Cascadian Redemption

Post by blogger | July 28, 2008      

I was a bad boy for not sharing about Dirtbag Diaries earlier in the season, but it got lost in the growing stack as the winter progressed into a 100 year epic that took all our attention. What I’m talking about is an episode of The Dirtbag Diaries that covers recent Northwestern U.S. extreme skiing history, with emphasis on a crew of guys who’ve easily been some of the highest level contributors to the sport over recent years.

Do not ignore this must-see. You’ll delight in a super realistic picture of how a brotherhood of ski alpinists develops, how they keep their psyche, and how their take evolves over time and tragedy.

Backstory: When I wrote my history book “Wild Snow” way back around 1995, I was duly impressed by the ski mountaineering heritage of the Northwest. Yet at the same time, as a history writer I didn’t view the region up till than as a modern center of extreme skiing. Indeed, it appeared to me that the Northwest had possibly the most radical terrain in the lower 48 states, but the big lines were mostly sitting there untouched except by the occasional visitor and rare forays by residents. To emphasize that idea, I wrote about how OUTSIDERS were “cranking the steeps” of the Northwest. The locals were of course duly incensed by my take, probably because it had an element of truth.

Around that time, a group of young Cascadian locals were evolving as ski alpinists. Brothers Josh and Jason Hummel, along with the late Ben Manfredi and others, honed their skills and began a crusade to be the locals on the steeps whom I’d found lacking so many years before. A few years ago another super agro skier named Sky Sjue joined their crew, and over the past eight years or so the “locals” have developed a list of first descents on hard unyielding Cascade peaks that is probably some of the “sickest” stuff in the world (as I’m sure they’d appreciate me terming it.)

I could go on and on about the inspiring epics and lines these guys have created, and hope to do so someday in another edition of “Wild Snow.” Meanwhile the history is well recorded and easily accessed here on the net. Check out for Ben Manfredi’s list and stories by him an the others, while the ever indomitable Sky shares his high altitude graffiti tracings (inside joke till you watch the video) over on his website Jason Hummel’s site is and covers the Cascadian ski adventures as well.



29 Responses to “Cascadian Redemption”

  1. Steve July 28th, 2008 2:16 pm

    The Northwest was going through it’s first AT revolution right about the same time Colorado was experiencing it’s Telemark revolution. While hippies were defining a style in Colorado, European engineers working at Boeing were defining a much different style in the Northwest and without all the hype (or hair!).

  2. Lou July 28th, 2008 2:46 pm

    Steve, I guess I was in the wrong place at the wrong time! BUT, are you not forgetting about a guy named Steve Barnett?

  3. Steve July 28th, 2008 3:29 pm

    Steve Barnett is still going strong!

    But I’m not sure he’s skiing the steeps in Adidas Nordic track shoes any longer, I heard he switched to leather Asolo boots last year.

  4. Lou July 28th, 2008 3:53 pm

    Bummer, my faith is shattered! He probably uses edged skis as well!

  5. Jonathan S. Shefftz July 28th, 2008 4:31 pm

    “[…] I wrote about how OUTSIDERS were “cranking the steeps” of the Northwest. The locals were of course duly incensed by my take, probably because it had an element of truth.”

    The opposing view available here:

  6. Lou July 28th, 2008 4:47 pm

    Jonathan, Lowell’s take is somewhat mean spirited in my opinion, especially the accusation of bias when pertaining to something as difficult and financially detrimental as writing that book. Nonetheless he had some good points in his critique which helped me improve the book when we re-printed it as soft cover.

    As for what’s inaccurate, anyone who knows about history writing knows it’s a process wherein a person digs things up and hopefully gets the vast majority correct, then it all gets picked apart by other historians in a process that results in constant improvement. I was bold enough to subject myself to that process, and I never got the sense Lowell understood or appreciated it. In other words, the excellent research on Lowell’s website was not around when I wrote the book. Now it is, and I’m looking forward to continuing the process.

    In other words, all criticism is a gift to one degree or another…in history writing or whatever.

    BUT, the guys in the vid even say I was probably right about who/when skied the steeps. After all, there was sure a ton of stuff just waiting to be picked off for some odd reason (grin).

  7. Jeff Huber July 28th, 2008 4:59 pm

    “BUT, the guys in the vid even say I was probably right about who/when skied the steeps.”

