Letters – September 2010

Grandpa JT

John, Just wanted to give a shout out to you about your story on JT. (Smoke Signals, “Up in Smoke” (MG #167) He was the closest thing I had to a Grandpa in my life. The things I learned from this old soul will never be forgot and passed on to all who need a little JT logic in there life. Your story brought me back to the times I have spent with JT with a tear in my eyes and thank you for that! I can’t help to have a bit of giggle in me about all the Medical Marijuana in Colorado and the conversa- tions JT would be having on the subject over some tequila and a joint.

Thanks again,

Matthew Wade

That was me!

Hey M. John: Loved the Rio Grand Article in the May 2010 issue (Rio Grande,” by Ben Woodbeck, MG #167). I was that 12-yearold with 190s. They weren’t Rossignols, though, they where hot-pink Volkls that my German Grandpa told me were what I needed to go fast. I found them at an end of season sale at a Midwest ski resort, close to Chicago, where I grew up. They matched my neon head band perfectly!

I grew up taking two trips a year to the mountains with the family, spring breaks in Summit County were always a hit. I remember rafting, while still in my neon phase, with Keystone Rafting when they still existed and being in awe of the guiing lifestyle. Years later, I was wooed to Colorado, not by a woman, although that would have probably done it as well, but to play. I told my parents the 1,000-mile distance between nest and my future was for school and life in Fort Collins. They bought it, I think. They let me go anyway.

I remember the call home the day after finals freshmen year where I hesitantly told my family that I would not be returning to the moisture-laden air of Chicagoland for the summer. I had gotten a job raft guiding with Breck Whitewater. I hung up the phone on my awe-shocked mother and headed to the mountains, no looking back! I graduated and tried the real world scene, but now, at 26, I have been wooed again away from the straight and narrow, not for a NOLS course, but for two consecutive NOLS internships. I no longer guide on the river, but I call it home, I climb at sinks after work and the respon- sibility level has gone down to an accept- able level of nil. I house sit and eat free food, have no problem raiding the Safeway dumpster on Sunday nights, and it was all because I was wooed by the West and the life she promised to deliver. Although actual women have come and gone, the true love of my life stands strong, arms wide open, always willing to give me another chance when I stray. Thanks for the smiles, Mr. Woodbeck — I enjoyed reading about your journey!

Paul Ronto,

NOLS intern!

11 cool things I’ve done

Dear John, Re: (Smoke Signals, “Listing Who We Are,” MG #166. One’s life expe- riences are unique. And though I don’t think we should entirely link our identities to those experiences, they do help us understand who we are and shape who we become. These experiences do not sum up my life, but without them, I would not be who I am. My life, in many ways, resembles a Spaghetti Western film. Here’s how…

I emerged in the late 1960s, and was co-produced by an Italian.

After completing art school, I moved to the American Southwest (go West, young lady, go West!) and, typical of the genre, became immersed in a culture of minimal funds, gunslingers, outlaws, artistic camera angles and raw, explosive action scenes.

A low-budget, highly fluid, minimalist, creative lifestyle was the result. Audiences loved it, and I have come to be held in high regard.

For me, this list of “11 Cool Things I’ve Done” (note: My list goes to 11 … one MORE than 10), has merely set the stage for Phase 2 of life’s adventures: “A Frillion Cool Things I Have Yet To Do.”

1) I have lived, for a short time, in a yurt.

2) I have eaten whale meat with an Eskimo.

3) One Halloween, a friend and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with a sword, a hair-straightener and the rest of our costumes’ components in our back- packs. As Gomez and Morticia Adams, we handed out Halloween candy to the happy campers at Phantom Ranch. I’ve also rafted through the canyon on another occasion.

4) I have milked goats and made cheese.

5) I have held my friend’s hand while she gave birth to her first child.

6) My husband and I eloped. And to make it official, we put the inked paw- prints of our dogs, Nanook and Guinness, on the witness line of our marriage license.

7) I have worked on a dude ranch.

8) I haven’t owned a television in 20 years.

9) As a volunteer on my 40th birthday, I was stationed at a checkpoint on the remote coast of Norton Sound in Unalakleet, Alaska, during the Iditarod to help care for the sled dogs participating in the race.

10) I have helped build an Earthship and a sweat lodge.

11) I have judiciously planted cannabis seeds in a certain mountain town’s flow- erbeds that were watered and maintained by town employees.

Thank You

Amy Fortunato

Cool things I have done

Greetings: I just recently “found the time” to come up with the 10 (sorta cool) things I’ve done list. I felt like putting the thoughts, the list, the old-dredged-up memories (not “to paper”) to the hard drive.

(a) Being an integral part of each of my kids’ weddings. NOBODY ELSE CAN DO THAT (especially the first wedding for each). “Giving my daughter away” — that’s a unique job/task/experience. Also, both kids, son & daughter, asked that I don a yarmulke and preside over the Jewish wedding-tradition sharing-&-breaking- the-wine-glass thing.

(b) Free-Associating with Famous Free-Associaters:

(b1) After my “band” (for lack of a more-descriptive word — semi-coalesced- but-still-random-cacophony collective?) opened for him, later I was locked-out and trapped on the roof of Tulagi’s with John Fahey. I am somewhat above-average for the tendency and ability to just free-asso- ciate whilst talking, and Mr. Fahey and I talked about nothing and everything for several minutes until the Tulagi’s management let us back in, as John was, somehow, late for his second set.

(b2) I was wandering the seeming labyrinthine hallways of the Colo. State U. student-center trying to find where Gary Snyder was to be part of a panel discussion. I encountered another lonely wanderer, looking for the same venue. Gary and I free-associated like there was no tomorrow for many minutes until we found the correct room.

(c) Jekyll/Hyde Lothario (PG-rated version). My first two sexual experiences involving actual copulation were… one ex-treme versus the other. I carried my sleeping bag and convinced the object of my affections for a “sleepover” on a hillside outside of Boulder. When it came time for the, um, seminal event, well… it didn’t last very long. I didn’t know any better (having never read The Playboy Advisor, among other things). I asked if she “was satisfied,” and, she laughed. A few nights later, our paths crossed again. A horrible housemate of hers had given her perhaps half-a-dozen LSD-laced cookies. I decided that I’d baby sit her ‘til any danger had passed. We came back to my house, and, well, let’s just say we rocked the house from sunset to sunrise. My housemates were very, very, impressed, but I think she probably didn’t remember much, if anything, about it.

(d) One-million-millimeter midnight nude under-the-full-moon bicycle race at 10,000 feet elevation. I am fairly sure that I hold the whirled-(w)record for rid-ing a bicycle a million millimeters without clothing (*) under the July full moon at 10,000-ft. elevation. * neckties, shoes, socks, eyeglasses were allowed.

(e) Da hitches? Available upon request — and I am definitely not alone for having hitchhiked long distances several times and lived to tell about it. It’s just that I believe I have written a short story, which does an above-average job of summarizing these adventures and conveys the carefree optimistic non-paranoid atmosphere of the times.

