The Education of Littleski — Becoming a Mountaineer is a Lifelong Pursuit


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

(Encore, we’ve had quite a few people ask that we bring this post up to the front again. Published about a year ago, did a few edits, featured today!)

Sacrifice your wallet for specialized ski bindings or a split snowboard, climb into the wild and glide back down, you are a backcountry rider. Stir in lofty goals such as high peak summits, glaciers, and tricky descents down intricate couloirs and mountain faces, you’ve crossed over to mountaineering.

In the teens, it's time to start sorting it all out as you leap into the void.

In your teens, it is time to begin sorting it all out as you leap into the void. Then comes school that lasts a lifetime.

The skills you need to survive and excel as a ski or snowboard mountaineer are built, not bought. The construction process can be complex, painful, and deadly. Following are a few ideas that may help you or your loved ones stay alive and enjoy the journey.

Judgment
“Climb above all with your head. Always measure what you want to do, against what you are capable of doing. Mountaineering is above all a matter of conscience.” -French alpinist and author Gaston Rebuffat

More than anything, successful mountaineering is about brainpower. Make a life-long study of the sport. Drill yourself on the truth that knowledge becomes judgment when combined with experience and caution. Judgment allows you to plan excellent trips, deal with small glitches that could otherwise segue to disaster, turn away from avalanche slopes covered with perfect powder, and say no to peer pressure induced idiocy. With judgment you can be courageous without being bold.

Peer Pressure
“Clear your mind of the chatter. Don’t think about how your life or climbs will look to anyone else. Make choices based on your values, your analysis, your intuition and your dreams.” — Alpinist and former publisher of Climbing Magazine, Michael Kennedy

“If it’s not on Facebook it didn’t happen.” Those words elicit a chuckle, but they illustrate a truth. More than ever, instant media pushes hard for how you look and what you do. When your friend welds her camera or you mount your GoPro on your helmet, be aware of that effect. Very aware.

Equipment
“I want to solve a climbing problem in the mountains, not in the sporting goods store.” -Reinhold Messner

Cultivate a serious focus on your gear. Learn every aspect of your ski bindings. Practice with your beacon until it is second nature. Figure out quick and effective sequence for changing from climbing to downhill mode, and practice ’till you’re blue in the face. Figure out a small combined first-aid and repair kit, and always carry it. Use a checklist when you pack. You’ll be traveling light, so forgetting any gear is a critical mistake. Don’t obsess on the latest goods. So long as you correctly judge the limits and capabilities of your gear, you’ll have a safe and rewarding day. Blame your misfortune on your kit, and you’re only misplacing the true cause. Run what you brung, but run it well.

Another important consideration with equipment is known by the big scientific term “risk homeostasis.” (There, I had to throw in a bit of intellectual English to stop the yawning.) Simply put, this means that it’s human nature to take more physical risk if you perceive yourself as protected from the consequences. For example, if you armor yourself with an avalanche beacon, airbag pack and helmet, it is axiomatic that you’re likely to go into terrain and situations you’d otherwise avoid. A bit of that is ok (e.g., most of us would at least occasionally make different choices if we skied without a beacon) — but beware the tendency to be fooled by the effectiveness of your safety gear. Today’s ski helmets offer limited protection. Airbag packs don’t protect you against rocks and trees. Even “safety” bindings are frequently not so safe.

Mentors
“A high mountain ascent is first and foremost a pretext for friendship.” – Gaston Rebuffat

No other component is more important to the growing of a mountaineer than warm-blooded mentors. But who should such teachers be?

Learning from friends is common and effective, but may be problematic. Be sure your buddy guru is actually a top mountaineer, rather than someone just slightly ahead of you in skill. Beware of emotional involvement that can cloud your learning. A friend may be unwilling to criticize your mistakes, and may be reluctant to let teaching obstruct a warm relationship. Double the above if you’re learning from boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. Likewise, don’t let an individual’s physical prowess or number of ski days cause you to assume he or she’s full of wisdom. It is human nature to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, and luck can keep that going for years until such people kill themselves or unsuspecting companions.

