That’s a word, promise. It means something like “beyond encyclopaedic,” combined with “mind expanding.”
To wit, check out Brittany and Frank Konsella’s new Colorado ski touring guidebook, “Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes Colorado.” In 102 intricately detailed route descriptions, they cover the Centennial State from one corner to the other in a plethora of detail I found astounding.
As most of you know, I’m no stranger to guidebook writing. What’s fun for this veteran is seeing the development of both ski touring and information technology being smartly combined by individuals such as the Konsellas, allowing them to travel the state and identify so many routes in so many locals. In my day, doing so would have required several lifetimes. Now it’s done in a matter of years.
When the information revolution began, I expected a change in pace, but interestingly it took a while for the guidebook scene to erupt. Presently, what with a half dozen or so Colorado guidebooks available or soon to be, that explosion has clearly occurred.
Leading to the question: Are there too many ski touring guides for our fair state? I don’t think so, as each one out there has managed a different angle. “Backcountry Ski & Snowboard” is obviously the one doing the best job of covering, in one volume, our daunting profusion of ski routes. Other books cover sections of the state in even greater detail, or focus more specifically on steep summit ski descents. But an overview such as this is incredibly useful.
A browse of Amazon reveals the abundance of Colorado ski guidebook choices. Frankly, I’ve lost track of how many of these books there really are, as some are out of print and still available, some are relatively obscure, and so on. Check out an Amazon search for Colorado guidebooks.
Swinging back to the Konsella guide, several qualities stand out. Most importantly, the writing is crisp and nicely edited — perhaps other qualities that information technology has enabled. An effort is made to provide oblique high angle photos with route lines and names. These are nicely annotated, could be larger, but then the book’s 334 pages (!) would have blown up to being truly encylopeadellic. As it is, this is clearly a reference book, not something you’d toss into your backpack.
I’ve never been sure the “packable” guidebook was at all important, so I’m good with the “shelf reference” format. If you do need data in the field, photographing the relevant pages with your smartphone works fine, or pump out a few sheets from a copy machine or scanner. That said, I’d like to see an app or ebook containing the book’s data. Perhaps publisher Mountaineers Books is working on that. I checked their website, couldn’t find a search function so I cut bait and got back to writing this review.
For those of you new to the game, note that authors Frank and Brittany are well known to the Colorado ski mountaineering community. They possess extensive ski mountaineering chops, including Brittany being the second woman and ninth person overall to ski all 54 Colorado fourteeners, and Frank being the 4th person to do the same. (Full disclosure: I’m totally biased having been the officiant at these guy’s wedding — and seeing their marriage become a prolific guidebook production partnership — key for a lasting union!) Check their website for a book signing schedule.
With other guidebooks having color photos and maps, one wonders if publishing in greyscale is appropriate? In my view, while color gives a book “shelf appeal,” once you begin using a guide for actual on-the-ground adventures, ink colors make little difference. In the end, sticking with B&W keeps cost down; $21 is quite reasonable for this many pages (not to mention the amount of work the Konsellas put into research and writing).
Having been through total torture with making maps for my own books, the cartography issue draws my attention with each guidebook that crosses my desk. Being an experienced map reader, I want topos. But how many people are in that same boat? I’ve been told (and have observed) that the majority of guidebook users have never learned how to visualize terrain from a topographic and instead rely on photos and applications such as Google Earth. The maps created by publisher Mountaineers Books, using the Konsella’s data, are definitely a compromise. The charts make an attempt at providing topographics, but the contour lines and shading are often so faint and low contrast that they might as well have been simple “route line” maps. That’s not a criticism as much as an observation for myself and other guidebook writers (and publishers); if maps are even included, make legibility the priority at exclusion of somewhat illegible elements such as contour lines. Or, instead of including maps at all, provide more photos, GPS chords, elevations and distance numbers. As they are, the Konsella maps work fine as line maps.
All the Konsella route descriptions begin with excellent “data blocks.” Concise information in the blocks includes necessary gear, recommended season and a ski difficulty rating. I’m glad to see the latter, as I’m perpetually interested in the issue of rating ski descents (having presented the “D System” some years ago, which never caught on). A basic system is used by the Konsellas, comprising five grades based on slope angles. Doing so works: simple, clear. Though I’ll chime in with my bias for nuanced rating systems.
My overall take: A book any serious Colorado backcountry skier should have in their library. Again, if possible attend one of the Konsella’s book events. Ask Brittany which fourteener was the hardest — you might get a thrilling story of life on the high peaks.