(f) Nashunull anthemem. Like many (most?) mediocre musicians, it is really neat to have a captive audience, which HAS TO LISTEN and (generally) HAS TO APPLAUD when you play a song. I played the national anthem on the harmonica at the start of the State High School Track & Field Meet to perhaps 1,500 people.

(g) I hung-out at and spent time at many places before they “were cool” … Evergreen, Aspen, Crested-Butte/ Gunnison, Steamboat, Moab, Frisco/ Dillon (pre-reservoir!). Although I presently reside near Whitewater (and Grand Junction), I would be willing to bet money that “coolness” will not afflict those places in my lifetime.

(h) I usually run/ride/hike in places NOT in any guidebooks. I have to. When, basically, you’re vying to be the lead dog when going out with your 4 (sometimes more) canines, it’s a good idea to do the outdoor-experience thing where there are few, if any, other people. Heaven forbid that any of my “usual suspect” special places is listed in the local hiking/mountain- biking/running trail guide-books, well, I’ll look for another spot a bit farther away.

(i) And now, 60+ yr-old hockey goalie. There probably are older (and, definitely, better!) goalies, but in my local arena, I am 96% sure that I am the only 60+-yr.- old who tries to play in front of the net. Definitely livens up my dull week. “It was either that hobby or shuffleboard.”

(j) When facing total financial doom and uncertain health issues, took all of the family on a 2-week vacation to Troncones, Guerrero, Mexico. As of mid-January, 2009, we had lived the whole year thus far there.

Rosco Betunada
Western Colorado

24 Cool Things I’ve Done


1) Hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim (took off my pack arriving at Phantom Ranch, walked into the Cantina and sat down next to friends from hometown who had boated in.)

2) Decided at age 50-ish to “re-do” my math education… just for fun. Two years in… still working on it. Started with frac- tions… taking trig this summer.

3) Married an Eagle Scout.

4) Earned “A” rating in Pony Club.

5) Took a 4 year-old backpacking, carrying her own pack, bushwhacking straight up for 7 miles.

6) Illegally bivouacked midway into canyon of the Maze District of Canyonlands. (Ran out of daylight… couldn’t reach permitted camp in time. Whispered Happy Birthday to a 7-year-old… so rangers wouldn’t catch us.)

7) Caught my 1- and 3-year-olds as they were dropped off a boat, and swam them through the surf into a private beach in Mexico.

8) Decided to stop drinking alcohol for 1 year… 20+ years later I haven’t had a good enough reason to break the run.

9) Lost 50 pounds… in one consecutive dieting effort.

10) Finally got a college degree… using 30-year-old, transferred credits plus local Community College classes.

11) Jumped into rapids from a raft that was wrapped around a rock… with my kids.

12) Gone camping with 80+ elementary (and later middle school) kids… multiple times.

13) Slept on the floor of the Denver Museum of Natural History overnight… 3 times, with the above mentioned 80+ school kids.

14) Designed and drew architecturals and built my own log home (with husband, but I did the drawings).

15) Listened to my son give Valedictorian speech at high school. Graduation (hasn’t happened yet, but is impeding and I know it’s gonna be cool).

16) Walked across the Colorado River (near Moab), naked, carrying my mountain bike over my head. (Took a lot longer than any of us thought it would.)

17) Climbed Mt. Elbert (tallest in U.S. Rocky Mountains). Remember those 80+ students? About 30 of them also made the top that day.

18) Took too much LSD… once.

19) Hosted foreign exchange students… 3 years in a row. (This is cool when you live in a small mountain town.)

20) Got to see John Fayhee speak on a media panel.

21) Breast fed baby while working on a computer at the Aspen Times.

22) Saw a bald eagle swoop down and catch a fish out of the Colorado River.

23) Saw a wolf from a car near Durango.

24) Had a dog that would stand on an innertube and ride it down river.

Marianne Ackerman

20 cool things I have done

John: I really enjoyed reading this article. It got me thinking… so, I started compiling my own list. It was a lot of fun, so I thought I would submit it — as recommended.

1) Endured tough, grinding work in a family bulb-packaging factory in Holland with 50 chain smokers.

2) Connected with lost ancestors in Italy to find the best hugs on the planet… and awesome homemade pasta, of course.

3) Married in a castle on top of my home- town ski area to an illegal immigrant.

4) Started a community garden on a previously derelict site in downtown Steamboat Springs.

5) Followed childhood dream to relocate to Colorado Rockies … and never left.

6) Biked the Kokopelli Trail, a five-day trip, for my first mountain bike ride ever.

7) Skied to fish.

8) Saw the Rolling Stones in Vegas and snuck into the 8th row from Mick Jagger when I was fourteen.

9) Slept in a snow cave.

10) Went spelunking in non-commercial caves in Virginia with a federation of old men.

11) Absolutely abused my work “powder clause” during Steamboat’s snowiest year on record.

12) Played in a 24-hour Ultimate Frisbee tournament after all night drum ‘n bass rave … without drugs.

13) Learned to double dutch at the age of 27

14) Worked in a winter homeless shelter in England with heroin addicts and alcoholics and am still alive

15) Resided in a 2-bedroom, 800sf condo with my husband and high school sweetheart … for five years

16) Swam with bioluminescent organisms at night in the Potomac River, which glow blue/green when disturbed.

17) Skinned to the top of the ski area for sunrise with my dog, Shire. Made it to work by 8 a.m.

18) Rafted Cross Mountain Canyon, with serious Class IV whitewater rapids, for my second rafting experience. My first raft trip was down the Colorado River to State Bridge with a keg on our boat.

19) Completed my first lead climb in Red Rocks, NV, with my future husband as my belayer.

20) Drank a full pint of Swamp Donkey cider with “unknown” alcohol content in a small pub in England; I don’t remember what happened after that.


Caitlyn (Patrick) McKenzie

11 cool things I have done

John: A couple of months ago you wrote an article about creating a list of one’s accomplishments in life. Not just a resume, but a view of the unique things we’ve done and/or experienced. I have had a great time writing my list. It’s not something that can be written in one sit- ting. It required a lot of reminiscing and contemplation. I chose to stay away from listing peaks I’ve climbed or specific locations I’ve visited. I aimed to create a list that will lend itself to starting conversations with my friends when they read it. After completing my list, I felt much better about myself. I ended up with 26 items, but my top 11 are as follows:

1. Peed shoulder to shoulder with a United States Senator

2. Hugged wolves

3. Cursed the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square

4. Was accidentally fondled by an old woman at a funeral

5. Broke my toe doing laundry

6. Participated in an initiation ritual with Miss New Mexico

7. Ran the Boston Marathon

8. Wore a bee beard with 20,000 Africanized bees

9. Carried 70 pound dog down mountain after he hurt his paws

10. Was granted a private audience with the Bangladeshi Speaker of the House

11. Was locked in Charles Manson’s first cell.

Thanks for kick-starting this exercise.

