A look back at 2017: My Year in Review

2017 was a big year for me; a year full of transitions.

Here’s a peek at some of my favorite moments and photos from 2017.

For starters, I kicked off the year by accepting a new job and moving across the country from Vermont to Wyoming. 2016 proved to be one of the most challenging years of my life and the jump to Wyoming felt like the perfect opportunity to move in a new direction. Literally.


The job was in the marketing department for a non-profit called NOLS. For those who don’t know, NOLS is an outdoor leadership school that takes students of all ages on backcountry expeditions around the world, teaching them both leadership and technical outdoor skills. 3 years prior, I had been one of those students on a much needed, semester-long expedition in college. (For more about that, check out page 11 of this article).

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Anyway, back to the new job. The job was as a marketing representative; a position that let me interact with prospective students, travel, and work on marketing projects that would help the company to better reach its target demographic. Oh, and emails. Lots and lots of emails.

NOLS world headquarters, and my new office, can be found in the town of Lander, WY. Lander has a population of 7,665 and is probably best known for its proximity to the Wind River Mountain Range. That, and rock climbing. There are some seriously badass rock climbers that call Lander home. I’m certainly not much of a rock climber, but I do love me some snowboarding and was super excited to explore Wyoming and its surrounding states for mountains that I could hike up and ride down.


You can call Lander a town, but I quickly learned that “community” would be a much better description. Lander is a mix of NOLSies (people that work for NOLS either in the office or as instructors/ trip leaders for the courses and expeditions that NOLS offers), ranchers/ farmers, climbers, outdoor enthusiasts/ dirtbags, outdoor enthusiasts/ dirtbags who are just passing through in the van they live out of, and long term Lander residents who grew up there and have always called it home. You will find all of these people at any of the 4 bars in town, but usually at the Lander Bar (LB), at least to start the night during happy hour.

I found myself as part of the NOLSie crew from the very beginning. These people were here for the same reasons that I was, and loved a lot of the same outdoor things that I did. Go figure.


Ya know, the crazy things that I call fun? They do too. Like snowboarding and splitboarding (hiking up the mountain and then riding back down, because chairlifts are for squares). Togwotee Pass, WY. March, 2017


Fast forward to March, and it was time for my first travel tour for NOLS. I’d be traveling to high schools, colleges, and expos in the mid-west to recruit prospective students and spread the good word about romping around the wilderness. February had been spent hashing out the logistics; like, which schools were in our demographic, what dates were they available, what order did it make sense to go to them in since we’d be flying there and then renting a car… Again, lots of emails.


Sometimes you just have to channel your inner tourist and go for a hike in the concrete mountains. Chicago, IL. March, 2017

The trip went really well, and things at work were pretty awesome all around. March also featured a visit from some familiar faces and a Zac Brown Band concert at Jackson Hole. Not too shabby.

The rest of March included planning and logistics for a full month of travel in April. This time, to showcase the NOLS Exploration Film Tour to college campuses throughout my northeast region in New England. (Yes, still lots of emails).

But first, closing day at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.



John Wohlgemuth in Cody Bowl at Jackson Hole on closing day. Derek MacDonald photo. April 2017

Annnnd right before taking off for a month long trip, it seemed only fitting to pull an all nighter and drive 14 hours after work to Mammoth, CA. The 7am arrival on Thursday launched a long weekend of shredding pow and rock climbing with the one and only Shawn Robbins during arguably the deepest winter Mammoth has ever seen.


Spend all day Sunday driving back to Wyoming, go for a run, pack for a month, get up at 4am, drive 2 hours to Casper, WY, fly to Denver, fly to Boston, kick off the month long public speaking and film tour? Got it. Cool, ok let’s do it.



April 12th, 2017. The tour is underway and I made it back to Vermont. Birthday trail run by the water, nice! IMG_2297

The month flew by and the travel tour went better than I could have hoped for. I got to see family and friends while I was in New England too, which is always a bonus. Traveling is a lot of fun. It allows you to meet a lot of people and see a lot of places. But it is also really demanding. You’re sort of always “on”. Most days looked like: wake up, pack up the hotel room, grab some breakfast and coffee (have to have my coffee…or 4) drive a couple of hours to the next destination, check into the hotel, log on to the computer and crush some emails, go for a run, shower, drive to the event, set up for it, speak to crowds of people and watch the Film Tour, break down the event, get back to the hotel, sleep, repeat. (Side note: I listen to a ton of podcasts. Big fricken fan of podcasts. Great way to spend time when traveling, running, or working out; but more on that some other time).

