By Dianna Troyer
A light strapped around Bryce Thatcher’s waist slices through predawn blackness as the ultra-athlete jogs along a dirt road near Almo. Countless questions run through his mind.
Is the strap holding the light too tight or too loose?
Is the light casting a three-dimensional path?
Is the beam too wide or too narrow?
“Everything I design goes through intense testing,” says Bryce, owner of UltrAspire, a company that designs and manufactures race vests, hydration packs, waistbelts, handheld water bottles and waist lights—whatever a runner, climber, biker or skier needs.
While Bryce personally tests many products, he also relies on a network of about 250 ultra-athletes to critique his prototypes.
“Our gear is inspired by athletes, designed for performance, and revised to perfection,” says Bryce, who has set records climbing mountains and completed many ultra-distance races. “I’ll make three to six revisions before I’m satisfied and it’s ready for our manufacturers.”
He relies on two companies in Vietnam to make his products.
Bryce says his goal is to promote an outdoor lifestyle that improves people’s lives.
“Your commitment to an outdoor lifestyle will take you further than you could ever imagine,” he says. “My inspiration has always come from time spent in the mountains.”
At his website, ultraspire.com, athletes tell their inspiring stories of how running has helped them deal with disease, mental health issues, being overweight and aging.
Since he was young, Bryce says running trails and climbing mountains has been as natural to him as breathing.
“Growing up in Rexburg seeing the Tetons, I developed a lifelong love of the mountains that has only intensified as I’ve grown older,” says Bryce, 59. “All I wanted to do was be in the mountains—running, climbing, skiing or biking. I still do it all.”
In 1983 at age 21, Bryce set the fastest known time of 3 hours, 6 minutes for running from a parking lot, scaling the 13,776-foot-high Grand Teton without ropes and returning. The record was unbroken until 2012.
In 1979, Bryce began designing running gear out of necessity.
“The water bottles in my backpack kept flopping around,” he says. “It was distracting and annoying.”
To solve the problem, he turned to his grandmother’s treadle sewing machine.
“She taught me how to use it, so I invented and sewed a hydration pack,” he says.
Friends began asking Bryce to make a pack for them. That pack foretold Bryce’s future of becoming a professional ultraathlete and, ultimately, a business owner.
Brigham Young University coaches recruited him to run on their cross country team. In 1985, he established his first business, Ultimate Direction, in his college apartment.
“Dad loaned me $1,000, so I bought a $960 commercial sewing machine and $40 worth of fabric and webbing,” he says. “I hired some students to sew the packs.”
Bryce eventually moved his business to St. George, Utah. In 2002, he sold the company to enable him to start a new company, UltrAspire.
“I wanted to market more specialized products without worrying about price, volume, or mass production,” he says.
Frustrated with St. George’s intense growth and traffic congestion, Bryce began looking for a secluded place to live. He felt drawn to Almo, where his grandmother,
Ethel Womack Pickett, had grown up.
“When she taught me to sew, she told me stories about growing up on a family homestead near Womack Canyon Spring east of town,” he says. “With our family history, my cousin was also drawn to Almo.”
His cousin and her husband built a house near town and invited Bryce and his wife, Vanessa, to visit.
“When we came to stay with them, I felt like Almo was home,” he says. “I’d grown up climbing at the nearby City of Rocks, too.”
More importantly, his design creativity flourished there.
“I need an uncluttered environment to relax and sit and think,” he says. “When I’m in Almo, my creativity soars through the roof.”
He and Vanessa decided to build a house near Almo.
“I’m excited to celebrate my 60th birthday, August 24, in our new home,” Bryce says. “I’ll never retire. I still love what I do and wake up every day excited. Right now, I’m designing some waist lights we’ll market in 2023.”
Bryce says he would like to someday transition the company to be employee owned and to have an assistant or apprentice.
“Our eight kids have their own careers and at this point won’t be part of the company,” he says. “I’d like to find someone to work with who has sewing and design skills and a love of the outdoors, so the business will continue long after I’m gone.”
Bryce’s home in Almo has a design area with a cutting table and sewing machines. One machine is the treadle he used as a teenager to make that first hydration pack.
“It came across the Plains with my great grandmother,” Bryce says. “It’s like it finally came home, and so did I. I’ll always have it. It’s special in our family.”