    With all due respect Lou, the Hummels and Sky are not more credible or knowledgeable about northwest ski mountaineering history than Lowell. Lowell has spent years researching the topic. As to mean spirited remarks, they do happen (we’re all only human) but let’s hope we can all keep them to a minimum.

  8. Fitz July 28th, 2008 5:30 pm

    “BUT, the guys in the vid even say I was probably right about who/when skied the steeps.”

    I — the producer — not sky and the Hummels.

    Researching that piece on Sky and the Hummels, I spent a lot of time sorting through the history and in a sense Lou was right and so was Lowell. For better or for worse, places like Rainier or Hood are center stage. Every sport has it’s crucibles. There is a lot of sweet granite in this world, but when a young climber gets hungry or wants to get noticed, he or she goes to Yosemite.

    If you go to Lowell’s site, you’ll see that the people who were ticking off lines on the marquee volcanoes in the mid 90’s weren’t from the PNW.

  9. Lou July 28th, 2008 5:49 pm

    Fitz, I wrote “guys” intentionally, as in assuming the video spoke for all three of you as a creative team who made the thing. But yes, in terms of a direct quote it’s you as a narrator who makes the statement. So I guess any criticism about credibility should be directed at you (grin). Jeff?

    Oh, and Fitz, nice job!

  10. Mark Worley July 28th, 2008 7:40 pm

    Interesting how the comments in the Dirtbag Diaries video about “outsiders” skiing big lines in the PNW irks the locals; I understand their annoyance, but the narrator of the video lumps Andrew McLean in with them. Isn’t Andrew from that very area originally?

  11. Mark Worley July 28th, 2008 7:43 pm

    Just got my answer mere sentences along in the video; Andrew IS considered a local PNW skier.

  12. Randonnee July 28th, 2008 10:54 pm


    “Jonathan, Lowell’s take is somewhat mean spirited in my opinion, especially the accusation of bias when pertaining to something as difficult and financially detrimental as writing that book.”

    Beware, Lou, you may earn the ire of the most-holy of the Puget Sound gods of mountaineering and self-worship : )}.

    Wildsnow is a fun read. It can be criticized, but it is also a significant work to enjoy by those of us with an interest in the sport. When I read Lou Dawson, I see interesting descriptions of accomplishment and of ski mountaineering or touring. When Lou modifies a boot, as I recall, he does not video himself skiing on that boot in order to earn the breathless worship of minions as I have seen elsewhere, for example. On is not the same attitude that some others put forward. There is just some sort of desperation like “hey look at me” in a lot of this Cascade ski mountaineering documentation.

  13. Lou July 29th, 2008 6:31 am

    Instead, I video my son skiing in the boot, show the uncut version to all the relatives as a sleeping potion, then stick a clip on a blog, now how American and apple pie is that (grin)?!

    Seriously, Lowell has done terrific research to create a ski history site which should be the envy of any region who wants their heritage easily accessible for writers such as myself. Perhaps Lowell’s encounter with the Wild Snow book had something to do with instigating that, if so then that’s the exact process of historical discovery that I always hoped Wild Snow would seed in the ski mountaineering microcosm of greater skiing history.

    As for the crit, I stand by my opinion that some of it is cold hard factual details which I take as a gift, some is semantics and thus the buck stops with me as this results from my writing not being clear enough, and some could have shown more compassion. But then, I called the Northwest “scrappy” for a reason. In terms of a personality trait: Adj. 1. scrappy – full of fighting spirit; “a scrappy admiral.” Accusing a writer of bias is indeed a “scrappy” thing to do, so there you go…

    And beyond personality traits. If skiing some (if not most) of those descents doesn’t require a scrappy spirit in a scrappy place, then I rest my case.

  14. Lou July 29th, 2008 6:56 am

    Mark, for the purposes of my history writing, I’d define “local” as a person who lives in the area and doesn’t have to travel there from far away to do climbs and descents.

  15. Mark Worley July 29th, 2008 9:31 am

    Yeah, that’s a good definition. In the video I thought they had lumped Chris Landry, Doug Coombs, and Andrew McLean together as non-locals and then dubbed the attempt on Rainier by Armond Dubuque, Andrew and others as a locals’ endeavor. Perhaps a little more proofing/editing would have caught that.

