TCSAR: Where did you grow up?
Alex: I grew up in a small town in Ohio, which is where my entire family still is minus one uncle. My uncle was my hero because he left and I did the same thing the day I turned 18. My parents knew I was gone. I didn’t want to live in Ohio - I wanted to go to the mountains, the foothills in Appalachia basically. I always looked forward to leaving Ohio to go on our family vacation every year because we drove through West Virginia where there were mountains. And then when I saw real mountains, or what I would consider real mountains, coming out west and visiting Colorado for the first time that’s when I decided to leave home.
TCSAR: Tell us about your family and your other interests when you were young?
Alex: My brother is 10 years older and my sister is 5 years older, so we’re all 5 years apart. As a kid I was really into leadership programs and things (laughs). You can’t put this in the blog (he let us), but I was really big into the Ohio Association of Student Councils and I was elected to State President. God there’s a lot of weird things I don’t tell people… I was like super dork, super successful kid. Now that I look back on it I can’t believe I did all that as a high school teenager. Which is why I love working in youth conservation, there’s that balance of innocence and brilliance between the ages of 16 and 18 that you don’t realize when you’re that age. So that was big in high school - leadership programs. I spent my weekends doing leadership camps, being a mentor and that kind of thing all of the way from middle school until my senior year in high school when I started focusing on something else the team doesn’t know, and you definitely can’t use this (again, he let us)… I was nominated by a Congressman and turned down an acceptance to the United States Naval Academy because I decided I wanted to go on a Phish tour. That’s not a joke. I decided the choices were to either go be a soldier or to go listen to some music and be a hippie.
TCSAR: Were the outdoors always a big part of your life?
Alex: Actually I can tell you exactly when the mountains became a big part of my life. After being elected to the State President of OASC, I joined the National Assoc. of Student Councils and I found out about Camp Chile in Estes Park, Colorado and I went there for a couple of weeks for a camp and we climbed this little - what I would now call a hill - but it was called Christmas Tree or Mount Christmas Tree or whatever the heck they called it. And I remember getting on top of it and taking pictures with my then really close friend Megan Dunlap and being like, “This is it. Why the hell do we live in Ohio? We need to get out of Ohio. This is what we need to be doing with our lives. We can inspire. Look how inspired we are. We can inspire other people to get out into the mountains.” After that, when I went back to Miami (Miami of Ohio) they built a climbing wall - it was all the rage to have a climbing gym back then - and I thought that was really awesome. I really enjoy solitude so on the weekends I usually went down to Hoosier National Forest by myself and that was really fulfilling. The more I got into rock climbing I started backpacking and realized that’s what I should be doing on the weekends. And then I made a job out of it and started to hate it.
TCSAR: How did you end up in Jackson?
Alex: I graduated with a Geology degree and the field camp for Miami University was in Dubois. So in 2003 I came to Jackson for the first time on a geologic mapping project and I lived in Dubois for 6 weeks and travelled from here up to Banff and did a big project up there. I went back to school, finished my degree, walked the Pacific Crest Trail for awhile and then ran out of money. I was planning to move to Colorado and was staying with 2 college friends and a 307 number came up on my phone and I thought ’Wyoming’s a lot cooler than Colorado’. I answered it and it was Signal Mountain Lodge and I moved here in 2005 on a whim with 0 dollars to my name and it all worked out.
TCSAR: Where did you meet your dog?
Alex: Scotch Dog? I adopted him when he was 10 weeks old at Lucky’s Place down in Etna. He’s a Catahoula - a little runt. He was the only dog in the kennel that didn’t bark. I don’t like barking dogs. Not to be that completely dorky guy about his dog, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot more from him than he’s learned from me. He’s really intelligent. He can take you to a herd of elk and then he’ll just sit there like see, ‘I told you they were here’.
TCSAR: You just changed jobs after a long career with the National Park Service?
Alex: Yes. I spent 12 seasons with the Park Service, 10 on trail crew leading the youth conservation program. As much as I loved working trail crew and working for the park, I was ready for a change. That’s why I approached the Grand Teton National Park Foundation and asked if they wanted an intern. I love the park - it’s why I’m here and it’s shaped me into the person I am - and now I get to write grants and do things that help fund the projects I used to do. But I don’t have to break my back and I get to use my brain a lot more and still be a part of the park. And I also tune skis at Skinny Skis.
TCSAR: What inspired you to apply to search and rescue?
Alex: Three of my friends died in avalanches inside of 12 months. So that was pretty heavy. One of them, Nick, was my roommate, a really really close friend, member on trail crew and a really a brilliant dude. He knew what he was doing and when he died that was a real wake up. It made me realize I wanted to get involved. And then I was rescued - I had an anaphylactic reaction in a canyon and we had no radio comms so I was looking at 2 of my friends with the medication we had for an 8.5 mile hike and thinking, I’m quite possibly going to die right now. So something in me kicked in and I remained calm and after it was all over I realized that I do really well in those situations. People came to my rescue that didn’t have to. I really wanted to give back to the community here and I didn’t really know how I could do that and then this came along. I feel comfortable out there so it seemed like the right thing to do. I applied at least 3 times before I was selected.
TCSAR: What have you enjoyed the most about being on the team so far?
Alex: I really enjoy the public outreach. Especially what’s going on with Backcountry Zero and the ability to educate people. I like being a teacher but I want to teach something I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about being out in the woods and backcountry medicine so that’s a big thing. But the easiest answer of all is the team. I would do anything for those people. We have a common mission and a common passion to help.
TCSAR: What do you like the least or find the hardest about being on SAR?
Alex: Initially I was horrified of the water and swift water training the first time. Now I can’t wait. I want to be the guy jumping in. A big part of that is having the best people around me and knowing that if anything goes wrong they’re going to save my ass. I don’t like being uncomfortable but I think it’s important to be uncomfortable. If I’m not uncomfortable then I’m not learning and I’m not progressing. So doing something outside my comfort zone is what I like the least but also something I like the most.
TCSAR: What other hobbies do you have?
Alex: I’ll come off way too pretentious and dorky if I answer that question honestly (laughs). I’m really into reading eastern philosophy. I’m also a little obsessed with botany and knowing every plant, bush, tree in the woods. I want to know the name and also the scientific name and what makes it poisonous or edible. So yeah - edible plants.
TCSAR: Favorite gear?
Alex: Socks. All day long. Warm socks. And a calm head. Also a snickers bar in the summer.
TCSAR: What is your perfect day in the mountains?
Alex: I don’t see a single person. Maybe some sort of small adventure that keeps me on my toes. And having my dog. If I catch a fish that’s a bonus.