Dennis Barrett

21 cool things I have done

Hello John: We crossed paths from time to time while you were in Frisco but never met. My wife and I taught the telemark turn to many folks in the Over the Hill Gang at Copper. Since I’ve been urged to write my memoirs, putting this list together for you was pretty easy. Here it is as a mash up.

1) Watched huge icebergs outside Illulissat, Greenland.

2) May have been first in Boulder to simultaneously wear a necktie and ride a bike to work.

3) Worked trail crew for the Forest Service in the Indian Peaks.

4) Made first tracks on a powder day right thru a band of unseen ptarmigan, which flew up all around me.

5) Made up strange stories for the kids at the dinner table.

6) Likely made second ascent of Craig’s Crack on Longs Peak.

7) Spent Army at Camp Hale as instructor in Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command, 1955-57. Taught skiing, climbing and survival.

8) Biked across Bhutan.

9) Drank the great Burgundies in the ’60s, when wines were cheap.

10) Wrote about skiing for Colorado Magazine.

11) Rafted the Hula Hula River thru ANWR from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean.

12) Offered our bored kids $50 prize for the first one to the top of Pikes Peak. Oldest son Doug organized the trip and all five made it to the top by bus and cog railway.

13) Skied Tasman Glacier in NZ.

14) Couldn’t believe forty-year-old ski shop owner could whip my twenty-four year-old self at tennis.

15) Re-read “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” late in life.

16) Attempted first winter crossing of Boulder Grand Pass, turned back by whiteout blizzard.

17) Easter Island’s huge moai pose more questions than answers. Go.

18) Crossed many, many glacial rivers backpacking 65 pounds across Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic.

19) First on the scene of a fatal plane crash on Green Mountain.

20) Lots of summer dinners on the deck talking and watching day softly become night.

21) Read Skiers’ Gazette and then Mountain Gazette that many years ago. Thanks for bringing it back.

Mark P. Addison

Boulder, CO

22 cool things that I have done, and then some

Hey John: Here’s my list — hope it’s entertaining.

1) Rode a $100 bicycle across America.

2) Ate a 32-ounce jar of mayonnaise.

3) Got a tattoo reading “A tattoo” on my ass.

4) Stood on top of Devil’s Tower.

5) Literally had the shit kicked out of me.

6) Quit a pack-a-day smoking habit by training for a marathon.

7) Read “Crime and Punishment” entirely while sitting on the toilet. Took 11 months.

8) Drank a “Smoker’s Cough,” a shot glass full of Jagermeister and mayonnaise.

9) Quit drinking.

10) Answered a pay phone.

11) Had my jaw wired shut.

12) Ate the entire Double Rhino Burger and fries at the Wooden Nickel in Sublimity, Oregon.

13) Spent a week in jail.

14) Hallucinated because of lack of sleep. More than once.

15) Ran 20 miles down Colfax Avenue in Denver.

16) Saw a Gila monster in the wild.

17) Fell asleep while pedaling a bicycle.

18) Urinated for 1 minute, 56 seconds straight.

19) Broken 3 bicycle frames (2 steel, one aluminum) while riding them.

20) Stopped on Interstate 10 and paid $1 to see The Thing in the Desert, twice.

21) Caught air while driving a car.

22) Was hit by an errant cow chip during a cow-chip-throwing contest.

What was fun about this is, when I started mentioning it to my friends, and they began to come up with their own lists. I started thinking the best thing to do would be to compile the best of all the lists of the people you know. A few:

1) Shot a shark.

2) Tuned an air guitar for an air guitar regional championship event.

3) Choked a dog while political canvassing.

4) Survived a hammer fight.

5) Saved a woman’s life with the Heimlich maneuver.

6) First experienced fellatio in a strip club with a dirt floor in Gulf Port, Illinois, in front of all the patrons in the club, on his 16th birthday.

Hope you’re well,

Brendan Leonard,

Denver, CO

Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.

Hats Off to Good Times Ahead

I said goodbye to an old, inseparable friend and skiing partner this last winter, after what had begun twenty years ago in Stowe, Vermont, where we were first introduced, and ended in Winter Park, Colorado. It was another one of those tiny tragedies and small realizations I now endure, as I suspect most of us do, that we’re growing older. They arrive, from nowhere, and land like an unexpected letter — and with it the loss, by slow degrees, of invincibility, recklessness and all those things that I now regard and associate with youth and stupidity.

There is a story I’m reminded of from time to time concerning a baseball player who had already spent several years in the big leagues and who asked his father, a retired major league veteran, how he knew when he was beginning to lose a step. His father replied, “If you’re asking, it’s already too late.” My own moments have been more subtle and innocent, but no less disarming, the latest of which I place full blame on my six-year-old daughter.

My friend, as it was, was a ski hat, and not a particularly attractive one, given to me by the owner of a bed-and-breakfast inn I worked for during my ski-bum years. It was oversized and warm and slid down past my ears like something from Calvin and Hobbes. Two other employees received identical hats: Sara, the morning and evening waitress, who, like me, graduated from school and was also “taking some time off”; and Tony, a bearded and burly Vermonter from Barre, who plowed the parking lot and fixed whatever needed fixing or whatever he figured needed fixing. Together we formed the inn’s Ski Bum Race Team, racing every Tuesday afternoon, sporting our hats, against similar teams comprised of dubious and not-so dubious characters of varying ability from Stowe’s local bars, restaurants and ski shops. The winning team was awarded, for the week, the race’s silver cup — a bottomless, gaping piece of hardware mounted on marble that was a ticket to any bar in town to be filled with free booze until the next race, or until either you were committed. We won twice in a row and more.

Chip, a recently divorced salesman who rented a trailer out back, was a last-minute addition to our squad. He wasn’t given a hat because the inn owner didn’t altogether care for him. When we returned from our evenings, and after we bid good night, he would often later stumble out of his trailer and noisily pilfer firewood outside our dorm-style rooms and weave his way back, like a ship taking on heavy water, dropping the odd piece en route like a popcorn trail to be discovered in the morning. Sue, the owner, minded, but never said anything. We didn’t care.

My hat survived those and similar beer-soaked and smoke-filtered outings, then and in future years. It accompanied me on fresh powder days, lost escapades and ill-advised, out-of-bounds adventures, while everyone else was stuck behind a desk somewhere. It raced with me against Stowe resident and Olympian Tiger Shaw (it was over before it began), and it traveled faithfully in my boot bag when all other equipment was upgraded, lost or destroyed. I eventually returned home to Rhode Island and found a “real job,” and, for 14 years, we commuted behind school buses on brittle winter mornings, blew into bars on unforgiving evenings, made weekend-warrior trips up north. And, like the character Henry Hill in the end of the movie, “Goodfellas,” my wife and I decided it was time for a change, time for a move, and we landed in Golden, where she had been offered a job, and I left my post back East as an editor and writer for the local paper. Out of work, the kids in school and winter on its way, I did what any sensible person would do in my circumstances — I bought season ski passes. And new skis and boots.

“Oh, happy day, hat! Rejoice! We are back!” I told myself (and my hat).