A good (albeit pricey) way to learn is through an ongoing relationship with a reputable guide. Locate an experienced guide willing to teach, and clarify that you’re hiring him or her to do so. Most guides in North America are honored to be a mentor rather than a trail breaking pit slave, and they appreciate the financial benefits of having a steady customer. Nonetheless, the commercial relationship can block the ultimate state of mentorship, which is a mutual friendship. (If you do go the guide route, be sure your guide has an extensive and successful track record. For example, younger guides may in reality have little more experience than you do.)

While you can get part of your mountain education from clubs and college courses, don’t count on receiving true mentoring. Clubs frequently bias their teaching so it fits an institutional setting, and club teachers may lack deep real-world experience. More, some clubs are inconsistent with basic safety practices, so go into club activities with your eyes open and check leader credentials. A reasonable question to ask any trip leader, or for that matter a would-be mentor or guide, is “have you ever had any fatalities or rescues on your trips?” If yes, have a frank conversation, find out if they have a pattern of such events, and consider looking elsewhere for guidance.

The best mentor is an “Elmer.” A guy who’s been around the block a few times — usually quite a bit older than you are and sometimes may appear overly cautious. Such mentorships are based on friendship and mutual respect. How to create? Reach out and befriend that fellow you met on the skin track, or at the hut. Listen to his stories. Ski with him. Soak it in.

In today’s millenium culture, mentorship tends to get shrugged off or simply not understood, perhaps looking odd because it doesn’t worship youth culture. But mentorship is still a valid concept and key to reaching that top level of alpinism.

Intuition
“Every evening I turn worries over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway.” -Mary C. Crowley

Many mountaineers believe a power outside of normal experience can help with important decisions, and even extricate us from scary situations. For example, John Muir wrote of a spiritual experience that saved his life in the Sierra. Other mountaineers share countless tales of having a feeling that led them from harm. If nothing else, such hunches may be a subconscious amalgam of your situational awareness combined with past experience–a sort of mystical judgment. Whether the source be God or brain, learn to hear your feelings. Stop, let your breathing slow down, and soak in your surroundings. Make a point of traveling with others who hear and trust their feelings. Be cautious about intuition blockers such as psychotropic drugs, summit fever, schedules, and the worst culprit of all, testosterone.

Quest for Excellence
“It is the ultimate wisdom of the mountains that a man is never more a man than when he is striving for what is beyond his grasp.” -James Ramsey Ullman

Style is the magic that brings your mountaineering life together. It’s as unique as your face — as important as your skills. Humor, optimism, delight in challenge, skill set, all are aspects of a successful mountaineer’s manner. But no other component of style exceeds the importance of excellence. From the moment you wake up and carefully load your pack, to the second your head hits the pillow, strive for the best of everything in your ski mountaineering. Functional gear, safe snow, nutritious trail snacks, fine friends — quest for excellence, and all soar into place like a home run baseball hit.

Risk vs. Reward
“A momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime.” -Edward Whymper, after his rope team’s cord broke during the first ascent of the Matterhorn.

Willingness to acknowledge and communicate about risk/reward issues is a primary separator between novice and accomplished mountaineers. When you suppress doubts about the propriety of your actions, uncertainty will eventually bubble up, perhaps stifling the fun, at worst clouding your judgment. What’s more, you must cultivate an ability and willingness to find out how much risk your companions are comfortable with, and ascertain if their redline fits with yours, otherwise you will blunder.

Debriefing
“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Talk it out. Bare your heart to friends, loved ones and especially mentors. You’ll have powerful experiences that need analysis. Such experiences run the gamut from shattered friendships on expeditions to rescue situations involving friends or loved ones. Communication with fellow humans helps cognate it all to continue your learning. Along with that, if you make mistakes, share them to help others as well as enhancing your honesty and humility. With all the present emphasis on mountain safety, mistakes such as avalanche near misses are sometimes treated puritanically, almost like a sin that has to be hidden from peers and the public. Wrong. Share it. Be humble. To do otherwise is selfish.