Ok, it’s the end of April and my final day in New England before flying back to Wyoming from Boston the next morning…  better call up Andy Root and see if he wants to wake up at 3am to drive to New Hampshire with me to hike and ski Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington. Duh. No brainer!


Yeah I’m short, but let the record show that Root’s on the uphill here. Tuckerman Ravine, Mt. Washington, NH. April, 2017


Like I mentioned, traveling is super tiring. It’s awesome and I love it, but having time to recharge is nice too. Back to Wyoming, the office, my desk, and…emails. 3 days later: ok, time to go to Montana to represent NOLS at the BANFF Mountain Film Festival. Sweet. 6 hour road trip with the newest marketing rep, Caleb? Sweeter. Caleb snowboards? Sick! Better bring the splitboards and call up the friends in Bozeman. Friends tell us there’s a graduation party for someone we don’t know… Oh there’s a keg? Sure, yeah, we’re in. As the band, Dawes says, “When the tequila runs out, we’ll be drinking champagne“. Happy Cinco de Mayo.


Bridger Bowl, MT. Caleb Walker Photo. May, 2018

After a great weekend and one very hungover drive back to Wyoming, I finally got some time for that recharge. Day to day life at the office resumed and of course the weekend warrior mindset that comes with it. There was still snow to be found, but the weather was also warming up. Perfect opportunity to meet up with the Salt Lake City UVM friend group in Jackson, WY for a long weekend of hiking and camping!


Jackson, WY. May, 2017. Derek MacDonald photo.


Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park. May, 2017. Derek MacDonald photo.


Derek MacDonald and Russ Hanson at Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park. May, 2017. Caleb Walker photo.


Derek MacDonald in Jackson, WY. Caleb Walker photo.


Duty calls- head to Vail, CO for the GoPro Mountain Games! I ended up meeting some incredibly cool people and some pretty awesome NOLS alumni including Jimmy Chin, Loki the Wolf Dog, Loki’s human companion Kelly Lund, and Chris Davenport.

Yeah, it’s June- I know, I know… but did you really think I was going to go to Colorado and not bring my snowboard? The 6 hour drive from Vail back to Lander conveniently took me through Loveland Pass on Colorado’s continental divide. So, I hiked up to the snow, snowboarded to the bottom of the pass, and hitched a ride back to my car at the top of the pass. And then drove back to Lander.


Derek MacDonald on the continental divide. Loveland Pass, CO. June, 2017.


Continental Divide-Loveland Pass, CO. June 2017. Derek MacDonald photo.

June also means that it’s that time of year again: time for HOBY. What’s HOBY? Good question. HOBY is the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Organization. They’re a non-profit organization that provides a unique leadership training, service-learning, and motivation-building experience for high school sophomores. This comes in the form of an annual, weekend long leadership seminar. I attended this seminar as a student in 2010 and have been involved as a group facilitator for the seminar since then.

Time to fly to Boston for the weekend!


Great weekend at Bentley University in Waltham, MA for Massachusetts HOBY! Quick turn around, though. Back to Wyoming. (Boston Logan airport and Denver International Airport kind of felt like a second home this year).

Things had been pretty busy, probably a good idea to catch that quick recharge. Better land at the airport in Casper, WY and drive 5 hours up to Jackson to say whats up to Shawn and the Tetons. That’s also why keeping the hammock in the car is a great move… just sayin.


Hmmmmm… end of June and I want to go snowboarding… drive to Montana after work on Friday? Deal.


Stopped for the night on the way to Montana in Dead Indian Pass, WY. June, 2017. Derek MacDonald photo.


Beartooth Pass, MT. June, 2017.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re not supposed to snowboard in the summer… Whatever. But Montana’s snow was good! How about a compromise- I’ll go camping and hiking with the friend group for a couple of days, and then take off to go snowboarding? Ok, cool. Sounds great.


Always bring a book. Popo Agie Wilderness, WY. Erica Nelson photo. July, 2017.


Derek MacDonald featuring Melvin Brewing. Liz Shultz photo. July, 2017.

