Behind the Backstory


In the October Newsletter, Eights and Elevens, “Backstory: Three Sisters Backcountry”, the reader is left with the impression that a conflict exists between Three Sisters Backcountry, Inc. and the US Forest Service (FS). This is not the case. If during Backcountry Magazine’s hut stay we left you with that impression, my poor communication skills are to blame. I would like to set the record straight. Last April, as part of the interview, we discussed the FS’s opposition to an additional hut. They decided not to permit that particular hut, but this does not translate into our relationship being at “odds”. The FS (Sisters Ranger District to be specific) took a bold chance permitting the ski huts in the first place. The FS officers directly responsible for our existence are very experienced backcountry skiers. They stay at our huts, enroll in our avalanche classes, and protect our wilderness via skis. We live in an area with a large population adjacent to a beautiful wilderness. They have the difficult job of keeping the land protected and the public happy. The FS door has always been open to us as we continue to discuss different options for growth. It is a privilege to operate on public lands and we want this hut system to be a model for others. A positive working relationship with our FS is key to this goal. I would like to extend an apology to any FS officials who felt misrepresented by this article.


Jonas Tarlen

Co-owner, Three Sisters Backcountry, Inc.


Biff Backup

Here is my column for your first edition. Sorry about the spelling and punctuation; sometimes I wish I attended college.

I really enjoyed your editorial about bootpackers turning the skin trail into a minefield.

You're a braver man than I for writing about that stuff. I would imagine you have caught some flak from the single-plank community. It's a tough call. We all know that the more people who get out and enjoy the mountains (under their own power) can be a valuable and growing lobby for preserving the backcountry, but I'm afraid that many, bootpackers and snowshoers, just don't understand the concept of sliding on snow.

When the snowpack is sketchy or thin here in Colorado, we love to x-c ski. You know, backcountry kick and gliding on light stuff and waxable skis. There are trails I've been skiing for almost 30 years, which in the past you'd find a beautiful (skier made) track that rivals anything set at a Nordic Center. Now with the popularity of snowshoeing many of the ski trails are getting chopped-up by the shoers. Of course dogs do the same thing, but you can't expect them to know any better.

Then again, the more people who 'get out in it' the better off the planet will be, but it does get frustrating to return from an 'out and back' to see your beautiful double-track turned into the 'trail of tears'.

I don't know the answer to this. Perhaps, just a little awareness on the part of all users. I just hope I'm not the only one who feels this way. Because if I am, I might be a jerk.

At any rate, I'm glad it was your name on the byline and not mine.



Plumb Job

I saw the article “Cultivating the Sixth Sense: tools for winter navigation,” by Chris Clark, in issue#35. It was interesting that you included a review on my book, THE BACKCOUNTRY SKIER’S FIELD BOOK. I was unaware that my book was being included in the article.

It appears that Chris had incomplete information about my book, when he wrote his article. First, the phone number for Hacksaw Publishing, Inc., is 720-746-1543. Second, there is also a website for the book: http://members.aol.com/bsfbsnow

I’m sorry that Chris found the plumbob-inclinometer “useless.” Sixteen western ski patrols, two university snow hydrology courses, eight heliski/snowcat operations and forecasters for the CAIC; haven’t found it “useless.” Chris must just be “plumbob challenged.”


Halsted Morris

President Hacksaw Publishing, Inc.

Apparently Chris was holding the plumb bob upside down. We've demoted him from Technical Editor to Toilet Technician.



Man it's good to be frosted! While it didn't happen here, it happened. Been playing golf–well sort of, as I have a hard time describing what happens on a golf course when I hit. Just went through an old issue of Backcountry and saw a piece written by Peterson which was very good and mentally compared what he wrote last year on big resorts (Go East?). He is really good at human interest stories. Resorts, well, ah better see moon sets. This morning saw the orange moon lighting up the valley fog. Stumbling I got the camera, set the timer for max exposure and clicked two shots off. God-damn thing had the lens cap on! I need a dose of snow. Meet your deadlines then put some energy into snow.

Teleman, Northeast Kingdom, VT


Dear BC - Date Issues

I am a great fan of your magazine, and have subscribed for several years, but I have a minor gripe: You number each issue (presumably starting with issue #1 when the magazine started publication) - I believe #35 is the latest. But nowhere do you show the date, or even the year. If you didn't want to state the month, at least each issue should state on the cover, "Fall 2002", or "Early Winter 2003". Thanks for taking my suggestion

Ed Summersby,

Cambridge, MA

Ed, We hear ya! Notice this year's covers.