The Social Contract
“I was swept 300 meters… down the mountain and came to a stop still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent… so I punched my way out of the tent and started searching…searched for 10 minutes when I realized I was barefoot.” – Glen Plake, on his involvement in 2012 Manaslu avalanche

Would you rescue a stranger? What if doing so put your own life at risk? More, when you enjoy the backcountry you’re probably assuming someone will come to your aid if you need it. Think that through. To help rescue teams and in deference to your loved ones, carry some form of emergency communication device (rescue beacon, satphone, or cell phone). Always carry standard emergency equipment (emergency kit, avalanche beacon, etc.) Most importantly, consider the greater consequences of your decisions.

Reading and Education
“There is no end to books; much study is wearisome to the flesh.” – King Solomon

As the wisest man to ever live alludes to, bombarding yourself with printed words won’t give you bigger lungs or brilliant ski technique, but it is still key. You can find a phenomenal amount of mountaineering knowledge in books. More, alpinism is about ethic and spirit as much as athletics, and books help carry that tradition from generation to generation. But as Solomon wisely points out, no need to fry neurons.

To that end, three top books for novice ski mountaineers: Starlight and Storm, by Gaston Rebuffat (written a long time ago, but lofts you to higher alpine motivations), Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills current edition, (compendium of everything, memorize it), Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain, by Bruce Tremper.

Beyond reading, know that education is not a dirty word. On the other hand, while everyone should take at least a Level 1 avalanche safety class, doing so is simply a start. Be humble and know that the only true education is careful experience.

Your feedback: WildSnowers, can you comment and suggest more headings? What worked for you if you’re an “Elmer”? And what seems to be helping if you’re a newbie?

To summarize, here is a bullet list if you’re anxious to get out skiing:
1. Judgment. Combine fear and respect with knowledge.
2. Peer Pressure. Watch for it, we all succumb.
3. Equipment. Use it well, but don’t let it fool you. Your body is fragile.
4. Mentors. Be bold and reach out to someone.
5. Intuition. It’s a bit woo woo, but important as it’s your subconscious working overtime.
6. Excellence. Make this your attitude.
7. Risk vs. Reward. Be risk averse.
8. Debriefing. Talk it out.
9. The Social Contract Think of your mother, your wife, your friends.
10. Reading. Education is not a dirty word.

Commenters, anything to add?

(This article was originally written for magazine publication, and is heavily re-written for current publication)

Comments

56 Responses to “The Education of Littleski — Becoming a Mountaineer is a Lifelong Pursuit”

  1. Tim K March 6th, 2013 10:44 am

    great read… specially for those of us just getting into the “scene” ….

    Thanks Lou

  2. JCoates March 6th, 2013 10:50 am

    Mileage. You need to put in a lot of time in the mountains before you attempt the big objectives.

  3. Hojo March 6th, 2013 11:00 am

    I might add that Mentoring, for me, was a huge element in the kayaking environment. Though, often times, mentors can become very exhausted by their efforts (there’s ALWAYS someone new and wet behind the ears charging into action). Sometimes I think they can get a little under appreciated at times. Reward them by emulating their knowledge. And did ski mountaineering steal “elmer” from the ham radio community or did the hammies pick elmer up from somewhere else also?

  4. Lou Dawson March 6th, 2013 11:01 am

    Thanks Tim and J.

    I was thinking that for #10 I’d add something about values, in that a common mistake (in my opinion, anyway) is to set yourself up to the point where most of your happiness and value comes from how often you get out in the backcountry. A more balanced approach to life, receiving happiness from things like relationships and giving, perhaps spiritual or intellectual pursuits, allows one to step back from things and be more risk averse.