“On July 2nd, I woke up at 4a.m. in my hammock. I packed up my sleeping bag and quietly tossed it into my already loaded 4Runner, doing my best not to wake anyone else up. A few friends and I had been camping in the Popo Agie Wilderness outside of Lander, Wyoming near the Wind River Range.

By 11a.m. I was putting on my snowboard boots on the side of the road on Beartooth Pass, around 250 miles away—just shy of the Montana boarder. As I cinched down and tightened my boot, the lace frayed and snapped. Great. I kicked myself for forgetting to bring a spare. Had I just driven over five hours to ride a couloir in duct taped boots? Maybe. Sorry, mom.

I didn’t notice that Jen was in this photo at the time that it was taken. If I had, maybe things would’ve played out differently.”

Check out an article I wrote about this summer snowboard mission turned medical rescue on tetongravity.com.


Beartooth Pass, MT. Derek MacDonald photo. Read full article on tetongravity.com

In the weeks that followed, I kept in touch with Jen. Her injuries healed up and she was up and moving around a lot sooner than either of us expected. Phenomenal news!

The weekend warrior saga continues. Jackson, WY is only 3 hours from Lander, so I like to send it up there when I get the chance. Plus, Grand Teton National Park is one of my all-time favorite places. I flippin love it. (I’m so sorry, I had to).


Phelps Lake, Grand Teton National Park. Maddy Kwasny photo. July, 2017.

A great weekend, and another productive week in the office means heading back to Jackson the following weekend- this time for snowboarding.

Where do I stay when I go on these adventures? Sometimes I’m lucky enough to have nice friends that let me crash on their couch. That’s when the adventure takes place in, or at least starts in, civilization. A lot of the time, it means sleeping near the trail head on the ground, in my tent, in my hammock, or in the back of my car. More on the details of that some other time…


The key to the dawn patrol is the sunset prep. Caleb Walker photo. Jackson, WY July, 2017.

The weather foiled my first attempt at a snowboarding objective I’d had my eye on. Summers in Wyoming play host to a ton of afternoon thunder storms. Usually, they roll through pretty quick. Other times, they don’t. The snowboarding objective at hand required hiking up to 11,600ft to ride a snow-filled couloir, and then hiking back down to the car. I didn’t think I’d have enough time to get up and down before the storm, and I had zero desire to get trapped in that kind of weather at that elevation, especially by myself. Since I got up at 4:00am to evaluate the situation, I had some time on my hands once I pulled the plug. I decided on an early morning, 13.1 mile trail-run around Jenny Lake instead before heading home.


Jenny Lake, GTNP. Derek MacDonald photo. July, 2017.

A couple weeks later, the weather looked good to try snowboarding in the Tetons again. And this time, Caleb was interested in joining. So we sent it.


I always need my coffee, especially at 4:00am before snowboard missions in July.


Derek MacDonald and Caleb Walker at Amphitheater Lake, GTNP. July, 2017.


Derek MacDonald on Disappointment Peak, GTNP. July, 2017.


Derek MacDonald snowboarding the Spoon Couloir. Caleb Walker photo. July, 2017.

This July snowboard mission was one of the highlights of my year. I often hear the word “crazy”… someone recently suggested the word “dedicated” instead. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The pursuit of passion requires a certain combination of both. Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad.com wrote this article on the “crazy” things people pour themselves into for seemingly “no reason”. I think his perspective on this is brilliant.

Anyway, duty calls again, this time to represent NOLS at Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City! I got the chance to meet some pretty rad folks; Johnny Collinson, Angel Collinson, Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright.



Got some new ink! Maybe I’ll write a separate post about this at some point.

August was also a suuuuper busy month for me at NOLS HQ spent planning another month long travel trip to New England for the new and improved Film Tour. Different landing pages for the website, different email work flow campaign, different films, different presentation; same outdoor stoke!

It was also really nice to be in Lander for so much of the summer. I’m a pretty routine oriented person and I thrive with some measure of consistency. Yes, there’s a lot of spontaneity and variety in the activities that I do, BUT the daily practices that I employ get used a lot regardless of where I am. Maybe I’ll write an article on that itself in the future…

Simple things I enjoyed about being home in the summer… Things like waking up and having my coffee in my own house- very nice! Things like seeing and joking with my coworkers and friends at the office every day- very nice! Things like working out during lunch and running my favorite loop around town after work- very nice! Things like getting dinner and drinks with friends downtown and jamming to live music at the LB- very nice! Things like weekend adventures in Lander or close to home- very nice!

