Interview: Derek DeBruin of Bear House

Interview: Derek DeBruin of Bear House

  • Posted by kaleigh
  • On December 5, 2017
  • Comments

The Front has been closely intertwined with Derek DeBruin and Bear House Mountain Guiding for the past year. We've partnered with them to expand our staff education, climbing class offerings, and so much more. We're stoked to have a close relationship with one of the most accredited guides in the Wasatch and we wanted to share this awesome company with our followers. So, we sat down with Derek for an interview to get to know him and his business a little better.

Derek, tell me a little about yourself and your background with climbing.

I’ve been climbing for more than 12 years. I first learned to climb in North Carolina, an oddly great place to build skills. Other than lack of altitude, the climbing there is hard, it’s run-out, and the conditions are always challenging. If you’re ice climbing, you’re as likely to run into delaminating sheets of verglas as you are solid, fat ice. I really think it’s a place that builds bold, strong climbers. As far as accomplishments go, I feel well versed in the continental U.S. and have climbed in most major ranges in the Lower 48. Utah is a great place to call home though, the Wasatch lends itself to so much diverse climbing and skiing. One of my more recent significant ascents took place in the Teton Range in Wyoming where I completed the Grand Traverse, solo in a single push.

Why did you start Bear House Mountain Guiding?

I first moved to Utah three years ago with a goal to live closer to bigger mountains since I was already traveling to them frequently. Before moving to Utah, my wife and I lived in North Carolina and owned Peregrine Climbing Guides. After moving to Ogden, I started working at Weber State University and guided on the side. Before I knew it, there were more guiding opportunities than I could handle on my own, so Bear House Mountain Guiding sprung to life.

As a climber, I see a number of folks with less than ideal climbing fundamentals. I’ve been around countless close calls and accidents in my tenure. It only made sense for us to start Bear House to educate climbers and skiers alike. Bear House’s primary focus is educational, so when you leave us you are better able to meet your goals and climb or ski safely. I’d love to one day work myself out of a job by creating educated, safe climbers across the community. I have a huge respect for the community here in Ogden and in Utah in general and I guess I see Bear House as an opportunity to give back to that community. Bear House Mountain Guiding is a service that incorporates its clients into the big picture. I find, in general, that if folks are part of the whole experience they tend to enjoy it more and learn more from it—whether it’s helping coil the rope and racking the gear to becoming more efficient and effective in their climbing or skiing goals.

How did you get involved with The Front and what are you currently doing with them?

When I moved to Ogden, The Front was the obvious place to go. It’s a super rad facility, in a cool building, with an amazing scene. The community that has been developed here and in town is remarkable.

The first person I really met here was Shad Burnham who also helped introduce me to the climbing community. Since meeting him and other Front folks we have started to build a business relationship. Bear House currently runs a training program for The Front staff to help build them into well- rounded climbers. The program we created is likely the most comprehensive training program for any staff member that exists. Since they are all already successful climbers we can do some higher-level training and skills work which makes it super fun. The Front has a very diverse shop in both Ogden and SLC, so the training is built to educate the staff firsthand on all the equipment and its uses. The Front might just have the most knowledgeable staff of any gym and pro shop that I know of.

I also work closely with The Front’s programming director Douglas Hunter. We have paired to create a gym-to-crag course called “Plastic to Classic” (SLC location) through which gym climbers learn to take that next step and climb outside in a safe learning environment. We ran our first programs this summer and fall and it was extremely successful.

We’ve recently partnered with The Front on their push to create more ice climbers. The Front will have rental equipment for folks and we will provide the outdoor instruction for ice/alpine climbing and mountaineering. Since I’ve been in Ogden, Shad Burnham has become president of the Ogden Trails Network, to work on trail building, cleanup, and graffiti removal in the Ogden area. Bear House Mountain Guiding has joined that effort, and we have successfully adopted the heavily used 9th Street crag in Ogden. There’s still plenty to do there, but we’re off to a solid start. Dan Newman works for us at Bear House Mountain Guiding as well as at The Front. He’s a solid guide and an exceptional coach. He also happens to have a ton of trail building experience and has been instrumental in helping to manage the impact at the 9th Street crag.

What does Bear House offer as far as guiding services?

Bear House offers everything climbing and skiing. Whether it’s your first day climbing or you’re experienced and looking to do some full day-long multi-pitch adventures, we cover every discipline. In the winter we have a host of guides who provide backcountry skiing instruction. For climbing side, we offer classes and guiding for ice, alpine, or mountaineering throughout the winter and spring. We have worked hard to secure guiding access from Ogden to Provo and have specific guides that live, work and breathe climbing in each of those areas.

What is your favorite specialty in climbing?

I really like things in seasons; I climb when it’s cold, I ski when it snows, I rock climb in the fall, I head for the alpine in the heat of summer. Currently, though, I’m really psyched on dry tooling and mixed climbing. It’s exciting to get stronger and more skilled at a discipline I’m not as good at. Mixed climbing is an area that I’m still improving.

What do you look forward to in your upcoming winter guiding season?

I really look forward to the ice season. Hopefully we are able to get some great conditions and use The Front’s equipment! We have an ice climbing clinic scheduled for January and have some private days already on the calendar too.

We also have a recent partnership with the Outdoor Women’s Alliance. We’ll be running women’s specific trips, avalanche training, winter safety, and building women’s programs and getting folks educated.

Later in the spring when the snowpack is a bit safer we have an advanced backcountry skiing clinic emphasizing big, steep lines. This class will be 2 days, where students will learn how to build snow anchors, rappel into couloirs, use an ice axe, manage cornices and sluffs, and other ski mountaineering skills.

Tell me a few pieces of advice you’d have for a novice ice climber?

Hmmm… okay, three things. First: stay warm. It’s miserable when it’s cold and you’re cold. As guides, we can help you learn techniques that keep you comfortable and warm in such a frozen environment. Primarily its folk’s hands and feet. There are many different ways we do things to mitigate the cold in your extremities, but having some warm drinks is always nice!

Second, keep your toes up. What I mean is when you are actually ice climbing, kick into the ice with your toes up! This method helps you drive your crampons into the ice properly and helps keep your heels down.

Third, when you are swinging your ice tools be aggressive! It’s rare to have beginners wailing away with their tools; you can always meter it back later, but initially don’t hold anything back. So, maybe four things. Having the right gear really helps. The Front currently has a full range of men’s and women’s gear: boots, crampons, tools, and all the other ice accessories. It is definitely the premier place to get ice gear this winter.

Find out more about Derek DeBruin and Bear House Mountain Guiding:

Bear House Mountain Guiding Website

Find BHMG on Facebook

Watch Derek's TED Talk on Risk in the Mountains

Attend an Ice Climbing Clinic at Bear House