Hey Andy, Lighten Up!

We received the latest BC last week. Looks good! The info on skis and boots is great for our market! The one idea I had for an article was to go on about how there shouldn't be an us vs. them in the TELE-AT world. "IT'S ALL GOOD", OR "CAN'T WE ALL

JUST GET ALONG". So, when I read Andy Dampen's (as in rain on the parade) articles I was really surprised that he could write with such a better than thou attitude. We like to call it like we see it here, and these articles got lots of mileage. Quotes like†"Burly Boy is a mastiff trying to keep pace with a greyhound" are not needed to make the point etc... He does better with "I find" or "in my opinion"....In the gear article he talks of shaving ounces by cutting map borders? But no mention of carrying a transceiver. Are they too heavy? Maybe a letter to the editor "Hey Andy, lighten' up"? Guess what....We got snow in the mountains last night!!!! We have a great view from town, and there was white stuff up there! It will be marked†on the calendar, 9/16/03.

Anyway, I had to say something on this.

For now,

Jack Ganster



Light is Right

I just wanted to say thanks for covering backcountry touring equipment in your October issue. Its not as exciting as the big downhill stuff, but a lot of people (like me) are really interested in touring, and just enjoying a day of rolling terrain in the backcountry.

Mark Weggeland

Anchorage, AK


Teeth Don't Fail Me Now

The article on the Teeth (Sawtooths) in the new issue was great. Our first ephemeral dusting came to us on Tuesday. When Mondayís cold valley rain clouds spread apart it had covered The Jug and Nick Peak, all the way down to 6,000 ft. It hung around for three days. Last snow before that on the valley floor, May 7, 2003. 3 months twixt fresh snow of any type or depth ainít wrong at all.


Without Conditions,

Brently Johnson

McCall, ID

Ed: No it ain't.


Southern Crossing


You may or may not remember me. We first met at USTSA nationals in California, 1996, and then a few more times in VT. Paul Smith told me about your venture with the mag. Congrats!!! If you have or have not guessed who this is, it’s Darell Hensley from WV. Anyway just wanted to say hey and congrats. Perhaps we can hook up this winter; I am still on the Educational Staff with PSIA Nordic Downhill and I will be up in your parts several times this winter for various events. Also, would like to talk to you about WV backcountry. We had some killer good adventures last year, unfortunately so much fun that I didn’t stop to take to many pics.

Take care, Peace,


West Virginia

Funny how rednecks tend to run into each other in the darndest places. Good to hear from you. I remember with fondness the thorough Euro ass kicking we both endured.



Briggs Bonus

I am a 55 y/o with semi-shot knees (big surprise) and have been cross-country and tele skiing for about 23 years. I learned on the old leather boots and the Rossignol Randonnée was really radical because it was stiffer than the noodley Europa 99 and had a steel edge. It also delaminated promptly after about 3 trips out.

But the reason I am writing is that I got Backcountry as part of a donation to Backcountry Snowsports Alliance. I thought I would read it and then let my subscription run out. I thought that basically everyone in the small world of backcountry publications had to say nice things about their advertisers products and then talk about each region of the country a little bit and then publish stories of wealthy yuppies skiing overseas, something I can't afford to think about.

But then you published the story about Bill Briggs, which became an inspiration for me. I figured if he could ski with a fused hip, I could figure out some way to ski with shot knees. Also enjoy Biff's page; the article about meeting the German lady and the Christmas so long ago was really hard hitting and made me realize how good I (and all the rest of us) have it. If you continue to include stories like these, I will re-up my subscription.


Tom Ivan

Check out the Don Forest story on page 24. —Ed.


Butting Heads over Habitat

I read with great interest, and no small amount of envy, Eric Leidecker’s story on skiing the Boulder Traverse in the Boulder Mountains of central Idaho (issue #35). The Boulders, a high, rocky, wind-blasted range, are within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, for which I am the backcountry recreation manager (it’s a tough job, but….). While often providing great backcountry skiing for truly adventurous souls, like Eric’s group, the Boulders also provide some of the most important mountain goat winter range in the state.

Most of the good skiing in the Boulders is north of the key goat wintering areas, but the route taken by Eric, Matt, and Ben bisects the most consistently occupied wintering area in the entire range. This area is literally key to the survival of the mountain goat population in the Boulder Mountains.

