Climbing & Skiing Colorado Mountains — Book Review

Post by blogger | November 12, 2014      

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.


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14 Responses to “Climbing & Skiing Colorado Mountains — Book Review”

  1. Greg Louie November 12th, 2014 9:37 am

    Utah or California for the best ski touring snowpack? I would think stability would be a factor, not to mention actually having snow . . .

  2. Lou Dawson 2 November 12th, 2014 11:21 am

    Greg, they’re meant to be “average examples,” but yes things might have changed. I’d actually give kudos to PNW but the weather tends to shut you down too often if you’re not living there and timing things perfectly. Lou

  3. Dave Field November 12th, 2014 1:42 pm

    “Really, it’s time Colorado guidebook authors worked at finding what’s skiable in winter, and giving us the details. ”

    Sounds like a project worth researching. Do you know of any locals who are self-employed and have a passion for skiing with experience in guidebook publishing? 🙂

  4. Gregg Cronn November 12th, 2014 2:11 pm

    C’mon Greg. The skiing sucks in the PNW. Whistler and the Duffy lakes area three hours away, Rogers Pass another seven. The Methow, Leavenworth, Baker, Rainer are no match for a weekend powder frenzy in SLC…Yep, CA and Utah have it over the NW any day. Now if all these dudes with the CO, VT around here would point their rigs south I would be a lot happier.

  5. buck November 12th, 2014 5:21 pm

    so Gregg, what’s your point? Forgive me if I can’t distinguish between layers of sarcasm and actual bitterness. Straight talking is an under-appreciated skill these days.

    As far as other people leaving making you a lot happier? Based on your knee-jerk response to Lou not bestowing enough praise on your local skiing, I’d hazard a guess that your unhappiness might be rooted just a little deeper than the color of other cars’ license plates.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 November 12th, 2014 5:51 pm

    You guys, the sentence reads “Nor are we the STATE with the best ski touring snowpack (TRY Utah or California). I’m obviously using some locations in the lower 48 as examples, not writing absolutes. I guess my prose could have been more definitive (grin), let’s not start a pissing match based on something I didn’t say. Lou

  7. Charlie Hagedorn November 12th, 2014 8:05 pm

    On-topic discussion in blog comments? What’s next?!

    Back on topic: I picked up a copy of the book a few months ago. Agreed on many points. Some of the routes described are really quite stout and consequential.

    Guidebooks for safe-in-all-conditions winter routes are surely in demand, especially from beginners. Mitigating the potential crowding that can result is hard.

  8. Gregg Cronn November 12th, 2014 10:33 pm

    Just joining in the fun Buck. No bitterness here. I was poking fun at Lou in a friendly way. Some of my best friends are (former) Vermont and CO skiers. Peace brother!

  9. afox November 12th, 2014 11:00 pm

    I disagree with this: Guidebooks for safe-in-all-conditions winter routes are surely in demand, especially from beginners. Mitigating the potential crowding that can result is hard.¨

    Ive noticed at the places I BC ski regularly that people tend to cluster themselves in small areas and generally dont do much exploring. There are terrain limited exceptions but at most BC spots in CO it seems like there is tons of terrain and only a small amount of it is getting skied. Maybe better beta would spread people out instead of 90% of people packing into a small area that they are familiar with or perceive to be safer because others are skiing there.

    Also, im not sure there is such a thing as ¨safe¨ terrain that’s worth making turns on in winter in CO.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 November 13th, 2014 5:30 am

    Afox, there is a sweet spot for terrain in Colorado that’s safe-er. It’s lower angled, with moderate to denser timber (that’s still skiable), stepped so each potential avalanche is smaller and can’t develop into huge. Generally from about 9.500 feet up to 11,000. Along with some snowpack assessment based on observations and published forecasting, powder can be safely had in these spots — in some places even during high hazard days. Problem is for some reason our mountains here in Colorado don’t have much of this type of terrain. The timber tends to be too dense to ski, and the angles too steep or too shallow. Lot’s of people who enjoy this terrain probably don’t realize it was perhaps created by fires and logging.

    Safety through ski compaction actually does happen, they do it at resorts. Why is the backcountry any different? Ski compaction safety is a valid factor causing the packing of people into smaller backcountry areas (including my wife and I).

    Many avalanche educators and “experts” appear to be in denial about ski compaction safety, or at least don’t want to admit it can be a huge factor. That’s probably because it’s challenging to quantify in an avalanche class, as in “how do you judge if a slope is safer due to popularity?” In reality, in popular backcountry areas of Colorado, ski compaction could sometimes be the single biggest factor in choosing to ski one slope over another.


  11. afox November 13th, 2014 9:57 am

    I didn’t know that skier compaction could have enough of an impact in the BC to make things safer, I thought much more skier traffic was needed. I can see how compaction could make ski area terrain safer with large numbers of skiers hitting a slope daily but the BC runs Im thinking of see maybe an average of a dozen runs on weekend days and 1-2 runs a day midweek. Is that enough skier traffic for compaction?

    Maybe I should start hitting the steeper lines on sunday afternoons 😉

    I was taught in my level 1 avy class that if its steep enough and thin enough to have fun skiing on in mid winter CO its not “safe” terrain. I understand that snowpack assessment is part of the formula. Lou, you probably have much more knowledge and experience than my Level 1 instructor. Ill do some more research into skier compaction.

  12. Lou Dawson 2 November 13th, 2014 11:43 am

    In the popular area here, a heavily skied avalanche path that used to run over the road frequently has not done so in years, trees are even noticeably growing in. I’ve observed this situation with care and am easily convinced this is because of the amount of skiing. The term should be “skier compaction and snowpack disruption,” it’s not just compaction, it might actually be more the disruption of slab formation. Very obvious to the trained eye, politically incorrect to acknowledge when it comes to avalanche education. The gotcha with all this is during big storms when skiers stay away, and you get a thick storm slab that might not be able to run fill path but is still dangerous. Lou

  13. Brian Miller November 17th, 2014 10:31 pm

    Hey Lou. Thanks for taking the time to read through and review our book. We hold your opinion in high regard and put a lot of time and effort in to this project, so the feedback is much appreciated. Here’s to the start of another fine season in the Colorado high country! Have a good one.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 November 18th, 2014 4:22 am

    You’re welcome Brian!

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