The lifts deposited us atop mountains with the giddiness of the oxygen-deprived. It was as if everything had come full circle and lay beneath us for the taking. So what if my breath was shorter, my body ached more than memory served me? So what if the herniated disks in my lower back acted up once in awhile? So what?

I also purchased my daughter’s first helmet, which we had normally rented along with her equipment in previous years. Lily, as with most children her age, has a tireless, insatiable curiosity coupled with endless questions about the nature of things and the ways of the world, and when they overwhelm me and exasperation mounts, which is inevitable, I can sometimes deploy a stop-gap answer that makes inexplicable sense in her little mind. Questions, for example, like — “How do blind people drive, Daddy?”

(“They don’t, honey. The deaf people drive them.”)

But there was always one question I had difficulty deflecting, and it presented itself every year soon after the lifts began running — Why doesn’t Daddy wear a helmet? That was always a tough one, probably because I never had a good answer and because there really isn’t a good answer. Why not, indeed?

When Lily was younger, the question never posed a true threat to my hat because she generally accepted my evasive responses unequivocally, but now, at six years old, she turned an increasingly critical — and skeptical — eye toward what is said and explained to her. Still, how do you explain to a child how something so simple and regular as a ski hat contains as much warmth and comfort of past experiences as it does against the snowy elements? Or that it is a reminder, growing dimmer each passing season, of some younger version of yourself? You can’t. At least I can’t.

It was late last January at Winter Park, a rare day of fresh and much-needed snow in which skiers and boarders came off the slopes into the lift line corrals exchanging sun-bleached smiles and chit-chat like a gaggle of geese. Lily had snapped her skis on and I was fumbling with her helmet, putting it on over her ponytail amidst her small-voiced protests, when she said —

“Why do I have to wear one of these and you don’t?”

And, like that, it was over. The coup de grâce mercilessly and unceremoniously fired. The well of answers (or excuses?) I had dipped into so often was now dry. I knelt down to her as I unfastened her chin clip.

“You know what?” I said, my face peering into hers.


We stepped into our skis again after a quick trip to the base-area ski shop and rode up the lift together, as we were to do many more times last winter. It was a special year on the slopes for both of us: Lily experienced her “Aha!” moment, when everything clicked and came together, and I was there to see it unfold. I watched her gain confidence and skirt the edges of trails amongst the trees. I watched her traverse and negotiate steep pitches. I watched, freighted with worry, as she took tremendous falls, becoming a confusion of body parts and ski equipment in a tumbleweed of snow — then get back up. I watched as she bobbed up and down, in and out of sight like a boat in high seas, through mogul fields. And there’s more to come this year and next. And next after that.

Not a bad way to christen a new helmet and welcome a new friend.

Rob Merwin is a graduate of the St. Lawrence University Writing Program and left his position as a page designer/writer/editor of his hometown paper last year to move to Colorado with his family. When he’s not playing Mr. Mom, he can be found getting happily lost among last year’s skiing photos on his laptop.

Not Just A Ski: A Tribute to Shane McConkey and his K2 Pontoons

Mom used to say, “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have.” The philosophy stemmed from her childhood as one of eight, and was made legendary by my uncles, who dominated an inner-city hockey league wearing a pair of grandma’s old figure skates — toe picks and all!

So it was for me growing up, skiing New Hampshire’s White Mountains in archaic, orthopedic gray boots and wax-less, second-hand rentals. Though I must have been a pitiful sight, gear never equated for much in my adolescent love for skiing.

Only when moving to Jackson Hole did equipment become a matter of research, debate and utter importance. The resort transforms into a ski showcase on snow days. With the howitzer blasts echoing off the Tetons like an epic heartbeat, Jackson’s devoted scuttle around the base with long, fat powder skis in tow.

A deep sense of inadequacy festered within me during my first delayed opening, powder mornings. Tottering around my dainty 167 K2 relics produced the same self-loathing as a freshman hitting the showers with the varsity squad. I kept my eyes downcast, and my loins guarded.

See, a ski is not just a ski in Jackson. It is a portal to your innermost intentions with the sport; a sort of standard that defines you as either a “gaper” or a “powderhound.” Much is assumed from the centimeters of a ski. Someone with two fat powder skis slung over a shoulder projects a serious mystique, even before clipping in. Throw an Avalung across their chest, and a shovel on their back, and you’ve got a hard-charging Jacksonite.

The mentality reeks of local machismo bullshit, but it’s nearly impossible not to subscribe to in time.

Retiring my outdated Eastern skis, I purchased Shane McConkey’s signature powder skis, The K2 Pontoons. Few have influenced skiing more profoundly than Shane McConkey. At a time when many face-shot-seeking skiers scoffed at the idea of fat skis, McConkey was floating on Alaskan spines on a pair of water skis. The Pontoons were the catalyst to today’s ski technology. Their head-turning girth, and extreme rockered tip, smacks of McConkey’s style. With a tapered, tear-drop design, the Pontoon’s rear tips sink, and enable their 160cm shovel to conquer any depth of snow. More importantly, The Pontoons became an indelible footprint of skiing’s beloved fallen son.

I just hoped I could do them justice.

As fate would have it, Jackson entered into one of the worst snow draughts just after the acquisition. For weeks, the two powder planks stood before my bed, taunting me. It took every shred of patience I could muster not to rip groomers on them. It’s gotta be right, I pleaded with myself.

In the meantime, the skis became props in the more-intimate moments of my life. Once, while romancing one of Jackson’s fairer sex, I pulled the McConkey fatties into the sultry mix. Clenching them like Poseidon does his trident, I channeled the spirit of “Saucer Boy,” and achieved a ménage a trois only possible in a ski town.

The day finally came in mid-January. “Twenty-four inches overnight, and still dumping,” the morning report read. I sped to the Village in an over-caffeinated trance, constantly shooting glances at the Pontoons sprawled across the trunk as I imagine a father does driving his newborn home for the first time.

The hours of delayed opening crawled by painfully. Consumed by the stoke of a powder day, I fidgeted through the morning like an addict through detox. Finally, amid a hail of snowballs, and punctuated by a ferocious roar of cheers, the gondola began to spin. I shoved my fatties into separate slots at the gondola door, grabbed a window seat and waited with Christmas-morning anticipation.

A lot of skiers talk about floating. Yet no matter how much you hear about it, no matter how many ski movies you watch, nothing can provide even the slightest inkling of the sensation. It is like trying to describe purple to a blind person.

Descending from the gondola, I veered skier’s left into a deep trough where the snow lay untouched. Those first weightless turns instantaneously reconfigured my life’s priorities. It was like the moment when the Wizard of Oz turns to color. The sensation was so enthralling, so utterly enjoyable, that it beckoned a sense of guilt. I knew at that moment that I would give up anything for this. Nothing before (or thereafter) delivered the equivalent ecstasy of floating on snow.

