40.7608° N, 111.8910° W
‘Photography gives me the incredible excuse to follow curiosity.’
Gems in this
The creativity of Australian–born adventure photographer Krystle Wright has taken her to inspiring places. Her life lived on the road is spent shooting the world's best landscapes and those who venture through them.
Yet, in between chasing penguins in Antarctica, paragliders in Pakistan and tornadoes in the US, Krystle has found herself with an unexpected second home in Salt Lake City. Bordered by the Wasatch Mountains in the east and the high desert of the Canyonlands in the south, Salt Lake is one of the best adventure capitals in North America. It’s here that Krystle has found a homebase to create and recharge and has built a tight knit community to return to in between assignments for National Geographic, Canon, Osprey, Patagonia and Red Bull. We chat to Krystle about photography being her ticket to travel, falling in love with Salt Lake City, and her top spots to explore Utah’s unrivalled landscapes.
On where you grew up
I grew up in Eudlo, which almost nobody knows. It’s 20-minutes drive from the beaches of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.
On where your creativity has taken you
Photography gives me the incredible excuse to follow curiosity. I want to drive across the Gibson Desert and see what I can document. I want to dive in the Coral Bay, explore the Kimberley, head to New Zealand or Haiti, and chase storms across the American Midwest.
On your recent travels
I did this very strange figure of eight loop through the top half of Australia. I went through outback Queensland, over to Alice Springs, up to the Top End, back down to the Pilbara and Coral Bay in Western Australia. Across the Gibson Desert, through Alice again, back up to Darwin for work, then down Burketown and Central Queensland.
On your first encounter with Salt Lake City
My knowledge of the US growing up was based around the obvious places like New York, Los Angeles and even Denver. I never thought about Salt Lake City. The first time I went to Moab in Utah, I realised the state was a phenomenal mecca for adventure sports. I kept going back and the next thing I knew, I found myself in Salt Lake City. The first time I was there was for an outdoor retail trade show. The more time I spent in the city, the more addicted I became. It’s one of the best adventure cities in the US. I met a couple of people, crashed on a few couches, rinse and repeat. The next thing I knew I had a whole network in Salt Lake and it became a second home.
'I met a couple of people, crashed on a few couches, rinse and repeat. The next thing I knew I had a whole network in Salt Lake and it became a second home.'
On what you love about the city
Salt Lake is a great base. If you need supplies, or you need somewhere to stop, edit and catch up on work, it’s a great place to operate from. If you're doing work around the mountains, you've got the Wasatch, but if you need to go further afield into the desert, it’s not too long of a drive. I became complacent with the space because I've been going back so often over the years. It wasn't until I was giving a lift to a British bike rider that he said ‘Isn't it so incredible that in the American West, you can access ocean, rainforests, city, mountains, snow and desert, all within six hours of driving’. That’s when I remembered what a special place the American West is.
On the lay of the land
The city sits at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. It’s quite small and you can drive anywhere you need to within 15 to 20 minutes. Or in 30 to 40 minutes you can be at the ski fields. It's an intimate but amazing setup. And the snow there is so good, it's some of the softest snow you can ski.
On sparking friendships and forming community
One thing I’ve learned over my years of traveling is that when I’m first introduced to a city I usually don’t connect with it. However, if you have friends who are local to the area, that is the best introduction. I wouldn’t have developed the love I have for Salt Lake if it had not been for the community I found there. I now have friends who are mad keen skiers, who love rock climbing, and who love getting out and about. It's all about who you surround yourself with. If you surround yourself with adventure people, obviously, you're going to be introduced to all those sorts of places.
On travel as a creative catalyst
Originally, I wanted to be a sports photographer. I dreamt about going to the Olympics or the Rugby World Cup and running the sidelines. I moved to Sydney and started working for newspapers and agencies as a stringer. I was only working once or twice a week, which gave me time to explore the Blue Mountains and photograph rock climbing and base jumping, or travel further and shoot mountain biking and surfing. I returned from this expedition in Pakistan pretty banged up from a paragliding accident and the people I was freelancing for were fed up with me disappearing on bigger trips. I wasn’t fit to work and as a freelancer when the phone stops ringing, that's when you know the work has stopped. Then, later that year, in 2011, I got this phone call out of the blue offering a job in Antarctica. I saw that as my escape and knew it was the perfect ticket to get me out into the world. Sometimes it's nice to have an opportunity that forces your hand and guides what you have to do.
On having some grit to keep your dream alive
From the end of 2011, right up until the pandemic, I was traveling all year, every year. There have been times when I’ve wondered if this career is going to work out for me, and I’ve been borderline bankrupt a couple of times. I think my only saving grace is having a stubborn nature. Whenever I've gotten to such dire points, even recently, where I'm staring at a credit card that's almost empty again, my stubborn nature kicks in and I just chip away at it bit by bit. Eventually, like with any creative job, if you stick at it, momentum builds. It’s a phenomenal and unique career path that I've taken and I certainly have no regrets.