    More ideas for #10 are welcome. and #11…

  5. Scott Allen March 6th, 2013 11:02 am

    Lou:
    This is what makes Wild Snow stand out in an overcrowded blogosphere.
    Finally, some wisdom and philosophy to put all the tech talk and gear reviews into a bigger picture. Thank you. I really enjoyed reading your entry. For me it was Bob Culp, the CMC & Gary Neptune as mentors and formal education, before the 35 years of moving on “Ice and Snow and Rock” (thanks to Rebuffat!)
    For me, number 10 is Journaling: leave a record of your ascents in notebooks so you can return and reflect. This is different than a tick list or brag book, it is a personal expression of all the elements of adventure that so often get reduced by summit fever or office braggadocio. It is a place to return for introspection and inspiration in other creative pursuits when the limbs can no longer reach quite as high.

  6. Rob S March 6th, 2013 11:10 am

    Suggested #10: Pay it forward. As you acquire increased skills and experience in the mountains, reach out to the less experienced and offer advice and mentoring. It’s that “circle of life” concept.

  7. Adam M March 6th, 2013 11:12 am

    I agree with your idea for #10 Lou. Something like… Perspective: Although the hills can bring much pleasure, there is much more to life than that summit or next powder turn. Avoid the snow culture tunnel vision.

  8. Lou Dawson March 6th, 2013 11:18 am

    Hi Scott, indeed, I’ve actually been getting a bit burned out on the gear stuff. Big target on my back with that anyway, in that you want a review of, say, a boot. Google it, and you’ll get 20 reviews to choose from. Next to poorly done trip reports, gear reviews are the lowest common denominator of sport blogging. Even so, what we try to do with gear is bring one of the more experienced and industry connected perspectives. I know you guys appreciate that, and I thank you for validating with your readership. Nonetheless, what I really enjoy writing is the philosophy, the how-to, the introspective, the retrospective, and so on. Hopefully you’ll see more of what got this blog started, which was simply little old me, doing the best I could as a writer, warts and all. Lou

  9. Davey Cooper March 6th, 2013 11:27 am

    Communication – I had a large avalanche dropped onto my head by a gang of freeriders, when I met them on the summit it never crossed my mind to tell them to avoid a certain North face that was obviously loaded with snow. In parts of the Alps you’ll find a lot of tourers and you can’t always assume their behavior will be sensible.

  10. Aaron March 6th, 2013 11:30 am

    Nice post Lou. It’s important for us all to never lose sight of the “soft things” that really make up the crux of these sports.

    #10: Enthusiasm.
    The stoke, the enthusiasm, the passion, whatever you call that drive deep down and instilled in oneself to want to be exactly where your are, doing exactly what you’re doing, even in the face of difficulties. Sure it’s cold, snowy, windy, grey, stormy, hot, raining, muggy, bug-filled, strenuous, but we’re in the mountains, and that’s all it takes to put up with all of the unpleasantness. It’s what drives you to make plans and pour over route descriptions and maps all week long. It’s what gets us out of bed at predawn hours, or make that first step out of the comfort of a car into full on mountain weather. It’s what allows us to dream of future adventures and share animated stories with friends, which in turn just fuels the enthusiasm even more.

    Without enthusiasm, what’s the point in all of it anyway?

  11. SR March 6th, 2013 11:48 am

    Solid and social. Particularly starting out, a lot of the richness of your experiences will come from your ability to break into a scene that on a social level can be tightly knit. Being solid matters, and includes being punctual,and being clear about abilities and experience. Being social includes being pleasant, hopefully cultivating something that makes you fun and memorable during downtime, and also being able to be comfortable and clear about goals/planning/prep.

  12. Mike Marolt March 6th, 2013 12:03 pm

    Before i did my first major peak, Denali over two decades back, my father told me to reach out to someone who knew how to do it. Bob Slozen took my buddies and i out for a few weeks on Denali, and that experience sent us on our way. He has been available over the years to bounce things off of since. A good mentor, and Sloman is one of the best, is a great way to understand problems without having to learn about them the hard way. Then its up to a natural progession which comes over years, not trips, all along really analyzing and not being afraid to be critical about what you did in the mountains.

    Also, read all the mountaineering story books you can. They generally don’t get published unless they are about epics, and you can learn by other’s mistakes and experiences, again, without having to live them.