The Pontoons led me into the trees where virgin powder awaited. In the quiet seclusion of Moran Forest, turns were effortless and sublime. Not wanting to eat up the powder too quickly, I forced myself to stop mid-run. Big falling flakes intensified the scene’s silence, and I passed into a fantasy world where I expected a fawn to creep out from behind the line of conifers. Allowing my imagination to further ferment, I decided that the day deserved an apparition more epic than a fawn. Perhaps a majestic centaur trotting out with a gorgeous nude blond riding him bareback would be more appropriate. Yes, far more appropriate.

Stumbling back to my car at the end of the day, absolutely delirious, I cradled the Pontoons lovingly. For a person not easily seduced by materialism, it is striking to admit that the Pontoons changed my life. Over the season, they turned the dials of my perspective, and refined the scope of my daily objectives in the mountains. Though the experience can likely be had on a myriad of powder skis, the Pontoons were my vehicle to enlightenment, and thus ascended as the skiing’s preeminent tool in my mind.

Today, the Pontoons stand in my bedroom waiting for the snow to fall again. I often gaze at them, appreciating them on the same level as I do fine art. They remind me that, just as a writer lives on his words, and a painter in his portraits, McConkey lives on in these skis. I vow to summon that truth, and pay rightful tribute to him each time I clip in.

Robert Cocuzzo is a freelance adventure writer who has traveled extensively in South America and Europe. Formerly a charter fishing captain on Nantucket Island, Cocuzzo hung up his rubber boots for a pair of skis and currently lives in Jackson, WY.


Like many people my age, I own lots of old equipment, and some new. Perhaps I might have more new gear if I had consumed less beer and bought fewer bottles of single-malt Scotch.

New pack, new parka, in time, in time … in time the moon bounces and rolls along the avenue at Callanais, north in the Orkneys, built 500 years before the Pyramids of Giza. The backpacks I’ve retired never seem to just melt away and disappear. When I die, I suppose I will have one each, of every size backpack ever made. Perhaps I will build a replica of Callanais with old backpacks. That’s the problem with buying good gear, it tends to get replaced with better ideas. That, and we tend to grow larger with passing years. I replace the worn gear, and the megalith of packs grows larger.

I still look at the new designs, wondering if the idea lives up to the advertising, by which I mean that I tend to approach life as a citizen, and not as a consumer. After all, 2008 showed us that the unrestrained market did not self-correct, which leads to a comparison between consumers and a cancerous growth, which also does not self-correct. Why keep looking?

We all see the catalogues, the websites and the constant chant of buy, buy, buy. I never really understood why we had so much interest in catalogues and websites until I came across a description of a shamanic ritual described by Mircea Eliade. At the beginning of the ritual, the shaman would list the equipment he planned to use. This sounded a little familiar. Who hasn’t been around a campfire when someone pulled out a bottle of whiskey and began describing where it came from and how it came into his possession, and, of course, how good it tastes? Imagine this happening for everything in use. The drum is not an inanimate object, but formed out of living beings. The wooden frame was formed out of birch trees, and these birch trees lived on the bank of a stream, and enjoyed the sun that always shines there. The drumhead was formed from a goatskin, and the goat’s life earned a full description. The same goes for the person who put the drum together; he or she gets a description of his or her life. At some point, something began to form in my addled skull, something that said this might as well show up as an entry in a catalogue, as the pattern of description matches those used in catalogues.

This still leaves us with a buy, buy, buy chant. Until we find Julian Jaynes’ description of consciousness. Although his description is complicated, it mostly relates to observing the rules outside your mind, and then using them to form ideas inside your mind. Using his description, we find that looking at catalogues for equipment we have used and understand becomes an exercising of our consciousness. With this background as a start point, the discovery of Oetzi the iceman gained an entire other set of meanings.

Someone killed Oetzi. Why he was killed produces academic argument; it promises to produce more. It doesn’t really matter for me. As he was dying, he leaned his unfinished bow against a rock, in a small depression, where it remained, undisturbed, for 5,300 years. Now there’s an argument for “where’s it going to go.” Oetzi’s backpack, or some wood that might be his backpack, interests me a lot, mostly because I have an older Osprey that matches the design, although the materials are different. Oetzi’s pack was built out of two blocks of what look like 1×6 ash boards, and a hazel arched hoop. If you were to take the arched hoop and tie it to the ash boards, you have the same pack frame used by Osprey. My Osprey uses a padded hip belt with an arched fiberglass hoop, which for the purpose of this essay is the same as Oetzi’s supposed pack.  This means I am concerned with the development of the design within their heads, and not the actual material evidence.

The boots found with him are close to my mukluks’ design. Cut a piece of bearskin a bit larger than your foot, place it fur side up, and sew other pieces of bearskin, fur side in, around your foot. Fill the boot with soft grasses, and then put your feet into net socks, and stick them into the boots. Tie the boots closed by stepping on a leather strap and pulling up the ends, threading the ends into the tops of the net socks, and then wrapping the ends around your legs and tying the ends together. My Steger mukluks are a leather foot, with a closed canvas top. Fill the modern mukluk with felt boot liners and extra-thick socks. Add traction with a painted-on rubber sole. The difference between the two occurs mostly in the materials available. Across 5,300 years and thousands of miles of distance, we still think the same way about some of the same problems in our lives.

Conventional knowledge tells us that Oetzi lacked development and was just a savage living in the mountains. Julian Jaynes observed just the opposite, stating that the areas of agricultural development and civilization produced a human brain that up to 2,000 years ago lacked a mid-brain. William Calvin, a neurobiologist with a pen, agreed with the observation of the behaviors, but disagreed with the physical development part. We solve this problem if the agricultural people attain consciousness somewhat recently, as Jaynes suggests, allowing a longer time-line for the northern people. Our ancestors tended to live in small groups in the midst of overwhelming landscapes. Imagine a pathfinder standing on a pass in a massive landscape, surrounded by chaos of everything, wondering, “How do I keep my people alive?” The answers they developed include a use of animals to interact with that which is all around, and a development of clever ideas to thrive in difficult weather. As hard as it seems today, we valued intelligence for its own sake. We watch the trees drop leaves or needles, knowing that they see us as short lived, and show little understanding of any life form but the cancerous cell. A ponderosa forest, with a 1,000-year life and a memory to match, watches as the teeming masses run by, screaming their battle cry of “just do it.” Pathfinders travel the wilderness of the mountains and their minds, observing and evaluating the equipment they wear or carry. When they can’t find a multi-national corporation that sells what they need, they sew it themselves, carrying on a tradition that we know goes back to at least to Oetzi, as he leans his bow against a rock, before he lays himself down to die. When he did not return, we also know the ritual the next pathfinder presided over. We retain the vestiges, and Eliade described the reasons behind the ritual. Our ancestors observed that death involved a loss of focus or concentration. A toast to the dead, therefore, pledges a search for the less-focused parts of the deceased, and then the escort of those parts in their final journey. Today, good whiskey replaces the more traditional amanita muscaria, probably to reduce the projectile vomiting.

