12/14/2020 Guidebook Guide
By James Roh, Skimo Co Marketing and Content Manager
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always been a day dreamer. The type of person you see staring off in the distance, thinking about god-knows-what. A space cadet, if you will. So naturally, combined with my love for ski touring and travel, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my bookshelf is stuffed with dozens of guidebooks. Each one is a portal to a new place, a glimpse into what could be, a skills refresher, and, every once in a while, a reminder of past adventures. Ten years in, I’ve become somewhat of a guidebook snob. The way I see it, a well done guidebook is a piece of art and a half-assed guidebook is a waste of everyone’s time.
Simply put, a good guidebook needs to meet two requirements: useful and enticing. The former, of course, means readable maps, directions, ratings, and all critical beta. Enticing? Now that’s what really separates mediocrity from greatness. This is high quality photos, creative writing, history on the area, and anything else that makes it feel less like an Excel spreadsheet.
With that in mind, I browsed Skimo Co’s guidebook library to nominate the best of the best. No one asked, but here are my top picks anyways.
Gold Standard - Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes - Washington by Martin Volken
Really, the whole state series by Mountaineers is great but for some reason the Washington one really gets me. Maybe it’s the excitement glaciers add to a lot of the routes, the insane amount of snow the PNW gets, or the fact that Liberty Ridge is actually listed as a ski line. Whatever it is, Volken did a great job and keeps Washington at the top of my road trip list.
Most Worn Out - The Chuting Gallery by Andrew McLean.
There have been numerous guides to the Wasatch but this one is THE classic. Which, in a way, is actually ironic considering its maps are minimal at best, the photos aren’t especially helpful, and it was published over two decades ago. But if you like skiing lines steeper than 35 degrees and are a glutton for spicy adventure, this is a must have for Wasatch skiers. Actually, even if you’re not planning to ski here, McLean’s writing makes it a worthwhile read anyways. Who knew laughing at deadly, uncontrolled falls could be the norm in a guidebook?
Most Drool Worthy - 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America by Chris Davenport, Art Burrows, and Penn Newhard
This big boy deserves permanent status on every backcountry skier’s coffee table. It features gorgeous photos of incredible lines from around the continent that make the mind wander. Some lines are skied frequently while others have only seen a few descents ever. Heads up though, unless you’re Noah Howell or Cody Townsend, this isn't actually a guidebook per se.
Most Excellent - Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierras by Nate Greenberg and Dan Mingori
Full transparency, I haven't ridden any of the steep and long couloirs that the Sierras are known for and this book painfully reminds me of that frequently. But that’s the point. Everytime I walk past the bookshelf of workplace distraction, I have to resist reaching for this one. It has it all - well designed layout, great beta, and glossy, high quality images. Even the reference photos are postcard worthy. Three thumbs up.
Most Likely To Up Your Game - Mountaineering The Freedom Of The Hills by Mountaineers Books
It’s referred to as the “Bible of Mountaineering” for good reason - it covers just about every mountain skill out there from ice climbing to avalanche safety to glacier navigation to mountainside cooking (no beans at high altitudes!) Its legacy spans decades and involves input from countless athletes, guides, and practitioners. Sure, you can have some bonehead on Youtube answer your questions, but referencing this book will ensure you get you the right answer… and probably comes with a hand drawn illustration.
Most Desired: Japan by TBD
I’ve been waiting years for a guidebook to backcountry skiing Japan. If you’ve had the pleasure of drowning in Hokkaido Powder, then you know that the relatively small country has unlimited potential. You also know that logistics aren’t so straightforward (it doesn’t help that the maps are in Japanese.) An English guidebook would be immensely helpful. Hell, I’d be willing to team up with someone to make it happen. I promise to work extra hard researching the best onsens and ramen shops.