    Nice article Lou. This is really important stuff.

  13. Ryan Stefani March 6th, 2013 1:38 pm

    Magnificent. Very well written.

  14. Joel March 6th, 2013 2:05 pm

    Nice essay. I like the suggestion of #10 being about values, and a couple previous suggestions are along the lines of what I was thinking, appreciation. The first nine leave room for what I feel is the most important of all experience in the wild, and that is being able to appreciate the beauty around us. If the experience becomes focused on the thrill of adventure, or the descent, then we often lose sight of the incredible environments we find ourselves in. This falls in line with the thought of quality rather than quantity, it’s not the number of tours we do, but the quality of the tours we do. Whether it be with people we enjoy being with, or in places we truly appreciate. The more we learn to appreciate the places we visit the more we will care about preserving them for the next generation.

  15. byates1 March 6th, 2013 3:11 pm

    very great read lou, appreciate it.

    the culmination could be happiness?

    this is possibly one of the most concise authentic things i have read, and it seems a hard thing to come by these days..

    “For a human being, true happiness is a state of integrity, where all the parts of you fit together to form a whole and you have no internal conflict. You are not lying, cheating or stealing. You are not doing something you don’t want to do, or holding back from doing something you do want to do. If you are in a state of integrity, you will feel joy, and this is what people commonly mean by true happiness.”

  16. Phil March 6th, 2013 4:38 pm

    Nice post, Lou. And some thoughtful comments as well. Kudos to all.

  17. Glenn Sliva March 6th, 2013 4:46 pm

    Prepare your body. Keep in shape for the endurance demands on your body both physically and mentally.

    Also someone in the group has the authority to make the hard tough decisions like turning around because of terrible weather.

    Heal fast Roger Marolt if you’re reading this.
    Glenn

  18. Eric Steig March 6th, 2013 5:52 pm

    My rule for avalanche beacons (or any other such equipment):

    Always have it with you. Ski as if you did not.

    This has worked pretty well for me to date.

  19. Lou Dawson March 6th, 2013 5:54 pm

    Thanks all for the kind words and your excellent comments. I noticed some typos in the post, fixed most but they lurk. Apologies for that as I don’t want my mistakes getting in the way of the message. Lou

  20. Ed March 6th, 2013 6:38 pm

    Seek local knowledge – move to a new area, say from a maritime snowpack to one east of the Rocks . . . .remember ya don’t know what you don’t know!

  21. Shawn M March 6th, 2013 7:31 pm

    Great post. one of your best recent posts.

    #10: give back. or, as they say, give it away to keep it.

  22. David B March 6th, 2013 8:12 pm

    Great post Lou.

    My #10 was the same as Joel’s. “Appreciation”.

    Joel summed up the environment side of things but I would also add in the appreciation of the partner or team you shared the adventure with.

    I have been on some adventures where I couldn’t wait to get out of there fast enough regardless of the perfect conditions. Finding the right mix or personalities can be difficult on an interpersonal basis without getting into decision making matrices.

    If you’ve enjoyed the company of others and worked well together then let them know it.

  23. Wynn Miller March 6th, 2013 9:09 pm

    Steve Casimiro wrote: “If a boulder that’s been lodged in a cliff for 500,000 years falls on its own and lands on your head, that’s just plain bad luck. If you ski a leeward slope after a windstorm and end up with an ice mask, it’s no one’s fault but yours.” http://www.adventure-journal.com/2013/03/in-defense-of-taking-risks/

  24. gringo March 7th, 2013 5:44 am

    _Lou,

    I would propose that 1, 2 and 5 could easily add up to my number 10 which is do not be afraid to speak up….at any time…to question any mentor or big dogs in your group. If your albeit limited experience and intuition make you question something, under all cicumstances speak up!
    This is also a critical step in building the confidence in your own judgement that will ultimatley be the judgement that you will rely on when the time comes for your bigger missions.

  25. Scott Davenport March 7th, 2013 6:42 am

    Enjoyable post when it makes me think of what direction to take in life or the “white world”. The “white world” came from a great book “Snowbird Secrets”. Thanks for the insight about myself.