We carry forward markers of our culture. We travel into the wilderness and stand in the center of something we do not control or influence. As we stand there, surrounded by all, all of our decisions influence the level of manipulation applied to that wild place. Our ancestors lived by killing deer that migrated through their territory. Manipulate the wild and the deer may not return, and all the people die. Kill all the deer that come into the valley, and next year the memory of sweet grass on the valley floor may not exist. In late summer, rains bring forth mushrooms, and the deer love mushrooms. Imagine a pathfinder and a couple of hunters stalking a deer herd, watching as the deer begin to eat the red mushrooms with white spots on their caps. Suddenly, 10,000 deer bolt in many different directions. Guess who gets to eat the red mushrooms with the white spots so they can find which way the deer went … yep, the pathfinder. If he fails, all his people starve in winter’s cold. The survival of our northern people has never looked certain, pushed into wastelands by the teeming hordes of the south. Our pathfinders always attempted to assist us using discipline and whatever else was needed to find solutions. Originally, that was amanita muscaria, though as solutions were catalogued, and became memory, good whiskey was substituted. In our time, when a friend dies, we gather and toast the dead with good whiskey, continuing a part of our mountain culture that was old 5,000 years ago.

Kenneth Miller spent most of his adult life helping to organize and perform Mountain SAR in Colorado, before wandering the west to fight wildfires for the USFS.  He is now trying to balance that out by sitting in coffee shops studying with renegade Ph.D.s.

The Coolest Thing I Never Meant to Do

My life began in ’02, when I bit the bullet, coughed up $500 and went through river-guide training on the Arkansas River. My mother cried when she heard I was camping out of my vehicle for the summer, and my father announced that I would be consorting with degenerates. I completed the boot-camp-like training, and the raft company I trained with hired me. Once I had access to the pro-deals, I bought a small, bright-red NRS dry bag. Perfect for extra ball caps, a splash top, sunscreen, ouch kit and maybe a granola bar or two. Over the next eight years of commercial boating, I had the bag on just about every overnighter, commercial day trip and private trip; if it involved a raft and the river, I had that dry bag. Eventually, it became the not-so-dry bag and was retired to the drag bag for beer on those multi-day desert trips where you feel like you’re rowing uphill (you know the ones).

Well, on a particular mad dash from Durango to the Arkansas River for a brief weekend boat trip, I met a doctor (a psychiatrist … go figure). Not only did he have a lucrative practice, he was a boater, emotionally damaged and unpredictable. Just how I like ’em. After a steamy back-of-the-truck session during a night at the local Arkansas guide camp, “Little Cambodia,” he talked me into driving up to the South Fork of the Payette in Idaho. He tempted me with river-based sweet nothings, like, “The water would still be pretty high,” “there’s really good class III-IV” and “the water is so warm.” He offered up his truck, gas and raft to row. How could I say no? At that time, I had just started my “real job” as an accountant on the tax side for a local firm. Life took a turn for the mellow, so I relished the opportunity to throw myself in harm’s way. A trip to Idaho, with a stranger (a hot stranger), who’s clearly irresponsible and emotionally damaged … yes, please!

Two weeks later, we were headed up toward Idaho. After 16 hours on the road, we pulled into the Payette River Valley. In that part of Idaho, the sun didn’t set until about 10:30, so, even with our 8 p.m. arrival, we squeezed in a class III-V+ whitewater run known as “The Staircase.” Me with a center-rigged raft, a 12½-foot Super Puma and “The Doc” with his high-volume kayak. The river was incredible. The water was warm and busy, with big-ledge holes, mandatory moves and wave trains — everything a boater could want. We were both brimming with anticipation and excitement. We figured we could squeeze in at least three to four runs.

The next day, we hitchhiked a shuttle to do a run called “Canyon.” Canyon had one mandatory portage; other than that, it was a read-and-run, higher-volume, class III-IV. The mandatory portage was known as “Big Falls”; it was a class V+, 35-foot, cascading drop. Pro kayakers will run this rapid when the water drops down to about 500-600 CFS, and I have seen some “YouTube” footage of people running “Big Falls” in Creature Crafts at around 1,200 CFS. Other than that, everyone portages this rapid. The river was at 2,600 CFS on the day we decided to run it, which is considered a medium/high flow. The Doc told me he knew where to portage, and I trusted him. I mean, yeah, sure, “The Doc” is unpredictable and damaged, but suicidal? I didn’t think so.

Before launching, I made the decision to put ballast in the bow of the raft. The night before, on “The Staircase,” the 12½-foot raft kept getting tossed around by the large waves. To keep the holes and waves from tossing me around too much, I filled the old, trusty, bright red, not-so-dry, dry bag with rocks to act as bow ballast. I figured a little more weight in front would help me punch through those holes and over the waves. As we were boating down, we started talking about how the rapids all seemed a little “up-classed.” The doctor brought out his Julia Childs voice for the next horizon line. With each paddle stroke, he called out, “ooooh noooo another class IV ooooh.” Ten yards ahead of me, he dropped the horizon line. I started rowing hard to catch up with him. I noticed the horizon line seemed, well, rather dramatic. I then thought to myself, “He’s a doctor; this guy isn’t a dumb ass!” So I followed.

Once I crossed the other side of the horizon line, I started looking for my line. I looked left. I looked right. I couldn’t see a line. THERE WAS NO LINE!!! I suddenly realized I had rowed right into the mandatory portage, Big Falls Rapid. That hot, tingly, “oh-shit” feeling swept over me and panic reared its head. I decided to shove it down. Whether I liked it or not, I was running Big Falls Rapid and I figured I may as well try to keep my boat upright. The first drop looked like a huge vagina. Walls of water on each side, with a huge hole, followed by an enormously tall curler wave that looked like a big, angry, clitoris. This wave would surely flip my boat end-to-end. I stood up and rowed hard and furious. Once I hit the hole, I jumped to the front to keep the raft from flipping. Shortly (very shortly) thereafter, I started descending to the next drop.

Since speed and weight distribution seemed to help me get through the first drop. I jumped back to the middle of the boat, trying to grab hold of the oars in hopes of gaining some speed before hitting the second hole. I slipped and somehow fell right in between the boat and the frame. The only thing going through my mind was, “If this boat flips right now, I’m going to die.” I hit the second hole still trapped in between frame and boat. I felt the boat falling toward the second hole, water roaring all around me, the graceful slide of the raft descending into the mouth of the hole, followed by the violent lurch of my bow breaking through the bottom of the hole. And then I felt the boat being released. When I think back, I’m pretty sure my weight in the bottom of the boat actually was a huge factor in floating through that hole without flipping.

Using the oar frame for leverage, I pushed with my newfound, adrenaline-fueled strength and flung myself to the stern of the raft, dislodging my body from between boat and frame. I could see I there was another drop ahead, and it looked enormous. All I was thinking was, “Screw the oars — I’m just gonna high-side like a mutha … it’s survival now!” The last drop was awesome. I descended for about 10 feet into the biggest, river-wide hole I had seen yet. The raft got up on one side tube and stood straight up in the air. I was straddling the right side tube (the high side), riding it like a bucking bronco, watching the whole left side of the oar frame sink into the water. My bright red, not-so-dry, dry bag, filled with rocks, was dangling off the bow of the boat from a D-ring. As I sat there, five feet up in the air, straddling the tube, all I could think was, “This is it … I am going into one of the deepest, blackest, holes on this damned river.” Right then, the hole started surging and spit the raft out, right side up, sans my left oar.

