Book offers uber-expert advice on the backcountry
February 14, 2008
Those among us who are content with a two-hour tour into Aspens Hunter Creek Valley or waxing up for a ski outing on Basalt Mountain can probably pass up Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering, the latest comprehensive how-to book in the Mountaineers Outdoor Expert Series.And anybody who regularly finds themselves in the sorts of spots where skills in whiteout navigation, criss-crossing a crevasse-strewn glacier or belaying a companion down a particularly dicey chute may come in handy had better already know this stuff.The books niche, presumably, is with the budding backcountry skier with an interest in more advanced touring and mountaineering way more advanced. But, thats not to say there isnt something in this tome for anyone who plays outdoors in the mountains in wintertime.A trio of expert guides authored the 323-page volume and it is exhaustive, if not exhausting, as a casual read. The first chapter, devoted to gear selection, is 60 pages long. In subsequent chapters, there are 10 photographs to illustrate the motion of skinning and 24 photos devoted to the execution of a kick turn.But there are gems of wisdom and lifesaving strategies galore in this book, even for those of us who will never weigh the pros and cons of ridged versus hinged ski-boot crampons, or who werent even fully cognizant of the fact that there are crampons for ski boots, let alone nuances like the number of points per crampon and their configuration.There is, predictably, plenty about avalanche danger assessing terrain, mounting a rescue and what to do if youre caught in one all good stuff to know in Colorado and, as it turns out, in Pitkin County (of which Aspen is the county seat), which has recorded the most avalanche deaths of any county in the state since 1950.But theres also plenty on the human factors sort of avalanche psychology 101 the kind of thinking that leads a novice to defer to the expert members of a group rather than the little voice inside his head or, defying all reason, to conclude terrain must be safe if other groups at the trailhead are heading out.Sections on mountaineering you know, knots, harnesses and stuff threatened to glaze my eyes over, but on the other hand, tips on building a snow igloo or, in a pinch, fashioning an emergency bivy trench in the snow had me riveted. Who might not get stuck outside unexpectedly on a hut trip?I certainly didnt know all the ways one might fashion a dependable anchor out of their skis in the snow. I hope never to need that knowledge, but still handy.