  26. brian h March 7th, 2013 7:02 am

    Excellent post. There is stuff here for all of us…

  27. ryanl March 7th, 2013 9:49 am

    Hey Lou, I don’t know if I’ve ever posted here before. I ski with Louie occasionally, and he turned me on to this post. Very well said. I like the distinction between backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering.

    I share your thoughts completely about the benefits of reading. I’d add Lionel Terray’s Conquistadors of the Useless since I can’t think of a book which better captures the magic of alpine. Technical books are good, but books like Starlight and Conquistadors build imagination.

    Which leads to my vote for #10: Imagination. For me, ski mountaineering is as much about dreaming up some crazy scheme and figuring out how to make it happen as it is about anything else.

    Thanks for the great post.

  28. Glenn Sliva March 7th, 2013 10:01 am

    Now reading Snowbird Secrets. Thanks Scott. Looks like a good read.

    “White World”.

    Addition: Trust yourself. Why are you XXXXing today (climbing, skin’n, etc.) Don’t give all that trust away to a guide or someone else. Be responsible for yourself including the conditions and terrain.

    Ask yourself why are you doing this? What’s the goal?

    Use reason and emotion not just one. We make the best decisions using both like the airline pilot that put the dead stick water landing in the Hudson River a few years back. That guy was where training, preparation, and a hero saved a lot of lives that day by not succumbing to emotion only.

    Best thread ever Lou.

  29. Lee Lau March 7th, 2013 10:39 am

    Lou,

    Wonderful read. You’re right .. so different from the micro parsing of nitpicky details about gear. One element that links many of the things you write about is Experience which links to Patience which ultimately leads to Judgment etc.

    I’m seeing a lot of people in the Whistler area who could stand to read this piece and reflect on it.

  30. Tim K March 7th, 2013 10:47 am

    I’ve been forwarding the link to friends who play a # of other different “games” … the sub thoughts really transcend the individual endeavors…..

  31. Lou Dawson March 7th, 2013 12:57 pm

    Thanks Lee. Ryan, “Conquistadors of the Useless” is good, I just read it for the second time. I also got a copy of the DVD with the movie about Terray and Dunaway doing first descent of north route on Mount Blanc, as described in Conquistadors.

  32. Lou Dawson March 7th, 2013 4:35 pm

    With the help of all you guys, I’ve been letting my intuition run with the question of what to put in the slot for #10. The word humility keeps popping up. Humility is implied in this whole article and in your comments, but in these days of being “spancered” and the endless chest pounding videos, how about it, humility?

    I’ll be the first one to say that while I value humility, I’d never cast the first stone with that, as I’m as flawed as anyone when it comes to ego, but it’s a value I aspire to. A value that can be foundational to a rewarding life of alpinism.

    False humility, on the other hand, is ugly and selfish, and in the end only looks self serving.

  33. d March 7th, 2013 6:49 pm

    10. Balance:
    “Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.”
    –George Santayana

    Dedication to a thing requires sacrifice, and ski mountaineering is no exception. Like a romance, it requires long hours, and many of them, to create a safe and fulfilling artistry within the practice of it. A seasonal adventure, it naturally forces a cycle, a yin and yang of doing and not-doing the thing we love. Within that cycle there are countless more balancing acts that, if unnoticed by an unaware practitioner, can burgeon into a fall metaphorically or forizzle.

  34. lechero March 7th, 2013 6:54 pm

    Nice piece Lou.

  35. Jailhouse Hopkins March 8th, 2013 8:44 am

    Best article that I’ve ever read from you. Will print out for my son to read when he’s old enough to head out into the hills on his own. And read again. And again.

  36. Lou Dawson March 8th, 2013 9:00 am

    Thanks Jail and lec! Didn’t realize this would resonate so much… perhaps a reflection on our post modern world, where you see much less of this sort of thing since it’s risky to present firm ideas that can be construed as “rules,” especially for an activity that’s supposed to be about freedom and personal expression…

  37. cam March 8th, 2013 10:03 am

    Awesome Post Lou!