  16. Jason Hummel July 29th, 2008 9:52 am

    Fitz did a great job and I hope many found enjoyment in the story.

    Thanks for posting Lou.

  17. Mark Worley July 29th, 2008 10:10 am

    All those guys make great turns on improbable terrain, but did you notice how fleet-footed the Hummels are on tele gear? Sick indeed!!

  18. Lou July 29th, 2008 11:25 am

    I know, funny how those telemarkers keep sneaking in here!

  19. Jason Hummel July 29th, 2008 11:29 am

    Must be all the telemarketing we keep doing 😉

  20. Frank K July 29th, 2008 9:22 pm

    First off, great video that makes me want to go ski something- NOW!

    Second, hats off to Ben, the Hummels, Sky, and all the other PNW ski mountaineers getting after it.

    The truth in the Lou/Lowell difference of opinion is almost certainly somewhere in the middle, but I can’t help but agree with Lou to an extent. From Lowells’s alpenglow: “Disturbingly, Dawson turned some of my own statements into a regional put-down. In our e-mail correspondence, we discussed whether an extreme skiing route such as Mount Rainier’s Liberty Ridge should be included in the list of classic descents. This route is risky, rarely in condition, and now that the publicity factor has worn off, seldom done. I commented that most ski mountaineers (who are not extreme skiers) would view the route as a stunt rather than a classic.”

    I can’t say that I agree with this at all. Liberty ridge is a classic. Many ski mountaineers are “extreme skiers” (or are they “freeski mountaineers” 😉 ). Routes that lack an element of risk and are nearly always in condition do nothing to fuel my ski mountaineering hopes and aspirations, whereas a route like Liberty ridge most certainly does. Just my $.02

  21. Lou July 30th, 2008 7:34 am

    Frank, thanks for the comments. Back when I wrote Wild Snow I felt things such as Liberty Ridge were important in ski mountaineering history. Some folks had or perhaps still have a different point of view. Writing a history book involves having a focus and taking a point of view, otherwise you’d just have to compile a thousand pages of notes and chronology (and even for that you have to have a POV). For better or worse I took my POV and ran with it, so thanks for having a positive take on it.

    The thing about this Wild Snow mini issue is it all occurred quite some time ago. I brought it up because it is commented about in the video, and Fitz emailed me and told me my writing about “outsiders” appeared to have been some part of what he covered.

    Someday I hope we do a new edition of Wild Snow. I’d stick to my opinion about the PNW being during certain times more conservative with extreme skiing than some other parts of the country, but I’d most certainly not have that as my current take. Indeed, if I have room to write about it, I might even mention the controversy my writing stirred up, and get some quotes from different folks about it, including Lowell, Sky and the like.

    As for me doing a “put-down,” I most certainly didn’t intend my writing in Wild Snow to be gratuitously disparaging, but rather a compilation of fact and historical opinion so it would read like a book instead of a chronology or 600 pages of strung together footnotes. (yes, even history writers have to have an opinion, to one extent or another).

    More, depending on a person’s view, the part Lowell refers to could be taken as a compliment, or at least viewed in a neutral sense.

    As a writer, it’s impossible to please everyone because people have so many different views about what’s positive/negative good/bad. To at least some extent (aside from cut and dry factual errors I’m guilty of) I think this Wild Snow issue is an example of that.

    Blogging is certainly more fun! But I don’t regret taking the three years + it took to research and write Wild Snow. The project still informs almost everything I do, and has led to many rich and lasting friendships and adventures. More, I get letters and emails all the time that indicate the book has inspired countless people to go out and find their own North American ski mountaineering adventures. My family still feels the financial hit the project caused us, but I think Lisa and I both feel it’s the path I needed to have taken.

  22. Scott B July 30th, 2008 12:06 pm

    Most ski mountaineers may not be extreme skiers. Just like most rock climbers aren’t leading 5.14. But many of those at the forefront of the sport certainly are.

  23. Lou July 30th, 2008 2:40 pm

    Good point Scott, rest assured that when I’m compiling history I try to keep all aspects in mind. The extreme skiing just forms a focal point that I happen to enjoy and people like reading about. That said, I do feel that climbing to the top of mountains and skiing down is the essence of ski mountaineering, while ski traverses are also important. If anything, that’s my bias and should be obvious to anyone who reads my stuff.

