A Backcountry Skier Through the Years — Powder Magazine

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 16, 2006      

Powder magazine’s long term devotion to skiing is something that’s always meant a great deal to me, but I have to admit it was a surprise to be included in their “48 Greatest Skiers of Our Time” 35th anniversary issue feature. Sure, some nice accomplishments have come my way as a climber and ski alpinist, and time has blessed me with a long enough run on the planet to have produced a few written words, but frankly I’m not a “great” skier in terms of athletic ability, at least not in comparison to the likes of Powder’s choices such as Glen Plake, Patrick Vallencant, or yes, Wayne Wong. The “most influential” skiers might have been a better title, as I’m comfortable with the fact that I’ve had some influence over the years in North American backcountry skiing. Whatever the case, I thank the Powder editors for the honor and am definitely buying “five copies for my mother…” as the old song goes.

Along those lines, one of my backcountry skiing compadres from yesterday’s outing got a current shot of yours truly, so the family thought it would be fun to juxtapose that with the shot Powder used in their article. I thought that was a bit too much of me on the blog, but I caved. Forewith:

Backcountry skiing.

The shot on the left, used by Powder in their article, was taken in 27 years ago in 1979 during one of three attempts to do a west/east mid-winter ski traverse of Colorado’s Elk Mountains. Location is in the lower reaches of Snowmass Creek, at one of our food caches. Along with the usual goods we’d cached some frozen steaks a few weeks before, along with the fixings for hot buttered rum and some other goodies. We built a big fire, roasted the steaks, and toasted our days in the mountains with a scalding hot toddy.

I was 27 years old, and enjoying an incredible level of motivation for all things mountaineering, as well as an aerobic capacity that still amazes me to think back on. It seemed like I could break trail all day and all night — with a 40 lb pack. Fun to have had that for a time… (and it explains why my knees are worn out).

The gear is amusing. That’s a home-made fleece pullover. Only a couple of companies were making fleece garments at the time, and none fit the way I liked (with long enough arms and a trim cut) so I made my own with the help of a friend. My son asked what the heck those blue things are on my legs. We were so fit that once we started breaking trail, our body heat didn’t allow wearing much more on our legs than a thin pair of long underwear or perhaps a light ski pant. Nothing had a built-in gaiter that worked, so we made “tube gaiters” out of blue breathable nylon that were simple and worked with any type of leg covering. The boots, believe it or not, are a Garmont rental alpine boot that was super light. Combined with a Ramer binding and shorter AT ski, my skiing setup was actually quite light and efficient. And the hat. We’ll, it’s wool and fits, and came out of the lost-and-found somewhere, perhaps the Isis theatre in Aspen. My sense of style was highly developed, so I always made sure the American flag was facing forward, though beard trimming would have to wait.

Shot on the right is the current one of course. Quite natty if you ask me. Wall-to-wall Cloudveil, Rayzar pants and Serendipity jacket, Black Diamond Covert pack with Avalung at the ready. Zeal sunglasses and a Polartec hat. Hey, the legs might be a bit slow but the gear is fast!

In all, I truly have to thank my friends and family for so many years of supporting my passion for alpinism. My eyes moisten when I think of how during both my nearly life-ending accidents you all stepped in and helped me through some hard times. Among many others, I have to thank John Isaacs and Peter Kelley as well as Deborah Bradford for that, along with my mother and her brother Frank’s family. More, during my lengthy and difficult “ski the fourteeners” project the support of my wife and help of friends such as Bob Perlmutter, John Quinn, Glenn Randall, Jon Waterman, Jeff Maus, Ken Ward, Ted Kerasote and many others was quite simply what made it happen. When you don’t know if a peak is skiable, nor even know which route to try or where the trailhead is, things can get discouraging — even downright depressing. The laughter and smiles of a friend go a long way in those situations. Then, when you do nail an amazing descent, sharing it with someone makes it all the sweeter. Those memories are incredible. And back from my days as a climber, I can’t forget the companionship and support of all the climbing partners, especially Michael Kennedy, Harvy Carter, Hank Barlow, Bob Pimentel, Ritch Jack, Larry Bruce, Steve Shea, Don Peterson, Ray Jardine my brother Craig and many others. Thanks guys — I dedicate Powder Magazine’s article all to you, you’re the greatest.

And about the Powder Magazine article: Highly recommended, a fascinating overview of skiing people over the past 30 years.


As promised Andrew, above is the teen years bonus shot. Our family lived in Texas for a while, for kicks I’d play around with live rattlesnakes (and no, not in church). Since Andrew was in the Powder article as well, I now await his before/after pics for a guest blog. Andrew…?



14 Responses to “A Backcountry Skier Through the Years — Powder Magazine”

  1. Ricky November 16th, 2006 8:03 am

    Congradulations Lou!

  2. Lynn November 16th, 2006 9:28 am

    “not a great skier”? I have skied with Lou a bunch and every turn he makes looks the same, regardless of the conditions, he makes it look so easy!

  3. Pierce November 16th, 2006 9:29 am

    Nice work, Lou! I say you grow the beard again.

  4. Dhelihiker November 16th, 2006 1:41 pm

    I think you just proved that the 70’s fashion was in a league all of its own, Ski right into a disco- groovy. Congrats!!

  5. Andrew McLean November 16th, 2006 3:03 pm

    Jeez Lou, between the CO Hall of Fame and this, you’re setting a mean pace! The photos are excellent and it’s cool to see how 27 years of ski mountaineering perserves a svelte physique. I also like how the modern day Lou is kind of looking over towards the earlier Lou with the “Who are you, punk? expression. 🙂 Any incriminating photos in Lycra or from your teen skiing years?

  6. Lou November 16th, 2006 3:59 pm

    Thanks guys, I was uncomfortable posting that, so glad you enjoyed it! Andrew, the lycra shots shall remain on my hard drive, but I’ll publish a teen bonus shot in a moment…

  7. Lou November 16th, 2006 4:13 pm

    For all you guys getting RSS, bonus shot is up.

  8. Mike Marolt November 16th, 2006 6:19 pm


    Nothing to say outside of what i have already said before; its about time.



  9. steve romeo November 16th, 2006 7:57 pm

    I think Mountain Hardwear should think about those gaiters…good concept=;)

  10. Michael Kennedy November 16th, 2006 9:06 pm


    You deserve the kudos – glad to see you getting the recognition.


  11. Lisa Dawson November 17th, 2006 8:24 am

    Congratulations Sweetie! In addition to being a great ski mountaineer, you are a great husband and father. I know there are times when you’d like to chuck the domestic scene for life in a tent, yet you persevere. Your devotion to me and our son is remarkable. Thank you for the wonderful life you’ve given us.

  12. George Privon November 17th, 2006 3:08 pm


    Your wife deserves another diamond ring!

  13. Craig Dawson November 20th, 2006 3:47 pm

    Congrats on the wonderful journey. Hope you can continue on…
    And thanks for letting me be a part of it “back in the day”.
    I still tell stories of following you (and leading) on some fantastic rock climbs and back country trips (climbing Captial in a mid-winter white out, or trekking mid-winter up to Conundrum for a week!!).
    I’ve always kept those dreams of the mountains alive deep inside.
    And I beleive those trips are what tought me a great level of confidence and the feeling that “I can do anyhting I put my mind to”. Thanks for the memories.
    Bro Craig

  14. Chase Harrison November 20th, 2006 7:16 pm

    Hey Lou,
    Gota love that hair.Congrats, you deserve it.
    You da man.

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