clean at the start: Martin Volken, Scott Schell, and Margaret Wheeler, the
three authors of Backcountry Skiing:
Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering, are all friends or
acquaintances of mine. That means my praise of their book, published as part of
the Mountaineers Books Outdoor-Expert Series needs to be read with some
suspicion. That being said, here’s my review in short: Great content, quality
writing, excellent photos, attractive layout – it’s the best and most
authoritative book on ski touring and ski mountaineering.
At least in
English. Maybe in Europe, where ski touring and ski mountaineering is hugely
more popular than in North America, you could
find a book in German or French to rival this one. For those of us with only
English at our disposal, however, this is the
book for gaining both the basic and advanced beta on backcountry skiing.
of this book’s content lies in the deep expertise of its three authors. All
three are either fully certified mountain guides or ski guides with the
American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) and/or the International Federation
of Mountain Guides (IFMGA). Martin Volken is also a ski-mountaineering
instructor and examiner for the AMGA’s
certification process, making him a guide’s guide. The combined knowledge of
backcountry skiing--its techniques, equipment, and safety essentials—that these
three bring to the table doesn’t run much deeper.
realm of backcountry skiing I’m well versed and reasonably well read, so I
wasn’t prepared for what this book delivered. On every page, I found myself
highlighting new knowledge, ideas, and techniques. It didn’t matter whether I
was reading about gear, avalanche assessment, route selection, navigation,
uphill or downhill techniques, transitions, rope techniques, safety, emergency
preparedness, or rescue strategies…the book humbled an old Grasshoppa into
recognizing he was no Master.
My few complaints
with the book centered around wanting more…more examples when general rules
were given and more specific recommendations in the equipment arena. Read in
totality the specifics about general rules were well covered, but when a
general comment like this one was made about traveling through avalanche
terrain -- “A technique that works well in one situation may only make matters
worse in another context,” -- I wanted an illustrative example there and then
to make sure I understood what the authors were driving at.
equipment arena I understand why specific models and makes of equipment were
not named to complement the author’s general recommendations – such
recommendations might be outdated after several years, could madden manufacturers
not mentioned, and might make readers wonder whether the authors had corporate
ties. Yet putting these recommendations in a sidebar or appendix that could be
updated should the book be reprinted and that listed several specific products
the authors liked in each category of product discussed would benefit readers.
small beefs. The big story is that Backcountry
Skiing is a meaty book that will provide education and inspiration for anyone,
beginner or expert, wanting to venture on skis into the wild.
Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski
Touring and Ski Mountaineering
Volken, Scott Schell, Margaret Wheeler
175 b&w photos, 20 charts, paperback, 7" X 8.5”, $20