Colorado, USA is in a backcountry skiing guidebook frenzy these days. Why that is, I can only guess. We are not the state with the most skiers (try California or New York for that honor). Nor are we the state with the best ski touring snowpack (try Utah or California). But probably due to our deep historical ski roots as well as having about 2 out of every 3 days being beautiful ski weather, we’ve got a lot of activity both on and off the resorts. Guidebooks follow.
While I’m a fan of focused small-region guides, a mature skiing library is not hurt by your basic overview book. Indeed, I’ve authored both over the years. Here in Colorado, our latest overview tome is “Climbing & Skiing Colorado’s Mountains,” by Ben Conners and Brian Miller.
This book focuses on peak descents, with admirable information. Prior, “modern” details such as how to get Keplinger’s off Longs Peak and work the Luttrell line off El Diente had an element of mystery. Now you’ve got the beta.
Yes, perhaps that takes some of the “fun” out of it. But sharing information is a natural progression in our life as humans. In my own career as a Colorado high-peaks skier, such mystery was a day-in day-out driver of my whole “ski the fourteeners” project. That was as it should be — if you’re doing a “first” it should be hard. But after I got it done my guidebooks followed, and after that the internet blew up with Colorado peak information. That progression contributed to the enjoyment and safety of a thousand thousand adventures — including those of the authors of this new guidebook — who are continuing the process.
On the downside, any longtime Colorado backcountry skier will notice the limited scope of “Climbing & Skiing Colorado’s Mountains.” Problem one is that most of the routes in this book are only safe during a short period of compacted snowpack that occurs during springtime. Really, it’s time Colorado guidebook authors worked at finding what’s skiable in winter, and giving us the details.
More, this is obviously a ski mountaineering guidebook that involves a lot of routes you could fall down (the word “couloir” figures in at least 27 out of the 50 route names). Do we really need printed ski mountaineering guidebooks? Most peak routes are simple boots up couloirs, then you ski. These lines are easily detailed on the internet or by word of mouth. The complicated routes are lower angled and lower elevation–the stuff you can do in winter. Again, here in Colorado we’re experiencing a shortage of books that cover such skiing.
Okay, that’s my rant about where I’d like to see guidebooks going. On to the good stuff. I’m loving the production values in “Climbing & Skiing Colorado’s Mountains.” An obvious effort was made to acquire stunning color photos, all well produced with plentiful labeling (thanks to modern pre-press processing). I love seeing that. In the old days of guidebook authoring, you had to sell your first-born child to convince a publisher to stick a word on a photo, or make a decent map. Now, an author who knows Photoshop can label a photo in five minutes. Moreover, scores of ski mountaineers sporting their digi-cams have created a body of work that’s hundreds (if not millions) of times more robust than what we had just several decades ago. The difference is amazing, something positive about the “second machine age” I’d encourage all to appreciate, as we’re bombarded by news of privacy issues and hack attacks.
While the book’s maps are at first glance crisp and simplified, I found them odd in some ways. First, I can’t “see” the reason why a topo map would have an overall light greenish-grey background. White background would make them even more readable. More importantly, the maps lack routes that are mentioned in the text. For example, the unmarked more moderate route off Torreys Peak is the Tuning Fork, while the over-used, well known, obvious and much steeper Dead Dog Couloir is marked. As with most guidebooks (including my own over the years), I continue to wonder if a better approach would be to not include maps at all, and instead give a good smattering of GPS coordinates you can input into your mapping software and handheld GPS unit.
Guidebook words can be done in many styles. There is the short and dry, the rambling, and somewhere in between. This book’s prose is well written and a good compromise. The authors include a smattering of history, along with detailing how the descents puzzle together; this being done by sometimes describing events turn-by-turn. Much of the book’s introductory material is unnecessary, but a description of how the difficulty ratings work is appreciated as is a general introduction with a smattering of human and natural history.
In all, Climbing & Skiing Colorado Mountains is the perfect book for out-of-state ski mountaineers seeking the best Colorado peak descents. As for us locals, it’s the help we might need to get out of our home mountains and try a Colorado road trip now and then. I’ll be keeping it handy.