Lou Gets a Letter from THE MAN

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 5, 2006      

A letter with a county sheriff return address is something you don’t like seeing in your mailbox. Makes you wonder. Video traffic enforcement? Some kind of summons? In this case it wasn’t too bad. THE MAN wants us guidebook writers to do a better job of warning people off from deadly Colorado fourteener hikes.

Backcountry skiing guidebook letter.
One of those letters that makes you swallow before opening…

Fourteener in this case is Mount of the Holy Cross. A somewhat mellow hike as fourteeners go, Holy Cross nonetheless has a bit of route finding challenge as the easiest route descends into a valley before the climb begins, and then winds around from a north shoulder to the west side of the peak. In 2005 Michelle Vanek separated from her partner on the climb and despite a massive search was never seen again. It’s unknown if Vanek made careful use of a guidebook such as mine, but I’ll take the sheriff’s suggestion and re-word things a bit in my Holy Cross route description for the new edition due out sometime within the next year or so.

That said, as a person of libertarian inclinations I’m uncomfortable with government entities meddling in private sector publishing. We’ll support it this time as this is pretty far from Orwellian, but what if I start getting letters from any sheriff with a fourteener in their back yard? That could get interesting — good blog fodder at least. Or perhaps I can bill them for the writing time and get some of my tax money back.

Central Colorado wintry storm report: CS-4 is in full swing today, raining here in the foothills and snowing on the high. Is global warming bringing us tons of moisture and changing the Colorado snowpack to a better thicker denser mix similar to that of Utah or the Sierra? Perhaps.


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11 Responses to “Lou Gets a Letter from THE MAN”

  1. Pete October 5th, 2006 8:18 am

    A costal snowpack in Colorado is something we have talked about for years. Imagine how good this place would be with stable snow! Not so sure I would want to give up my neck deep super fluff days though.

  2. Lou October 5th, 2006 8:26 am

    Pete, if it’s going that direction I’d say it’ll be semi-costal and still provide plenty of pow. The ski resorts might end up wishing they’d built where founders such as Andre Roch originally suggested they be situated — on 13,000 foot peaks rather than logged hillsides. Of course most of those places are legal Wilderness now, so they’re reserved as a private winter playground for we backcountry skiers. Truly a privilege, if you ask me.

  3. Joel October 5th, 2006 9:47 am

    I suppose that the sheriff is trying to prevent hiking disasters by asking you to highlight the dangers of the holy cross hike. That in itself is fine. Is it necessary to tell someone that they should be prepared to hike early and bring provisions when recreating above treeline? Yes – I’d expect some basic information like that in any guide book (and I can’t think of one that doesn’t have that sort of info). But apparently that’s not adequate? How many places in the book must the reader be warned? I feel like American society expends far too much effort trying to protect us from ourselves. There’s a point where you have to let people make mistakes and learn from them (hopefully). Can’t we all just take a little responsibility for ourselves?

  4. Thomas October 5th, 2006 11:30 am

    If the sheriff thinks people need more warning let him do the warning, I haven’t read your book but I’m assuming it already has all the usual warnings/at your own risk legalese. Mountains/nature/life can be dangerous, we accept this , it is part of the experience. If the sheriff wants to hand out helmets/locator beacons and warnings of going to hell at the trailhead, let HIM do it.
    I’m sure you got the guilt trip about the search and rescue putting their lives on the line etc….that’s what they do , it’s their job,if they don’t want to assume that risk they should do something else.
    Dang,I’m starting to sound like a grumpy old fart and I’m only 35, but seriously enough of the fear spreaders, you needn’t do their work for them. Let people take some responsibility for their actions or next thing you know you’ll be liable for their deaths.

  5. Tom October 5th, 2006 12:35 pm

    I am surpised that you were contacted by the Eagle County Sheriff regarding your guide book. It seems that as Americans we increasingly expect our government to protect us from ourselves. I think a guide book should have a general warning about the dangers of backcountry travel. And, it should also highlight specifc and unusual challenges along the route (that is the point of a guide book after all). I don’t think you need to include a warning with each route description. I have hiked the “easy” route on Holy Cross and did not find it particulary difficult to follow. There are many more difficult hiking trails in Eagle County. Would the sheriff have warning signs posted at each of those trailheads? If the sheriff was trying to point out a change in the route since you wrote the book, then I am sure you appreciate that input. If he was asking you to put in idiot proof warnings, then send his letter to the circular file. Maybe you could post a scan of the letter on your website so that we have a better understanding of his message? Incidentally, I am an Eagle County resident and I can tell you that there is some suspicion about the disapearance of Michele Vanek. Many people believe that her disapearrance was really a suicide or homicide, and in that case no guide book warning would have prevendted that tragic event from occuring. Perhaps the sheriff is more interested in protecting the commercial recreation value and image of our backcountry than in protecting the public.

  6. Lynn October 5th, 2006 12:44 pm

    I see it was from Eagle County. I guess sheriff Braudis of Pitkin must out doing some undercover drug work….. Oh yeah that’s right, his department does not believe in undercover work.

  7. David October 5th, 2006 1:28 pm

    Is global warming bringing us tons of moisture and changing the Colorado snowpack to a better thicker denser mix similar to that of Utah or the Sierra? Perhaps

    Better thicker denser with respect to Utah? Man you are dreaming. Sieera yes, Utah no. You obviously have a Colorado bias here that shows.

  8. Lou October 5th, 2006 2:01 pm

    David, huh? Sorry if my writing was unclear, but I suspect you were just over eager to draw your bias gun on me. What I was alluding to in my blog post is that our biggest problem with backcountry skiing in Colorado is a thin snowpack that has super low density layers of dangerous sugar snow. Utah is much better in that regard. If anything, I have a Utah bias, and ski there quite a bit because of it. Sierra is even safer yet, though the powder skiing isn’t as good as Utah. Ditto for Northwest.

    Accusing people of bias when it obviously isn’t so is quite unbecoming and I resent being the subject of that. I’ve got plenty of bias in various areas, but the Colorado snowpack isn’t one of them…

  9. jrbd October 5th, 2006 2:38 pm

    A few well-placed signs would be better than any guidebook description in keeping people on route. Perhaps the sheriff could do this himself if he’s concerned.

    But in the Michelle Vanek case, they started out on the wrong trail, despite the signage, and kept going after they realized it. There’s no way a guidebook can stop people from making bad decisions like this.

  10. Matt Gunn October 5th, 2006 3:58 pm

    Lou or anyone else,
    do you know if there is any precedent of guidebook authors getting sued by people who have had accidents or lost loved ones on routes described in guidebooks?

  11. Lou October 5th, 2006 5:25 pm

    According to an attorney I spoke with a while back, the written word in the United States is incredibly protected against such. An author would have to be deliberately negligent for a lawsuit such as that to have a chance. Has to do with freedom of speech, freedom of press and all that sort of thing. That said, any guidebook author with half a brain includes some disclaimers and such, fixes known errors in a timely fashion, and is also protected by their publisher and publisher’s liability insurance, since the publisher is who is actually printing and selling the book. If you’re self publishing in the U.S. then you’d want to run your business as a corporation to limit personal liability, at least that’s what I’ve been told.

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