Since goats rely on energy conservation to survive the winter, too much disturbance may mean they either won’t survive or won’t bear offspring the following spring. Our goal, as land managers, has to be to limit human-caused disturbance as best we can. Historically this core wintering area has seen little skier use but an increase may cause us to ask if the cost to goats is too great. To give wintering goats in the Boulder the best chance at survival, skiers should avoid the area from Easley Peak east to Boulder Peak.

The goat Eric encountered on his trip may have made it through the winter if he was healthy and wasn’t surprised by too many other winter users. But if it had been a pregnant nanny, or a kid or yearling, the results might have been much different. I know Eric to be a conscientious wildlands user, and he asked thoughtful questions as he sought to define the soul of skiing; my hope is that definition always includes respect for the critters who live in the wildly precipitous places we visit.


Ed Cannady

US Forest Service


Dear BC - Smuggs

Any shots of Smuggs adventures coming up, or the states east & west of You? I picked up Telemarking in New York after watching a skier pulling hop turns on the heard path on MT Ester one spring in the Adirondacks. I knew I had to learn how he did that. Now I'm a retired Army MSG turned ski-bum working at a little lift in Weston , Mo.–just to kick back for a while. And the only Tele skier there right now. So I get a lot of questions. Your new issue was a pleasant surprise. Keep up the good work.

Robert Condit,

Lansing, KS


Down Country Blues

I moved out here to blaise Connecticut†from the powdery slopes of Montana to go to school and your magazine keeps me goin' on the days when traffic sucks, its snowing and there is not much close by to ski a line down.


Shenan Rodman

New Haven CT


Luddite Schmuddite

A-dam-ski-tele, what the hell is a merry luddite? I know, but I'll take technology if it fits the arc. Enjoyed the first all Jeff Backcountry, a lot! Telechuck did good with the photos and the writing has improved tons. Still remember Dappen's article on low-balling. He got it wrong, but will probably set him straight sometime. Also always writing that leather boots equals golf courses gets old. There ain't no golf course skiers in the Kingdom Tele Boys group, but would if that was where the snow is. Have you ever seen the third hole at Greensboro? Heh,heh! Arcs and sparks! Telechuck only had one, I say ONE, photo from the East!!!!! Any recommendations for where the KTBs should go on our West trip? Been to Colorado, Montana and Utah. Crank the issues out, then get into the mountains for a breath of fresh air. Keep up the excellent work and wax up the bottoms as the best skiing is in our back yards.


Hardwick, VT


Light Force

I just finished reading your article titled LIGHT FORCE. You guys did a fantastic job!† This is the fastest growing category in the nordic industry and you are the first magazine to properly recognize it. You put together an article that should serve as an excellent tool to help inform consumers what is out there. Thanks for helping us spread the word.

Best regards,

Rick J. Halling

Director, Outdoor Products

Atomc Ski USA


Eastern Slides?


I think the magazine is terrific, and it gets better with every edition—especially in terms of the content, photography, and graphic design.

A couple of days ago, I read your piece on tree skiing in the Jay Peak Winter 2004 complimentary magazine. The part about how the East has so few avalanches caught my eye. I know you are acutely aware of what it can be like out there when the classic avalanche factors converge. The point is, some of the more discreet tree-lined slopes can be just as dangerous as the obvious lines, like the Gulf of Slides in New Hampshire and the Adirondack slides, on certain days.

Respectfully yours,

Chad Hussey

Farmington, CT


Leather Fetish

I was really excited to see your review of leather telemark boots in the October issue. But my joy rapidly evaporated when I tried to find out where to buy a pair of these boots because virtually NO ONE in North America carries them. (I live in Calgary, Alberta.)

Why don't you tell your readers this? Or at least put a list of retailers at the back of the magazine that readers can turn to for further information. I tried to find a retailer for the Alico Tele/tour but was not successful. Unless readers want to import boots from Italy, don't encourage us! Please reply.



To contact Alico Boots in Colorado directly call 970-242-4217 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it —Ed.


Overestimating Orizba

I appreciated the Pico de Orizaba article featured in the December 2003 issue. There are, however, a couple corrections that should be noted. Most resources, including the acknowledged authority on the subject—R.J. Secor's “Mexican Volcanoes”—generally agree that the summit of Orizaba stands at 18,405 feet rather than the 18,800 feet as stated in the article. An extra 400 feet of turns would have been nice but the 2,500 or so available ain’t too bad, either.

Also, 45-degree slopes, even at the crater rim might be a little inflated. Our party measured a couple places and couldn’t come up with anything greater than forty degrees, and that was pushing it. A difference of five degrees may not seem like much but at 18,400 feet every change in degree matters.

