5 Iconic Books Every Backcountry Skier Must Read

Photo: Courtesy of Bruno Long/POWDER Magazine
Photo: Courtesy of Bruno Long/POWDER Magazine

In this digital age of skiing, few seek knowledge and inspiration from paper pages (except for you, our dear magazine subscribers!). But for those willing to trade their smartphones for tangible reality, these five essential backcountry books offer both. Their pages have fueled ideas, adventure, and education for decades, and they remain as relevant today as when they were published.

1. “Teton Skiing” by Thomas Turiano
When skier and filmmaker Jimmy Chin refers to a book about his home mountain range as a ski mountaineering bible, you know it’s legit. Thomas Turiano weaves history, geology, and ethics with beautifully written stories, maps and illustrations in “Teton Skiing.”

“I’ve spent countless evenings poring over the book, getting scared, getting psyched,” says Chin. “I love reading the history of the first descents. The epic stories of my ski mountaineering heroes have been responsible for many years’ worth of cold, dark alpine starts. Twenty years later, having worked my way through most of the classic lines and quite a few of the obscure ones, the book is dog eared and tattered but still my main reference for skiing in the Tetons.”

Mountain guide Doug Workman says Turiano’s encyclopedic guidebook helped a generation explore the Teton backcountry. “Teton Skiing connected readers with the pioneers that came before,” says Workman. “Tom’s emphasis on ski history in the area made it more than a guidebook, more than a tick list—it welcomed newcomers into the pantheon of the Teton skiing community.”

Turiano, who has skied thousands of miles in Wyoming and Montana to become one of the foremost mountaineering experts in the area, is currently revising his second book (of four) “Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone,” which he considers his best work.

2. “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” by Bruce Tremper
The seminal book of avalanche literature, “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” by retired Utah Avalanche Center director Bruce Tremper, deserves a thorough read by every backcountry skier.

Professional skier Angel Collinson credits much of her backcountry savviness to the book. “Understanding snow science and decision making in the backcountry requires architecting a systematic structure in your brain,” says Collinson. “For me, the book helped put all the puzzle pieces into place so everything made sense, and I had a checklist and dialed system to refer to every time.”

The third edition (2018) is organized following the widely accepted Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard, includes a completely revised chapter on human factors with new sources and offers a brand-new final chapter with step-by-step decision aids and examples.

“I estimate it’s about 40 percent new material from previous editions,” says Tremper. “The chapter on human factors is much different because there has been an explosion of research in other fields. We used to think of human factors as only heuristics and cognitive biases, and we now know that it’s far more.”

The chapter now includes insight from researchers and authors like Phillip Tetlock, Sidney Dekker and Gary Klein. A new final chapter called “Putting it All Together” offers step-by-step decision aids, plus examples of how professionals use a system to keep themselves and others alive.

3. “Chuting Gallery” by Andrew McClean
When ski mountaineer Andrew McClean wrote “The Chuting Gallery” in 1997—inspired by a friend’s claim that the Wasatch Range lacked steep skiing—he intended the guidebook to be an 8.5x 11″ folded and stapled booklet. The project grew, as did the page count, forcing McClean to manufacture the book as a paperback.

“I tried talking to a few publishers, but they said there was no market for a book like this, so I decided to self-publish,” says McClean. “I wrote it from one chute skier to another, mostly because I thought there were only 20 to 50 of them out there. I fully expected to throw away most of them away.”

Instead, coinciding with the rise of backcountry skiing in the late ‘90s, the book took on a life of its own. In 2017, Utah’s Caroline Gleich became the first woman to climb and ski the book’s 90 descents, which she documents in the film “Follow Through.”

“The Chuting Gallery” includes a foreword by Alex Lowe, an explanation of the rating system, a brief avalanche primer, gear suggestions and an index of descents arranged by difficulty. “There’s very little safety fluff or approach info, as I assumed anyone who would read a book like this would already know that,” says McClean. “I added a lot of flippant humor as chute skiing seemed like an esoteric death sport, so why not?”

4. “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America” by Chris Davenport, Art Burrows, and Penn Newhard
A historical atlas and large-format showcase of the continent’s most iconic and aesthetic ski mountaineering descents, “Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America” spans eight states—from Alaska to New Hampshire—and Canada. Written by ski mountaineer Chris Davenport, photographer and writer Art Burrows and Backbone Media founder Penn Newhard, the book draws contributions from 16 contributors and 55 photographers, including Hilaree Nelson, Eric Pehota, and Glen Plake.

Utah ski mountaineer Noah Howell has completed 30 of the 50 lines, and 2020 Powder Poll winner Cody Townsend resurrected popularity of the book with his project, “The Fifty,” an attempt to climb and ski all 50 lines in three years, documented via entertaining YouTube episodes.

“They did a superb job of accumulating lines that are dream lines for nearly every level of backcountry skier,” says Townsend. “Having classics like Mount Shasta which is an attainable challenge for the introductory ski mountaineer to dream lines like University Peak for the most accomplished and expert of ski mountaineers makes for a book that can inspire you for a very long time.”

5. “Wild Snow” by Lou Dawson
The comprehensive historical guide to North American ski and snowboard mountaineering, Lou Dawson’s “Wild Snow” includes beta for 54 classic descents, profiles of ski mountaineering legends like Bill Briggs and Chris Landry, 220 historic and contemporary photographs, 10 maps, and more.

“When I moved to Colorado at age 18 from New Hampshire, I wanted desperately to dive into the bigger mountains and all they had to offer a young, hungry skier,” says ski mountaineer Chris Davenport. “But I also knew that I needed education, and perspective. ‘Wild Snow’ offered me both. I devoured the history of the sport and spent many nights awake imagining skiing Denali or Mt. Rainier.”

In 1991, Dawson became the first person to ski Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot peaks. Dawson spent three years researching “Wild Snow,” which he published in 1997. The following year, he launched WildSnow.com, the world’s first ski-touring dedicated website.

This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.

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