Ok, on to September.


Flew to New England and kicked off the month-long film tour on a high note: Chas and Aeri got married!


Chas and Aeri’s wedding on Lake Champlain, NY. Derek MacDonald photo.


Cheers from Shawn and Derek!


The tail end of the Fall Film tour brought with it one of the highlights of my year- my visit to Sleepy Hollow, NY. I got the chance to work with the students and faculty of Sleepy Hollow High School’s Outdoor Club (SHOC) to spread the good word about NOLS and outdoor education. In addition to speaking to students in classrooms and the auditorium, they invited me to join them on a day-hike with the SHOC program. I LOVE  interacting with people. Laughing, joking, talking, and connecting with others fires me up! I had a truly fantastic time meeting these folks, and getting to experience Sleepy Hollow during Halloween was pretty cool. They also have some beautiful spots to go trail running (shout out to Noah, Charlie, and Peter for showing me)!


Sleepy Hollow, NY. Derek MacDonald photo. October, 2017.


Day hike with the Sleepy Hollow High School Outdoors Club (SHOC)! Charlie Hildick-Smith photo.


My fall travel tour concluded in Portland, ME at the WRMC (Wilderness Risk Management Conference presented by NOLS, Outward Bound, and SCA).


Portland, ME. Derek MacDonald photo. November, 2017.

Before flying home to Wyoming, I got to grab breakfast with my mom!


Selfies with mom. Plum Island, MA. November, 2017.

Ok, now back to Wyoming.


Boston from the air. Derek MacDonald photo. November, 2017.

November brought with it another big change for me: I decided to leave my position at NOLS and move to Jackson, WY. This was a really hard decision. I love what I did for NOLS and I love Lander and all of the incredible friends I have there. I made the decision to leave because I wanted to reengage with outdoor education from a different role than I was currently serving. I wanted to move back toward field-based work where I would be directly interacting with people in the outdoors; where I would be doing what I’m truly passionate about.

I’m so grateful to NOLS and all of the people who made my time there so, so, so incredible! Who knows, maybe life will lead me back to NOLS in the future. Now, you can find me working at Jackson Hole Mountain resort as a snowboard and ski instructor (want to ride? hit me up)! Two of my best friends, Shawn Robbins and Steve Gregory, moved to Jackson and work at the mountain too. Come summer, I’m hoping to lead backcountry backpacking trips again.

After my last day in the office, Shawn and I decided to take a mini road trip to go surfing in California before the launch of ski season. But, since the snow was already falling, we jumped over to Grand Targhee to hike and ride powder before pointing the car to the coast. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.


Grand Targhee Resort- Alta, WY. Derek MacDonald photo. November, 2017.

Now it’s road trip time!



Santa Cruz, CA. Derek MacDonald photo. November, 2017.


Back in Jackson, the ski season began, work was underway, and days off looked like this.


Togwotee Pass, WY. Steve Gregory photo. December, 2017.


Digging pits! Togwotee Pass, WY. Tami Razinger photo. December, 2017.

December’s welcome to Jackson was incredible. Not the deepest snow, not the most stable snowpack, but I find myself smiling every day anyway. I love living in Jackson. I love the people here, the shared stoke for skiing and snowboarding, and the proximity to some absolutely mind blowing terrain for romping in the mountains. Life. Is. Good.

Aaaannd before you know it, the holidays are here and I’m hopping on another plane to New England to spend them with the fam in Vermont! (Yupp, Wyoming to Denver to Boston… the usual).


Mad River Glen. Waitsfield, VT. December, 2017.

Vermont has a certain magic to it. The place just drops my jaw and clears my head of everything else going on in life. I, of course, brought my splitboard and my snowboard so that I could mix in some 4:00am sunrise hikes with friends and ride the resort all day with the family afterward.


It’s very important to check your pits when getting pitted. Waitsfield, VT. Abby Keough photo. December, 2017.


Merry Christmas from the fam! Colby Thompson photo. December, 2017.


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Thanks for reading!

If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed some snippets from the 2017 highlight reel. Thank you 2017 for one hell of a year. Thanks to the friends, family, and adventures who made it so frickin awesome!

Check back in on theexpeditionjournal.com for the latest adventures and connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn!



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