    Thanks for sharing.

    A quote I like relating to this is:

    Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.

  38. charlie March 9th, 2013 3:27 pm

    on mentors: don’t be afraid to question a mentor. A good mentor can justify their decisions, and a good mentor is not immune to mistakes.

  39. Lou Dawson March 9th, 2013 4:37 pm

    Charlie, 100% on that, thanks!

  40. Chris R March 11th, 2013 1:29 pm

    Thanks for this Lou.
    Best thing I’ve read in a long time.

  41. phil March 11th, 2013 7:41 pm

    Lou
    Did you know that the seven principles to guide an ancient samurai were:
    CHU-duty and loyalty
    GI-justice and morality
    MAKOTO-complete sincerety
    REI-polite courtesy
    JIN-compassion
    YO-heroic courage
    MEIYO-honor
    Bet you could find number 10 in there somewhere
    I am a writer of ski fiction and non-fiction. You might like to read my last published story The Snow Leopard Manuscript
    It is in the 2012 winter/spring Issue II of Adventum Magazine at
    http://WWW.ADVENTUMMAGAZINE.COM
    keep up the great work

  42. Dave April 17th, 2013 12:14 pm

    “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”

    All the points in this article are solid, but I really appreciate this line. Open communication in the mountains is a key way to not only be safe, but maintain friendships. The biggest problems I’ve had have typically been because someone didn’t share that they were hurt, tired, didn’t know where we were or were going, etc.

  43. Alin March 13th, 2014 10:12 am

    If you don’t love the Mountain, you are there for the wrong reason.
    If you enjoy being in the mountains, “attempt” may be as good as “summited”.
    If you play it safe, you will always have the chance to give it another try.

    I am just functioning in “parent” mode :D

  44. Ralph March 13th, 2014 11:08 am

    Lou- regarding your comment on gear reviews and sports blogging: what makes your reviews stand out is the technical know-how, the in-depth analysis of the components, and the DIY fabrication, which is key to mountaineering. I recall a Q/A with Messner where he was asked how he would deal with something broken while soloing. “I would fix it”. “with what?” “my pocket knife”.

    Also, though I have no evidence to support it, I am convinced gear manufacturers listen to what you say. White topsheets?

  45. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 11:30 am

    Hi Ralph, most of the gear folks obsess on web takes of their products, but more from the point of view of “we figured out this thing we are certain is cool, does anyone else get it?” Rather than “look at this idea on this web forum, let’s do it.”

    I know this for a fact. It’s just the culture of design and how it works. To a creative, their own idea and implementation is almost always better than someone else’s idea. Indeed, what makes the occasional genius designer is they can be both a creative, as well as a good listener. Doesn’t happen very often. Believe me, I’ve dealt with these folks for years.

    A constant challenge for many PR folks is to make it sound like manufacturers are listening to consumers, when in reality that’s not happening as much as one would think. I can think of a thousand examples. How about the Iridium Satphone firmware that didn’t have a ? mark for texting? Or how about the strange light switches in a Chevy Silverado? Or still speaking of Silverado, the shift-by-wire four wheel drive that you never know is really working or not. Or Microsoft Windows? Even my wife’s iPhone, while cool and consumer accepted, has things that were forced on consumers, such as battery life that could easily be better if the phone was just a hair thicker.

    But sometimes an idea percolates up from the primal ooze of the web to evolve to a finished retail product. Perhaps white skis are an example.

    BTW white skis do have the serious downside of being easily lost in the powder. In my view, the ideal graphic would be overall white, with perhaps a bright reflective stripe down the middle of a different color so the ski would be more visible in the snow and at night with headlamp while returning from a climb and that sort of thing.

  46. Chris Rivard March 13th, 2014 12:04 pm

    Heyo designer here.