  24. Jason Hummel July 30th, 2008 3:32 pm

    To me, ski mountaineering is anything that involves skiing and mountaineering skills. Many traverses I’ve done (and I’ve only done them in washington) require both skill sets. Looking at the Ptarmigan Traverse, for instance, there are few sections of flat terrain. Rather there are narrow passes above steep valley walls, with glaciers carving a sometimes tenuous home midspan.

    While I love skiing steep lines, I certainly see an attraction toward traverses. For me, they have been a fantasic way to tie together my memories of certain areas, to pull them all together. On top of it, there is no better trip for me than a combination of both traversing and steep descents. I certainly agree that most find steep descents more interesting, but here in Washington traverses have played an important role in becoming the pathways we travel to get to many of the places we ski. With so much wilderness only accessed by foot or ski, we don’t have the advantage of snowmobiles or heli’s that many use to the north and south of us. I think that wild, scrappy (good word) nature that is very appealing to those, not so much concerned about the skiing as the overall package of approach, climb and ski. Each one a formidable challenge to any ski descent or traverse in Washington.

    We each have our own bias toward the regions we live in. Things are much different down south and one day I need to get down there to check them out. Pictures just don’t do justice to any place as much as being there does.

    BTW, I consider myself an alright skier but in no means compare myself to a guy who climbs at 5.14. We just put in the effort and time involved to get to these peaks. I would probably be a hack if I went to Europe, tetons or such. Ha. I’m a hack just for the fact I tele ski, half the time on any terrain of consequence doing a half-ass downhill turn 🙂

  25. steve barnett July 30th, 2008 4:34 pm

    Lowell is in my experience anything but mean spirited. Give him his due. The traverses he and Carl pioneered, especially the Pickett Traverse, are high achievements of imaginative ski mountaineering. Where else in the 48 states is there such a degree of isolation, commitment (there is no escape from the route) bad weather, routefinding difficulty, mountaineering difficulty, and skiing difficulty? These trips are a natural response to the rugged wilderness of the North Cascades, which is a much different range than the Colorado Rockies.

  26. Lou July 30th, 2008 5:17 pm

    Did I say Lowell was mean spirited? I like the guy and respect him. I said his TAKE was mean spirited. This is one historian writing about another, on a professional level, not personal (I hope). You’re a writer, you should know the difference. Insulting me in public with an accusation of bias, however impersonal, just appears to me to be mean spirited. Perhaps too strong a term? This stuff is indeed water under the bridge, so perhaps it is too strong a term, but I wrote what I wrote…

    Also, if you read above and read Wild Snow, you’ll see I have plenty of nice things to say about Lowell. But can’t I defend myself when accused of egregious bias as a writer?

    If I said your work was inappropriately biased, would you just roll over? You’d probably have a thing or two to say…

    As for traverses, I agree, they’re great, and I’ve of course done a few myself. As stated above, I feel that traverses are important, but my opinion is that climbing to summits and skiing down is closer to the core of ski mountaineering (as opposed to ski touring). Now accuse me of bias in that, and I’d agree and say sure, that’s my bias (but it’s not egregious).

    I’m looking forward to yours or Lowell’s book about the classic ski traverses of North America (grin)! Which, no joke, would be terrific to see (or, didn’t you already write that?)

    Perhaps more important to the specific discussion of my book, traverses simply were not my focus when picking the _Classic Ski Descents of North America_ I featured in Wild Snow, and they were not the focus of the writing in the book, though I do cover quite a few in there anyway, especially those from the earlier days when skiing from summits was less a part of the sport.

  27. Steve August 1st, 2008 12:23 am

    Barnett: My parents had your books when I was a kid and I backcountry ski today due to some of your influence. Super props to your late 70’s and early 80’s quiet and long ski tours in Canada and WA while wearing cotton Grateful Dead shirts and light nordic equipment–long before Canadian recreational hut trips were popular and the defining (and very expensive) norm of North American ski touring today!

  28. Steve August 1st, 2008 12:25 am

    PS: Not sure what you and Lou are talking about in the previous posts, I just wanted to give you a high-five. Deep snow is fun.

  29. Lou August 1st, 2008 6:04 am

    Indeed, what caused this thread is ancient history. I’d have never brought it up except for the comments in the referenced video. Everyone makes their contribution to the community, and I’m thankful for all of it.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version