New children’s book educates young readers about avalanche danger
‘Mountain Mtn. Rangers: The Avalanche Dragons’ is the first in the series by Summit County locals
Safety education can never start too soon. That’s why Silverthorne resident Erin C. McCrea is writing and illustrating multiple children’s books that aim to teach kids how to safely enjoy the outdoors. The first, called “Mountain Mtn. Rangers: The Avalanche Dragons,” was released this December.
In addition to the topic of safety, the book idea stemmed from McCrea, who also works as a physical therapist for Bristlecone Home Health, wanting to draw more. McCrea illustrated an anatomy textbook for a professor in 2009 and then went on to do medical illustrations for lawsuits from 2011 to 2014.
McCrea grew up skiing in the Pocono Mountains on the East Coast and moved to Colorado after an internship in Idaho and finishing physical therapy school. The origin of the Mountain Mtn. Rangers came one day while she was driving to Denver from Crested Butte during a snowstorm. She had pulled over to help dig someone’s car out of the snow and had rescued an abandoned dog that weekend, and the idea of the characters helping others popped into her head.
“Then I decided I preferred to draw fun pictures of animals climbing mountains more than people’s upsetting injuries,” McCrea said. “It’s way more fun.”
McCrea has already written two other books in the series. One focuses on Leave No Trace principles, mountain biking safety and etiquette that is planned for the spring. Another is camping and fire safety set for early summer. Also in the works are a hiking education book and one about navigation and orienteering.
The books will introduce new side characters but focus on the same cast of the moose and goat, the titular Mountain Mtn. Rangers that live in the town of Mountain Mtn.
“The idea is for it to be more of a holistic entertainment and education (series) about the outdoors, and sort of accountability and responsibility and safety,” McCrea said.
• “Mountain Mtn. Rangers: The Avalanche Dragons” by Erin C. McCrea and contributing editor Fritz Sperry
• Mountain Mtn. Media, December 2021
• 44 pages, $12 paperback
• Available locally from Arapahoe Sports, Limber Grove, Underground Snowboards, Wilderness Sports, Next Page Books & Nosh and MountainMtnMedia.com.
Though she considers herself more of an illustrator than an author, the rhyming poems that make up the narrative came naturally to McCrea. She started writing the stories roughly a decade ago, before her kids were born. Drafts were further refined when she was on maternity leave for her daughter, who will be 5 years old in January, and the books largely stayed dormant — until she met local backcountry guidebook author Fritz Sperry in 2019.
McCrea was skinning up Buffalo Mountain when she ran into Sperry and his group. They got to discussing their skiing plans, and McCrea learned that Sperry had his own publishing company in addition to being the writer behind the “Making Turns in Colorado” series, among other books.
A father himself, Sperry thought McCrea’s idea was great and said he was interested in writing for kids but that he didn’t have the time. McCrea mentioned that her books were done, and Sperry became even more interested.
“I look back to when I was 8 years old, and I was skiing at Whiteface Mountain,” Sperry said. “There was no gate. There was no rope. There was no boundary back then. But there was a trail with tracks on it that went off into the woods. … I used to go back there because that’s where the good snow was, and I had no idea I was skiing avalanche terrain. I wonder how many kids go out of the gate without reading what’s on there.”
It wasn’t until McCrea broke her leg in March that she called Sperry to say that she suddenly came into free time to put the book together. The pair formed their own publishing company, and Sperry became a contributing editor to lend his backcountry know-how to the pages.
He wrote the ranger tips sporadically seen throughout the book and came up with the idea to include QR codes at the end for further reading at websites for organizations like the American Avalanche Association.
“My goal was to also guide and make sure we had the right stuff in the glossary, we had the right tools and that sort of progression of planning, checking the forecast and understanding there is threat and a hazard there,” Sperry said.
The whole purpose of the book is to change the avalanche education culture by getting people interested in the best practices at a younger age even if they aren’t yet ready for the backcountry.
“When families are driving around here, and you look up at the mountains, and you can see a cornice and an avalanche chute that goes every year or see an avalanche that already happened, you can get that conversation going,” McCrea said.
Because of its complicated subject matter, McCrea said it is suitable for a broad age range, roughly ages 3 to 10. She said her daughter comprehends it well enough to ask useful clarification questions about danger ratings or about the types of avalanches, while her younger son cares more about the characters. McCrea’s older niece and nephew are comfortable reading it to themselves.
Sperry and McCrea spent a lot of time with various resources to make sure the end result was both engaging and scientific. With those extra resources at the end, it’s up to the parent or kid to decide how deep they want to get into avalanche education.
Her personal experience in the realm of children’s literature as a mother also shaped the book. She knew from reading four books a night what parts to cut or edit, and she made it a paperback book.
“When I go camping in the summer with my kids, the routine doesn’t change,” McCrea said. “I still need to read them four stories in their tent. So which books do I chose? Not that big, thick, heavy hardcover one.”
“Mountain Mtn. Rangers: The Avalanche Dragons” is available in stores throughout the state as well as online. Additionally, Utah Avalanche Center’s Know Before You Go program is a benefactor. The pair donated 10% of the first printing to the center, and proceeds from copies purchased on its website go directly to the organization.
“The best we can hope to do is try to have a positive impact and teach our kids about the threats they face in this world,” Sperry said. “Isn’t that the goal of every parent, to inform their kids so they can make the right choices?”
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