    All the terms you’re using are heavily loaded in the design community :)

    “their own idea and implementation is almost always better than someone else’s idea” <– this is the definition of "genius design". It works sometimes if the designer can synthesize all of their experience in a specific domain. However…

    Most good design comes out of field research aka 'ethnography' and context of use. User-centered design is becoming a business differentiator in may industries – including the outdoor industry. And everything is a design decision. The ability (or inability) to make a binding field serviceable was a decision that someone made when they were exploring materials and form. But…

    Every decision has a trade-off. In production costs, product lifecycle, etc. Many times the balance of business needs, technical implementation and user needs are a balance. One could design an amazing product that could not be built, or that no one could afford. Many times *this* is the design problem to solve.

    I'm sure there was a deliberate decision by Apple to make the iPhone the dimensions it is – maybe the cost of retooling the CNC machines or maybe it was purely aesthetic… which is a design decision as well.

    Just another perspective :)

  47. Thomas March 13th, 2014 2:37 pm

    Great read Lou. Don’t know if it would be #10 but Presence is key for me. Not being lost in thoughts or issues that trouble me in the front country is key to successful adventures in the back country.

  48. DKR March 13th, 2014 5:07 pm

    Great post Lou. It seems in the popular press that the term “expert” is thrown around a bit loosely. The skills necessary to be a spectacularly great skier are only a fraction of those needed to be an expert ski mountaineer.

    Number 8. One of my closest friends would always ask, in a hundred sneaky ways, at the end of the day did you make great decisions out there or were you just lucky? I’ve learned a lot reflecting honestly on those discussions…

  49. Steven Zwisler March 13th, 2014 7:39 pm

    I’m suggesting #11 – Courtesy, you are in someone else’s home.
    People, animals, plants, and other spirits live where we go so be a good guest. Mountaineering invites gratitude and advocacy.

  50. Jim Knight March 13th, 2014 9:40 pm

    Bam! Nice work Lou. Lives will be saved,
    Conciousness raised. Speak plainly with no bs.

  51. Trent March 14th, 2014 7:33 am

    “With all the present emphasis on mountain safety, mistakes such as avalanche near misses are sometimes treated puritanically, almost like a sin that has to be hidden from peers and the public. Wrong. Share it. Be humble. To do otherwise is selfish.” Brilliant.

  52. Mike March 14th, 2014 8:24 am

    One thing that was hinted at but not fully assessed is the importance of partners. Mentors are great, but few and far between, with a good partner, you can learn together. I rarely travel in groups, and travel solo a fair amount. When I am solo, I am much more cautious, whether I’m on my bike, or on skis or board. It also allows you to slow down and examine more with your own brain in silence without so much ego.

    ANother point that I’ve been thinking about lately is when people use words like “intuition” to justify their reasoning. Like “it felt stable”, if you cannot explain why in detail, then you do not truly know what you are talking about. Intuition, gut feelings, and such can be used to turn away from a route, because it can be fear or a feeling that something is wrong that you cannot describe. But using your gut to justify skiing a line is poor reasoning.

  53. canwilf March 14th, 2014 1:28 pm

    Reminds us to look at ski adventure in a more adventurous way, less adrenalated way.

  54. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2014 2:22 pm

    Canwilf, you get it, that’s a big part of our mission here at WildSnow.com. The adventure of the mind and spirit, combined with athletics… sort of a “whole person” point of view. Our voice about this is perhaps a whisper in the wilderness wind, but that’s our approach.

    I completely flipflopped my life goals and take back when I almost got killed in an avalanche. Before that I had not put much thought into the intellectual or sharing part of alpinism (though I did work in outdoor ed, but more from selfish goals). Ever since the avalanche my mission in alpinism has been to share, to help, to promote safety, to honor those who came before, and to just simply have fun communicating about it. It never was an over arching goal of mine to make a living from it (though I did try to one extent or another, with guiding and books), but that’s fine as well and I now embrace the opportunity to have a voice and get paid for it, my only concern is that I’d do a better job with the above mission.

  55. Douglas Sproul March 16th, 2014 12:05 pm

    Excellent. Thank you Lou and all.

  56. Kristian March 20th, 2014 5:36 pm

    Brilliant!!!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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