As I floated calmly away, right side up, sitting where I was supposed to on the oar frame, with only one oar, I looked at my bright-red dry bag, filled with rocks and thought, “that’s one good-ass piece of gear.”

Gina Allman is an accountant in Durango, Colo., where she debits and credits like a MoFo.

Get Thee Behind Me, Gear

Ever since some caveman spent a lot of time fashioning a fancy hunting club, and, subsequently, spent more time admiring and maintaining the club than actually using it for hunting, the human species has encouraged a Cult of Gear — gear for gear’s sake. Thousands of years after that caveman (c’mon, you know it was most likely a man, although in modern times, even the smarter sex has fallen prey to Gear) started us down that expensive, lust- and jealousy-filled path, American capitalism has found Gear to its liking. Plain old lower-case gear isn’t what most outdoor companies now sell — after all, there’s really only one time most people need to buy most outdoor gear, and that’s the first time. How much different can a lightweight stove become over a few product cycles — whoops, I mean years? Instead, it is Gear that is for sale; buy Product X and you will be outdoorsy and mountain-hip, regardless of whether you actually make it to the mountains or even live anywhere near outdoor adventure. It is a classic bait-and-switch. They’re selling a culture, a lifestyle, but we’re just buying unnecessary material goods, that lovely old mainstay of American (and, more lately, Chinese) economic growth.

In my obviously open-minded and tolerant opinion, there is no outdoor industry worse about selling people Gear than the bicycle industry. I speak as a professional in that industry since 1997. What I’ve realized over the years is both sad and comical. It’s sad because we don’t use our industry’s resources to create true and healthy acceptance of bicycles as a realistic mode of transportation and recreation, as useful tools for everyday life. Instead, we’ve devoted virtually all those resources towards racing R&D and re-purposing racing products for the general market, even though the average end consumer doesn’t need, say, a carbon-steerer-equipped fork or suspension technology that really only performs at potential under the extreme demands of a professional rider. It’s comical because, for the same reasons, there are now thousands of poor saps riding around looking like Lycra-cased sausages, muffin tops spilling over every possible skintight hem, hunched over long top tubes and low-rise stems meant for lean, flexible racers, struggling to climb with the 39×23 low gear with which their $3,000 carbon road bike came equipped, a grimace of pain/frustration etched in their red faces, thinking, “Can’t wait to get off this damn thing and drive to the liquor store.” It’s as if GM sold almost exclusively NASCAR replicas — when going to the lot, you’d have to dig around in the back corner to find a plain old Malibu sedan. And when you almost inevitably drove off the lot in Dale Jr.’s race car, you’d quickly end up hating it for its lack of practicality, hurting yourself, getting into trouble, or all three.

Despite all this, American bicycle companies continue to sell race-developed bikes to the general non-racing public. Why? Many reasons come to mind, but featuring prominently is the American worship of Gear. Buying Gear is the easiest way for many people to become what they wish to be — it’s much easier to buy that team-replica bike than to actually be in team-replica shape. We care less about creating our own experiences and more about mimicking admired figures’ experiences. Hence, the multitudes who want to ride that damned Lance guy’s bike, wear Lance’s bracelet like some teen-crush class ring, and ride in Lance’s “Mellow Johnny’s” team kit — the facts that they’d probably be much more comfortable and have spent way less money on a more practical set-up notwithstanding.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying race bikes should disappear. I’m just saying the worship of Gear is making the bicycling experience less about bicycling for many American cyclists. The same is true for many other outdoor pursuits (and even many other areas of our so-called culture). I, too, once maintained an unhealthy worship of Gear. I had not one, but TWO carbon-fiber, dual-suspension race bikes, each worth somewhere north of $7,000. Yes, I did race. I was sort-of fast, but probably would have been just as fast on a bicycle worth much less. Eventually, having been around world-class racers and world-class race bikes for a while (as a team mechanic), I realized all that race stuff was just a sub-set of the whole bicycling experience, despite the fact that the industry insists on pushing race as reality. Realizing that (along with the fact that I had too much money tied up in silly plastic bicycles that cost ridiculous amounts to maintain), I sold both race bikes and replaced them with a relatively inexpensive, steel-framed, single-speed mountain bike. At that point, my cycling experience became about the experience of riding, and not about the bicycle I was using. This was for two reasons: One, by voluntarily acquiring a heavy-ish, Luddite-inspired bicycle, I had effectively extricated myself from a pervasive culture of newer, lighter, better. Two, my new bike was charmingly simple, keeping worries about breakage and maintenance to a minimum. I didn’t have to think about the bike. The Gear became the gear, and outside of the riding experience, it had no meaning. It was a freeing sensation.

Just going out and getting simple, solid gear won’t necessarily cure you of Gear-frenzy, as I discovered after I began riding my new bike. As it turned out, the bike industry hadn’t ignored the single-speed movement. In fact, it had done a great job of packaging it as the latest-greatest-new-badass thing to do, be, buy. Of course, I hadn’t been ignorant of the fact that the industry was selling single-speeds, and I certainly wasn’t one of the first to begin riding SS. But there is something about riding an SS that makes other SSers talk to you, and after my unwitting initiation into this new club, I realized that, for many other riders, single-speeds were just another manifestation of Gear. The industry had figured out that most people weren’t about to ONLY ride SS, but they sure would buy another bike if the industry could make it hip, cool, hardcore. The end result, of course, is that there are now thousands of perfectly serviceable SS bikes hanging in garages that get ridden twice a month, consigned to occasional mimicry of someone else’s experience. Gear, thine will be on consumer earth as it is in corporate heaven, amen.

The point I’m meanderingly getting at here is that it doesn’t matter what gear you use, as long as you can forget it while using it. I needed a kick in the ass via simple bicycle to make me forget Gear, but if you can ride your carbon wonder-machine and not obsess over grams and graphics at the same time, then more power to you. I’m well aware that a lot of people will argue in favor of the Gear fetish, generally by saying they need all that stuff they obsess over to “get out there.” Where I live, practically every house has a visible overflow of an amazing variety of outdoor trappings (which mostly leads me to wonder what all my fellow citizens do for a living, should they actually have time to enjoy all those toys). But, by having all that stuff, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice. The more we focus on the gear, the less we get of the experience the gear is there to facilitate. I remember countless times out on the trail, surrounded by amazing natural beauty, when someone would come upon me just admiring the view — and then proceed to make some conversation about my gear. I don’t want to talk about gear — look around, man! The experience of being out there is the reason for the gear, not vice-versa. When we look back at the end of our lives, would we prefer to have memories of many adventures and experiences, or memories of all the Gear we worshipped, memorized specs on, bought and stored in closets? Say it loud: Get thee behind me, Gear — I’ve got trails to ride, mountains to climb, landscapes to look across in awe, conversations in camp to have and experiences to experience. You, Gear, are just a tool along for the ride.

