In these days of magazine and newspaper carnage, pubs that stay in print are like searchlights in a graveyard. At least we hope that’s the case, least they’re actually marsh gas undergoing a momentary flicker.
Case in point: Alpinist Magazine, that wonderful large format pub that tastes so sweetly of the high alpine, was bought last winter by the same folks who publish Backcountry Magazine. More, they acquired former and famed Climbing Magazine publisher Michael Kennedy as Editor in Chief, meaning my old friend and climbing partner “MK” is charge of making sure the pages look and read as good as we’d expect from what’s intended to be the top end of magazine publishing.
The latest issue, #26, is the first coming from the new guys. According to Michael, most of the content was already in the works before they took over, most was easy to work with, but they had some minor challenges. At least as a layman, you wouldn’t know it. The thing looks great — my hat is off to Michael and his team!
“Mountain Profile: Mt. Everest Part 1” is perhaps the most impressive content. But articles covering diverse subjects such as the Teton rescue rangers and Japanese climbers doing huge routes on Denali round things out. My favorite of the mix, however, is the gritty story of rock climber John Bachar establishing his amazing Bachar-Yerian route in Yosemite NP, which “still defines boldness and traditional climbing 28 years later.”
My gripes are few. I’m still not a fan of the divorced photo captions — I’m always feeling like I’m hunting around for the things. Also, if the editors feel comfortable including building climbing (buildering) stories as were present in a past issue, they must certainly have some ski alpinism content on the way? No big deal on the above, but what would a review be without some crit?
Also of interest, one of the reader letters scolds us mountaineers and our publications for “voices of arrogance and condescension.” For example, statements such as “…giving thanks that you are not one of those people who go through an entire lifetime without climbing a mountain,” or advertising slogans such as “lives less ordinary.”
While there is value to the alternate path that alpinism takes us on, I for one see the letter writer’s point. All sorts of people and activities make humanity what it is — including the good side of our species. Thus, we’re not superior because we get to recreate in the backcountry. (Although it’s normal to feel an emotion of generosity when you find something excellent like alpinism or backcountry skiing, in that you want others to share your find.)
Most of us intellectually know elitism is bad, but hip-shot emotional elitism is easy to fall for, like putting down bubble head motorized recreationists, training wheel alpine skiers, genuflecting telemarkers, knuckle dragging snowboarders, Lycra clad randonnee racers; add any of dozens to the list.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s fun to joke about user groups and styles, as we do here on occasion with telemarking. But when good natured ribbing trends to serious elitism, warning bells should go off. If I’m guilty, apologies. We’ll keep joking around here ’cause that is part of blogging, but everyone feel free to correct my course if it’s looking like we’re sneering down our noses as we smugly snap into our Dynafits.
As for Alpinist, great job Michael and gang. It certainly looks like you’ve got a searchlight beaming bright — we’re looking forward to seeing what of our beloved alpine world it illuminates next!
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.
I don’t know that I agree with your intellectual criticism of elitism. I’m quite ok with some of my elitism. There is certain snow that is worth going out for and certain snow that isn’t. There is a certain style of mountaineering that I seek to manifest and others I aim to avoid. And I am extremely thankful that I get to include mountains as a regular part of my life. I can’t imagine living any other way. In some instances I probably feel a bit superior to others having these views, but my elitism is the natural gravitation and embodiment of my values and principles. We are not all created equal in strength, intelligence, ability, speed, etc. So, if embracing who I am and what I love and sharing that with like-minded folks is elitist, then I’m elitist and don’t have a problem with that.
I read that same readers response and obviously had quite a different response. Alpinist is directed at a very small demographic (as is Wild Snow) and I like the idea of embracing exactly what it is that drives us. It finally gives us a place where like-minded people speak honestly about a very big part of our lives that remains ephemeral at best. I am at my best in the mountains, even when being humbled by nature and that alone has separated me from the masses and made me one of the relative few who can and do make it out there. That sounds pretty elitist to me, but maybe we are using different definitions.
