While humans have long begun outdoor adventures before sunrise, some credit climber Alex Lowe with coining the phrase “dawn patrol”. In the early 90s, Lowe was making early-morning missions into the Wasatch before work at Black Diamond Equipment in Salt Lake City. Today, thousands of skiers around the world wake up at uncomfortable hours and don headlamps to access sunrise turns, but perhaps nowhere is dawn patrolling more prevalent than Salt Lake City, where world-class backcountry skiing is so accessible, entire trailheads can be full at 5 a.m.
Unlike most of these skiers, prolific photographer Adam Clark isn’t dawn patrolling to get online by 8 a.m. He’s skinning in the dark for the fleeting ski and photography conditions that only sunrise can promise: untracked powder and alpenglow.
“You never know when it’s going to be gone—that’s part of the magic of skiing,” says Clark. “Once you’re up there and watching sunrise, it’s always worth it. It’s not that I like waking up early—I don’t really. I’m more dusk patrol, but it’s such a part of the culture in Salt Lake. There are a lot of people who have enthusiasm for it—I can always find someone who has the energy.
Through two decades as a professional photographer, 42-year-old Clark has amassed hundreds of magazine covers and spreads, earned commercial clients like Go RVing, Jaybird and Utah Tourism, and photographed expeditions in Greenland and Patagonia. He has also contributed video production work to Red Bull Rampage, Range Rover, Black Diamond and more. But ski photography is where Clark made a name for himself, and where his passion remains.
Clark first learned the rewards of rising early while working as a dishwasher at the legendary Rustler Lodge at Alta. If he was working the lunch shift, he’d earn a sunrise session before skiing Alta from 9:30-11:30, feeling like he’d skied a full day before he threw on his kitchen apron.
He published his first photo in Powder Magazine before he graduated high school. When the magazine folded in 2020, Clark had racked up more than 100 published photos and seven covers.
“Adam is mellow, humble and really kind,” says David Reddick, Powder Magazine’s Director of Photography. “That hasn’t changed with his success. He’s extremely talented and professional, but with his calmness and easy-going demeanor, he’s also just a pleasure to work with.”
Clark jumped on his first trip with Matchstick Productions in his early 20s, then shot for Teton Gravity Research for a dozen years. Now, instead of chasing action, he focuses on the overall experience—a bigger picture view of the ski experience as a whole.
As for dawn patrol success, Clark says the most important part of the routine is getting everything ready the night before and set out where he can’t forget a single item. “Basically, just shy of sleeping in ski boots,” says Clark. That, and meeting partners who are in a good mood in those early hours. “Somehow, happy ski partners make early mornings feel warmer.”