Something else to consider is that the author skied at the very end of a very short window. The best chance for good snow conditions without thunderstorms or sheer ice runs from about mid-September to mid-October.

Beyond that, if you’re looking for a good end or beginning to a ski season, Pico de Orizaba is fairly straightforward and well worth the effort.

Steven Hatcher

Guadalajara, Mexico y Blaine County, Idaho


Shoulder What Load

In the article "Shouldering the Load" in the December edition, one of the packs you reviewed is the Wookey Couloir. Since I was interested, I went to their website (thanks for supplying). The specs on their website are different from the article. The article lists the capacity as 1980 cu. in. (M) and 2150 cu. in. (L) and the price @ $168. Their website lists the capacity as 1440 ci. and the price @ $204. Que pasa?

John Dutcher

Eagle, Idaho

We checked back with Wookey and the numbers we printed are the ones to go with for the 2004 packs. –Ed


Powder Poetry

Hearken ye free-heeled warriors of the night,

Gird up thy lions and prepare to take flight.

For Aspen awaits and for the victory ye thirst,

In the morning we’ll know which two will be first.

So gobble thy GU and such strong from the bladder,

Thou must preserve regardless the matter.

And blessed be thy legs, and blessed be thy skins,

Secure thou thy cables and fasten thy pins.

For the raven will guide you over Star pass this morn,

As you blow through the powder and slop through the corn.

But know this ye racers of the great grand traverse.

You are blessed by the spirit and blessed by this verse.

So kick and glide thou with grace and excess,

May the stars guide your way as great glory ye posses.

Rev. Tim Clark

[to all those that skied Crested Butte to Aspen]

The Elk Mountains Grand Traverse

Thanks you for your support.


Hut Hysteria

Your article concerning the ending of hut expansion in Colorado displays a disappointing lack of vision concerning the very sport your magazine is dedicated to. Many of us in Colorado are trying to serve the increasing numbers of users of Colorado’s mountains. If Mr. Best is right, maybe we should all bury our heads in the snow and pretend more people are not going to enjoy the same sport we have grown to love.

The Grand Huts Association has a permit to build a new cabin in the Second Creek basin off Berthoud Pass. We are a group of locals in the Winter Park Area, dedicated to protecting a basin, which receives heavier and heavier use every year. The basin is a scant 60 miles from Denver, and has some of the most accessible powder skiing on the Front Range. Weekends often see 20 to 30 cars in the parking lot.

Use on Berthoud and in other areas will only increase. It would be irresponsible of us to ignore this pattern and leave these fragile basins to somehow deal with impacts ranging from human waste to campfires and miles of “social” trails—one of which in Second Creek has already become a stream and a damaging washout.

Snowmobiles are now coming into Second Creek across a wilderness area. One way to deal with these damaging use patterns is to keep volunteers in a cabin, and have visitors use a developed toilet facility there. Education of visitors can only be done if there are educators on site.

I spend many an evening fielding calls from those who would love to use my own backcountry cabin, the High Lonesome Hut. I turn hundreds away every winter because weekends are full. These users deserve to spend some time away from the frenetic pace of our cities.

I took some time to travel to Switzerland to observe their hut industry. Population pressures there are far beyond what we are currently experiencing, but the Swiss have displayed the vision to deal with the millions who travel the Alps by organizing this use into developed recreation. We must have the same vision, because our population will continue to increase.

Developed recreation is not a bad thing. It is the only way we can protect some of the most visited parts of our mountains. To do anything less is to let our sacred backcountry down. We are working hard to raise the funds necessary to build the Second Creek Cabin. Please visit our website at www.grandhuts.org.


Andrew Miller

Vice President, Grand Huts Association

Fraser, CO

The story was not my opinion, but merely reportage—I be the messenger, not the talking head. The land managers and the hut associations are the ones asking about the wisdom of building more churches for Easter Sunday.

I've seen (and been part of) the wonder and glory of huts, yet I still would suggest this (the general topic of developing the backcountry, and to what extent) is fertile ground for debate in the magazine. Where do you stop in making the backcountry accessible? Ski huts? Snowmobiles? Detachable quads? Paved roads? —Allen Best


Who Is That Guy?

Being a former college xc racer, I'm dying to know who “That Guy” was in your October “View From Here”. It's fun hearing about former skinny ski racers making waves on tele boards. We certainly have a common "uniqueness" that we bring to the sport, as opposed to alpiners.


Jim Pammer

His political aspirations require that he remain nameless. Sorry.—Ed.

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