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Pepper Etters

Caramie Schnell

“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.” Judith ThurmanWhether he’s hanging off the side of a cliff, or just having a drink with you at the bar, you can bet that Pepper Etters knows exactly what’s going on around him.He’s probably not going to tell you about it – but that’s the way Pepper is: quiet, thoughtful, and introspective.Pepper Etters is an observer.It’s no real surprise, then, that his watchful eye now spends a significant amount of time behind a camera lens. His eye for life has translated into an intense desire to document the world around him, to show people exactly the world as he sees it.”I think I’ve always been curious, for one thing, which may be what makes me more analytical and observant than others,” Pepper says. “I find myself very interested in people and places different from what I’m used to here. And photography is one way for me to not only explore that, but share it.”It was during a trip with friends to Chile and Argentina five years ago that Pepper began to realize his passion for the art of the photo.”I began reading just about any book I could get my hands on and I slowly developed my technique. By the time I headed to Nepal in the fall of 2000 I had significantly improved my eye and educated myself in the technical aspects of the discipline.”Pepper was born in Denver, though his mother went into labor in Vail. Two mountain passes later, Pepper arrived. He grew up in Vail, attending Vail Mountain School from kindergarten through his senior year in high school. He chose Colorado State University for college, where he majored in cultural anthropology and minored in international eco-tourism. Like many others childhood locals, Pepper returned to the mountains after college, drawn back to the place he’d always called home.”Growing up in Vail was a great experience,” he says. “I feel like it opened up a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I had grown up somewhere else.”An avid athlete, Pepper grew up on skis and also played hockey, which allowed him to travel around the country and later around the world to both China and Eastern Europe. Since high school, Pepper’s life has revolved around the outdoors. He’s guided people in numerous disciplines, from fly-fishing and llama trekking to rock climbing and river rafting. For the last four years Pepper has worked with Timberline Tours and is now guiding raft tours on class V sections of the river.Billy Mattison, adventure racer and part owner of Timberline Tours has known Pepper for five years now and has watched him grow on the river.”I’ve watched Pepper go from being a beginner raft guide to guiding class V rapids,” Mattison says. “He’s like a piece of clay on the side of the river and he’s gone from being a little piece of clay to fully molded into a class V guide.”Mainly I just really enjoy working with Pepper,” Mattison says, “he’s got a low-key attitude, he really gets the job done and he’s great with customers.”Over the past few years Pepper has begun his own photography business and corresponding website, aptly named Adventurous Spirit Photography (adventurousspiritphoto.com). In a field as competitive as photography, Pepper has come up with an ingenious way to fund future trips. He provides people the opportunity to sponsor his travels by allowing them to pre-purchase a print (before the photo has been taken), framed and matted, at a 50 percent discount of what the print would sell for after it’s been made.”It will also be a limited edition print as well,” Pepper says. “So that makes its value go up, hopefully, as I become more well-known and my work more sought after.”Eric Eves has known Pepper since the two were in diapers and their parents were trading out baby sitting.”Pepper has always been someone I’ve looked to for advice,” says Eves. “He’s driven a lot of his friends to go and travel and see the world. Everyone knows him as the adventurer and now his photography has become a way for him to show others what he sees. His quiet, unobtrusive manner makes him really able to experience culture in a way that other people cannot.”Travel, according to Pepper, has opened his eyes not only to other cultures, but also to alternate ways of living, even right here in Vail.”Travel has opened my ways to other ways of living. It is easy to get caught up in the consumption and consumerism that is so deeply rooted in our society. By spending time with other cultures who are less tied to such trends, we can see that there are other ways to live which are equally satisfying and that don’t rely on the frantic exchange of wadded bills.”Pepper is one of those rare people that constantly reevaluates both his own world and the world around him. He strives to maintain an open mind about other places, even if some have labeled those places as dangerous.”Traveling helps me break apart stereotypes and false beliefs so prevalent in our own culture regarding foreign people and places,” Pepper says. “One of the most difficult things for me to deal with is the notion that, outside of this country, we live in danger and that by simply traveling we are immediately putting ourselves at risk. I can’t tell you how many times a week I have to deal with this. Friends, family and even perfect strangers tell me that I am crazy for traveling.”Pepper’s response is simple and something Americans tend to forget: This country is dangerous as well. He’s quick to point out that violent crimes, murder and even worse, are more prevalent here than just about any other place in the world.”I find it funny that the general population would suddenly cancel a trip to Costa Rica (as happened several years ago) when they hear a tourist was killed, yet they don’t bat an eyelash about a murder in Compton, New York or even Denver.”This spring Pepper will be trekking through Bolivia with a close friend, climbing peaks and exploring uncharted territory.”We’ll be traversing 350 miles of this high desert plateau and climbing a couple of peaks along the way,” Pepper says. “The first 100 miles is pretty well traveled, but the last 250 miles is pretty unexplored, unknown territory.”The trek itself will last right around 30 days and his time in Bolivia will last all of February and March. Upon Pepper’s return to Vail he’ll have only three days before he catches another plane to another continent.”I fly back here for three days, just time enough to repack, and then I go to India. I’ll be a raft guide down there for two-and-a-half months.”The quote, “One rarely learns anything while comfortable,” is something that Pepper keeps in mind when it comes to his travels. For Pepper, discomfort, even fear, translate into personal growth. This is why he chooses to travel to more unconventional places; you aren’t likely to find him sipping margaritas on a lounge chair in Cabo San Lucas it’s much more probable you’ll stumble on him photographing peaks in South America or indigenous societies in Southeast Asia.To pre-purchase a photo from Pepper, visit his website at adventurousspiritphoto.com. VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vailtrail.com.


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