On chasing storms
Storm chasing is addictive, it’s an adrenaline hit like no other. Yes there’s an adrenaline kick with adventure sports, but storm chasing is more emotional. You're so helpless. You watch Mother Nature turn into this absolute monster. Sometimes by 3.00 pm the storm system is so ferocious that it’s pitch black and you’re completely at the mercy of Mother Nature. It’s a different type of adrenaline that surges through your body then. There’s this ultimate curiosity of ‘How on earth is this happening?’ To this day, we still don't fully understand all of the mechanics of a tornado and how it's formed. I tend to take the role of the driver in our storm chasing crew. You are wired!
'Storm chasing is addictive, it's an adrenaline hit like no other... You're so helpless and you watch as Mother Nature turns into this absolute monster.'
On your most memorable storm
We were driving blindly through hail for hours. It was miserable. Finally Nick [Moir], who is our guru when it comes to storm chasing, directs us out of the hail. We see this silver sky on the horizon and there are these perfect striations. We realized we’d stumbled on the most beautiful storm to be photographed in probably 20 years. There was just so much energy from the original supercell with the multiple vortexes that it created its own storm, known as the mothership. When something like that happens, I would not want to be anywhere else in the world.
On where to hit the slopes in Salt Lake
I've had some of the funnest ski runs in Salt Lake, from great backcountry missions to resort skiing. One day we had such a good dump of snow and there was plenty of powder going around. We just kept doing laps in the side country at Snowbird, through this great tree run. It was so soft and came up to our knees and even our thighs at some points. It was perfect conditions and I couldn’t stop giggling, I was on such a natural high. And the great thing too is it’s not a crazy mission. In Salt Lake, you could go from the airport to the ski field in under an hour. That’s what puts Salt Lake as one of my top adventure destinations in the US. You have the three popular ski resorts of Snowbird, Alta and Solitude, and all have phenomenal resort skiing. Or if you have the skills to go backcountry, holy shit, there are so many backcountry spots to head to. It’s world class.
On hiking in the Wasatch
There are a whole bunch of hiking trails to access because the city runs along the Wasatch. In some cities, there might be one area where everyone goes but in Salt Lake there is a long line of different car parks and access points. So you can get anything from a real quick 15 minute hike or you can work a little harder to get that sunset with a three hour hike. If someone is brand new to Salt Lake City, head to the Wasatch Front as there are a few hikes from there. Or even just heading up to the ski resorts when they’re not open, there are plenty of places to hike there, or you can catch the chair lift up if you want to be a bit lazy.
On a downside to the city
Utah brought in US$9.75 bn in tourism revenue in 2019, with much of that from adventure sports. Yet the state is still fracking and conducting oil exploration, which brings in far less money. So the Outdoor Retailer trade show announced that if the city didn’t clean up its act it’d head to another city that needs the income. And, in 2017, the show left for Denver in protest.
On finding a good pastry
When you fly in, you're only 10 minutes from the city. Which in itself is a miracle for most cities to have that proximity to the airport. Then as you start getting on the fringes of the city center, there are amazing cafés and bakeries. Tulie Bakery has some of the most epic almond croissants, their pastry game is strong. And it’s a nice little place tucked away in the suburbs. Another reason why I love it so much is that it is the closest thing I could find to an Australian breakfast.
On your ideal deal day in Salt Lake City
I would go straight to Tulie Bakery just so I can have my epic almond croissant and a chai latte. Then if I was really keen for a quick climb, The Front climbing gym might be one of the best indoor climbing gyms anywhere in the world. It is massive. I love indoor climbing gyms that have a huge climbing wall. Once you’ve got the climb out of your system, I would escape up into the Wasatch to go on a sunset hike. There are amazing ridge lines and scrambles to do that will take a good few hours. But if you're there in spring with the longer daylight hours, it's pretty phenomenal to get up high and watch the sun go down over Salt Lake City.
On nights out
There's this famous Mexican place you have to eat at, the original is called Red Iguana. Of course they've opened up a second and a third because they were just so popular. However, I think it's always best to go to the original. But beware, there’s generally a lineup down the street to get in. Salt Lake bars are also pretty awesome. Particularly the live music scene. I’ve hung out at the Beehive a few times. Or if you’re on 200 South, then you’ve got Bar X, which is quite cosy, plus a few other bars nearby. So if one place isn’t happening that night, then just jump to the next bar.
On a window or an aisle seat
I used to get the window seat, because if you can rest your head on the wall, then you can get a half decent sleep, especially when you're flying economy. But the older I get, I've been spending a lot of time fixing my hips. The travel has had a big impact on my health. So now I'm leaning towards an aisle, so I can get up and walk more often.
On Salt Lake City in one word
If you’re someone who has no knowledge of Salt Lake City, it is very easy to glaze over and go, ‘Why would I spend my money flying to a city in the desert that doesn't have much going on?’ But when you peel back the layers you realize, holy shit, this is an incredible adventure mecca. How did I not start coming here sooner?