After spending years traveling the world as a bicycle mechanic, Joey Ernst settled in the best place he’d been:  Southwestern Colorado. This is his first piece for the Gazette.

Everything Must Go

I thought I had the edge. How many people could be shopping for camping gear at 10 a.m. on a Thursday? But as I pulled into the parking lot of Backcountry Escape, an outdoor equipment and apparel store, my advantage whittled down to nothing: I was not alone. Every parking space was taken and a herd of anxious consumers hoofed toward the store.

Backcountry Escape was going out of business. They had sent forth mailers declaring “the largest sale in the history of the store … and the last!” Everything was priced to move, from the kayaks down to the tent stakes. The desperate store owner was even hawking the bookshelves and clothing racks. This business was another victim of the difficult economic times.

After finding a distant parking spot, I slid sideways through the store’s entrance, narrowly avoiding a collision with a woman brandishing a discounted ice axe. There was hardly room to move inside. Shoppers and merchandise commingled to create a congested labyrinth. I had come looking for a good lantern, but my eye roved for any bargains that were too good to pass up. As I slipped past a mirror sandwiched between hooked fleece and parkas, I caught a glimpse of myself frowning. It was a sad day. Another locally owned outdoor store was going under. Sure, there was a Dick’s Sporting Goods across town, but stores like that aren’t typically run by people who have used the gear they’re selling. Small places like Backcountry Escape are more like base camps than retail stores, a waypoint to re-supply, catch a weather update and hear about the best trail to get you where you’re going.

I looked around and saw I wasn’t the only one in a foul mood. A man scowled as he pawed through a basket of socks. A woman couldn’t find her size among a stack of shoeboxes and grimaced like she’d found a hole in her rain fly. There was something more than mourning for the loss of a local business. Desperation was in the air. This milling band of gatherers was on a dire mission to secure their escape.

The fall and winter of 2010 promise to be a season of canceled vacations and pared-back plans. Money’s tight. Each successive month brings news of hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and double-digit unemployment rates in some states. There is prodigious uncertainty out there and people are clutching the money they have. A vacation is a luxury item and one of the first things to be slashed from a tightening family budget. My wife and I recently pulled the plug on plans to fly to the Adirondacks with our four kids. The price tag was just too high. Terms like “staycation” and “naycation” are surfacing in media like spring crocuses breaking through the snow.

Yet staying put is not an option; like the sign on the storefront says, “Everything must go.” For a lot of us, the need to get out and move around is coded in our bones, like a bird’s instinctual call to migrate. Westerners in particular are a restless subspecies. Never finding too much relaxation in the reputed comfort of an easy chair and a remote control, we’re always giving in to the urge to light out for country. Blame it on the landscape. Leagues of prairie, mountain, desert, valley and coast run uninterrupted to the horizon. It all gives off a sultry whisper, saying, “Move. Go. Just because you can.”

As I looked around the store at the harried bargain hunters, I could see we’d all come to the same solution. In our solidarity, we knew our escape was closer and less expensive than the resorts and airlines would have us believe. It’s really in the family campgrounds, and the state and national parks. For the price of two nights in a hotel, I can purchase an economical six-person tent. A multi-day camping permit costs less than room service. And a good campfire at the close of a day spent outdoors has more value than an overblown IMAX movie ever had.

I found my lantern and moved into the line for the cash register. I was smiling. It’s all too easy to think of 2010 as the year of our discontent. In reality it will be the season of the tent.

Jeff Osgood writes and shops on Colorado’s Front Range. Read more from him at

Wilderness Survival Handbook: Primitive Skills for Short-Term Survival and Long Term Comfort

Michael Pewtherer’s “Wilderness Survival Handbook” is broken into two parts: Part I is “Seven-Day Survival,” covering all the skills you’ll need to stay alive for a week in the woods, and Part II is “Beyond Survival,” covering everything you’ll need to drop off the radar indefinitely. Essentially, if you buy this book, you should rip it in half, and keep the first half in the glove compartment of your car, and the second half in a glass case in your house for when you’ve finally had enough and want to walk the Earth in a breechcloth and hunt or gather everything you eat. Survival expert Pewtherer includes all kinds of great stuff for weekend warriors in the first half: building your own shelter in any season, navigating (with and without a map and compass), finding and purifying water and building a fire — all without anything you can buy at REI. The second half is pure Robinson Crusoe-style survival: building your own arrows and spears, hunting methods, trapping, tanning hides, how to cook in the wild, building long-term shelters, building baskets, spinning fibers into cordage, fishing (by hand, spear and hook and line), etc. A good reminder of how tough we all used to be a few hundred years ago.


One Mountain, Thousand Summits

In last month’s MG, I reviewed Graham Bowley’s book, “No Way Down: Life and Death on K2,” about the 2008 K2 disaster in which 11 climbers died. I talked about how impressive Bowley’s reporting on the event was, especially because he wasn’t on K2, and wasn’t even a climber. Well, climber and author Freddie Wilkinson has definitely one-upped “No Way Down,” in terms of a quality book about the K2 tragedy. Wilkinson matches the quality reporting of the actual incident, and then takes it upon himself to travel across the globe and do more investigation,  resulting in a much richer account. Insight borne from Wilkinson’s experience on expeditions in the Himalayas and some of the world’s other great mountain range aid the explanation of the incident, and fuel his drive to figure out what really happened and also to explain the culture of Nepalese and Tibetan Sherpas and high-altitude crew. Later in the book, Wilkinson goes so far to reflect on and criticize his own coverage of the incident. Wilkinson’s writing has been previously published in climbing publications like Alpinist, Rock and Ice, Climbing and the American Alpine Journal, but with this book, he establishes himself as an author and a true journalist.



Chuck Fryberger has an expensive camera and shot “Core” in 35mm Ultra High-Definition, making it the first climbing movie that made me wish I had a bigger TV. This is a solid film, following some of the world’s strongest climbers as they battle routes that are at their limits. Fryberger, as a filmmaker, knows what he’s doing — when to play high-energy music as his tracking shot follows a car ripping down a dirt road in South Africa on the way to Rocklands, when to turn off the music so we can listen to a climber nervously breathe and scrape his or her way up a boulder problem, and how to find the right angles. Two highlights in this film, for me: A segment on BJ Tilden, who is not a sponsored climber, but a full-time carpenter in Wyoming, who climbs as hard as a sponsored climber; and when Hueco Tanks legend Rick Oliver shares this bit of philosophy: “There’s a leisure class at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. You can have a lot of money and no time, or a little money and a lot of time. And it’s very, very fun to be on either end of it.” Also great: The film can be e-mailed to you, for $19.95, if you don’t want to spend the $29.95 for the DVD or $39.95 for the Blu-Ray.