Review — Teton Skiing by Tom Turiano

Post by blogger | June 6, 2007      

Starting in 1996 I began a deep study of the history of North American backcountry skiing. Writing my history book Wild Snow required it — and my love for the subject keeps me digging.

Naturally, my studies turned to the Teton mountains of Wyoming — and to Tom Turiano. For Tom has not only skied the Teton backcountry as much as (or more than) anyone, but his interest in the area’s heritage knows no bounds. He had to write the book, and of course, he did.

In his guidebook Teton Skiing, Turiano uses 221 pages to cover every aspect of backcountry skiing as practiced in the Tetons for the past century. This fantastic book includes a detailed history, as well as descriptions for most the ski routes in the range — from mellow walks through the forest to descents of wild couloirs that have claimed several skiers’ lives.

The details that Tom has gathered here will astound you, and may even frustrate you. For example, while the book’s superb index is a model every guidebook writer should heed, other sections such as a glossary use pages that would have served better for more photos.

Also, Tom’s history is complete to a fault. Rather than simply reporting who descended the route first, he divides firsts according to the gear used (snowboard, free-heel, fixed heel). This is a novel approach and Tom should be applauded for trying it. Nonetheless, perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I’m interested in who made the true first “edged glisse” descent (as opposed to a sitting or standing glissade), not what gear subsequent people used to repeat it.

I suspect that by recording such detail about specific tools, Tom is making a statement about just how versatile “glisse” alpinism has become. In that he is successful. Aside from the dry facts, you’ll be fascinated when you read Tom’s anecdotes about the early descents (when gear was not an issue), then read about macho free-heelers vying for first “nordic” descents. Then you read about a guy named Stephen Koch who makes everyone look like stuffed shirts, free-heelers and fixed-heelers alike, when he snowboards everything in sight. Good stuff.

My minor gripes asside, the genius of Teton Skiing is in Turiano’s devotion to history. As a result, this is a guidebook you can read indoors without yawning. Turn the pages and learn about ski bums of the ’70s living in straw-lined snowcaves. Read on, and get the whole story of early extreme skiing on the Grand Teton, including the tragic death of Dan McKay while climbing for a ski descent. Keep bouncing your eyes over Turiano’s prose, and you’ll learn about skiing new-age lines such as the Black Ice Couloir, and even get some of Tom’s opinions about such descents

Indeed, one of my chief complaints about American alpine literature is the dearth of ski mountaineering history. This is our heritage. It must be recorded. For having done so Tom Turiano deserves a toast from all of us — to be poured from the best bottle in the house.


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