, or just call it. There's always a way down. You can always just go retrace your skin track."

Loomans freelances as a ski gear tester for Outside and Mountain magazines, which issue gear guides and ski reviews every fall. Skiing requires a lot of gear, something for every foot, hand, and head – multiple somethings – which puts a reviewer with Loomans' experience in demand. He specializes in rating and reviewing the skis themselves. His payment is essentially the sponsorship gear that the magazines provide. He also does non-paid, non-ambassador work for Nordica, which publishes his photos in marketing materials.

In warm seasons, Loomans plays competitive doubles beach volleyball, and enjoys road and mountain biking. Hiking? Not so much.

After you've skied the places he has, what's the fun in getting to the top only to walk back down?

"I'll climb anything I can ski down," Loomans said, laughing.

Last Updated: 3/27/19