As an Alpinist subscriber since Issue 14 and frequent purchaser prior to that, I was happy to see that Issue 26 was well put toghether with interesting content. I do think that Issue 27 will be a better test, as it will be a complete issue from the new publisher (as stated in the review Issue 26 was mostly intact from the previous publisher). I agree with the desire to have a bit of ski mountaineering in the mag. Not to bash Backcountry, as I like the mag, but they do not publish a great deal of the mountaineering aspect of backcountry skiing and I see Alpinist as a venue for that. A couple of nice ski articles every 4 issues would be great. Overall this is a very good magazine for those of us interested in climbing/mountaineering and the history of both around the world. Keep it up Alpinist folks!
Lou, one nit that you did not mention. It appears as if the quality of the inner pages of the magazine are not as nice as they used to be (the cover is still of the same quality though). While I understand that this is probably necessary in order to reduce costs (and thus have the magazine survive), I was certainly disappointed (at $13 an issue I would like the old glossy high-weight pages). That being said, I would prefer to have the magazine survive with worse page quality than vice versa. I would also note that the addition of more advertisements did nothing to decrease my interest in the magazine. Did I notice the additional ads…yes. Did it deteriorate from the reading experience…no. Maybe I am just trained from other magazines to expect lots of ads.
Nate, knowing Michael, I’d imagine they’re working on those things as we speak. As someone said above, next ish will be the one that really tells the tale.
My feeling is that to compete with the web a printed pub needs to be exceptional (part of the reason newspapers have been failing, in my opinion), and print quality is definitely part of that in the case of magazines.
The question is of course whether ads and subscriptions can pay for such quality. Let’s hope that’s so.
I renewed my subscription the other day. I just hope that they keep the quality of the previous issues. I dropped my subscription to Backcountry a couple of years ago. So, I really hope that these guys don’t screw MK.
What’s wrong with my intellectually self-righteous elitism? Everyone knows that snowmobilers, snowboarders, Texans, and telemarkers are devolved degenerates not worthy of being allowed out of the house, and therefore should never been seen within a 15 mile radius of me!
Hmmm, and people in general! Wow, those pesky crowds, like today when I saw no one, but imagining them there bothered me anyway! This incredibly crowded Colorado backcountry is really starting to wreck MY experience (grin).
Thanks for the post, Lou. Been busy putting together Alpinist 27 so haven’t had time to surf the net much this week.
Thanks to all for the kudos as well as the constructive criticism and ideas. Alpinist is a bit of a work in progress right now, but the underlying motivation is to create a quarterly magazine that is a timeless, beautiful and unique expression of the climbing world.
Alpinist will continue to be “elitist” in that the writing, photography, illustration and design will be thoughtful, at times provocative or humorous or irreverent, but always grounded in the personal experience of our contributors and editors. It may be less elitist in tone and voice as we discover ways to better communicate the “why” of what one of our writers calls “an inherently unquantifiable pursuit.”
No matter what, it’s an adventure in itself.
That sounds just elitist enough (grin)!
This elitist would like to agree wholeheartedly that the divorced captions have got to go. Annoying as can be in the ski journal, so please do something else.
The elitism displayed in any of these magazines shows that people have made a decision for themselves to spend their time and lives dedicated to the mountains. It is easy for those who choose a sedentary lifestyle to be offended by this elitist attitude. Unfortunately, we have chosen a lifestyle that engages us physically, mentally, and spiritually. A lifestyle that many people wish they could have (if only they could get off the couch and truly give themselves to that wish), making them feel as if the industry and culture is condescending and rude.
The culture is not condescending towards anyone, just proud of our lives, and what the mountains have contributed to them. I invite anyone to push their limits beyond the norm, beyond personal bests, and try to not feel just a bit elitist when someone asks you what you did over the past week.
So if you are offended by this elitist attitude, get off your couch, stop reading things that offend you, and get into the mountains.
Alpinist may or may not be elitist, but I’ll bet it isn’t one thing I see in some of the other similar publications: overly pop culture based. Do I need to know whether Joe Climber wears boxers or briefs, boulders in the hood, or holds to certain social values? Not so much. Alpinism in the broader context of history is a better base, and I think Alpinist will likely keep this focus.
I renewed Alpinist Magazine as a gift for Joe Keen on 8/13/08 for 2 years. His subscription was due to continue through the summer of 2011 but he didn’t receive any issue of the new subscription although my Visa card was debited $89.
Is it possible that The American Alpine Journal will honor that subscription that was paid for in full but neve received?
Thanks so much.
Katherine, as much as I’d like to be providing customer service for Alpinist, that’s not happening here.
Try their website:
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