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Couloir Magazine, 1990-99

Couloir Magazine, 1992

Mar/Apr 1992, p. 10, Kutches, Alex, "Snowshoe Review"

Written from a snowboarder's perspective, this review discusses snowshoes from Cole, Faber Safesport, Ramer, Redfeather, Sherpa, and Tubbs. Most snowshoes have changed little since the 1980s. Aluminum frames (tube or T-stock) and synthetic decking (polyethylene, neoprene, or coated nylon) are typical. The Ramer is the most innovative design, with a step-in binding (like the Ramer Universal ski binding) and a platform stamped out of solid aluminum with a curved-down edge for traction.

Oct/Nov 1992, p. 7, "Barnett, Steve, "A Hut is Born"

In the Publisher's Soapbox, Craig Dostie notes that Couloir is "no longer just a California backcountry magazine." This article is about a yurt constructed in October, 1989, at 6400 feet in Panther Basin, about six miles NNE of Goat Peak in the North Cascades near Mazama. The hut is reached by snowmobile up the Goat Creek road and a cross-country ski route up Cougar Creek east of McLeod Mountain. The hut is owned by Dale Caulfield and Rendezvous Outfitters of Winthrop and parties visiting the hut must be guided.

Oct/Nov 1992, p. 16, Dostie, Craig et al, "Getting the Boot"

"It is 1992. Wool knickers and leather boots beware. The all-plastic telemark boot is here." The Terminator from Scarpa and Black Diamond is the first all-plastic telemark boot available in the U.S. The authors review hybrid leather-plastic boots and all-leather boots from several manufacturers. The hybrid Merrell Super Comp has been the benchmark for downhill telemark performance for several years. Plastic buckle boots for alpine touring from Dachstein, Kastinger, Raichle and Koflach are also reviewed. In the February 1998 issue (p. 10), Craig Dostie discusses the development of plastic telemark boots, particularly the Terminator, which he calls "the invention of the decade."

Couloir Magazine, 1993

Feb/Mar 1993, p. 6, Dostie, Craig, "Silcox Hut: Ready? or Not."

The Silcox Hut on Mt Hood was constructed in 1939 to serve as the upper terminus and warming hut for the original Magic Mile chairlift, the second chairlift constructed in the U.S. When the chairlift was rebuilt farther west, the hut fell into disrepair. It was condemned by the Forest Service in the 1970s. Local climbers rallied to preserve the hut and over many years finally restored it. The hut was opened to the public in 1993 and operated by the Friends of Silcox Hut. Long-term management of the hut remains uncertain at the time of this writing.

Apr/May 1993, Cover photo by Lowell Skoog

Stephanie Subak skis Primus Peak in the North Cascades with Forbidden Peak in the background. Steph was Couloir's first cover girl.

Apr/May 1993, p. 2, Dostie, Craig, "Soapbox: Kodachrome Courage"

"In Europe, extreme skiing developed as the ability to ski ultra steep and dangerously exposed snow slopes in control. Here in America, it is skiers doing figure 11's down narrow couloirs or plummeting over granite cliffs. More like a calculated loss of control." The publisher comments on overt competition and "Kodachrome Courage" in light of a recent fatality at the World Extreme Sking Championships in Alaska. He writes: "Extreme skiing may [...] be considered the ultimate experience of ski mountaineering."

Apr/May 1993, p. 5, Dawson, Lou, "Snowmobiles: Machines from Hell or Sleds to Paradise"

The author writes: "We skiers and snowmobilers have more common ground than conflict. Let's work together." He argues against dividing up public land between different user groups. He ponders whether the animosity between skiers and snowmobilers reflects bigotry or tribalism. He regards development, trailhead vandalism, parking limits, and the opening of roads usually closed in winter as problems that both groups could work together on. He also argues for "kinder" (less inclusive) wilderness boundaries. In the Oct/Nov 1993 issue (p. 8) Marcus Libkind rebuts Dawson, arguing that snowmobiles are indeed "machines from hell."

Oct/Nov 1993, p. 3, Letter from Chris Landry: "If you fall..."

Chris Landry wrote to explain the definition of extreme skiing attributed to him in the 1980s: "If you fall, you die." He describes the quote as "catchy and oft-cited but out-of-context and incomplete." His explanation:
What I really said (and doesn't that sound familiar?) to Sports Illustrated writer William Oscar Johnson during that interview was quite a bit more involved than the truly, as you described it, stark "if" concept. When he asked me how I would define extreme skiing (isn't it interesting, the "tyranny of names"?), I explained that "in Europe, the French would probably say something like, 'It's when if you fall, you ...'" You know the rest. But then I went on, more or less (this was umpteen years ago) to the effect that, "But I think that's about the worst possible definition ... it's not about killing yourself ... I think of it in much more personal terms, as a kind of personal evolution, combining two of my favorite disciplines into a new one that I feel it is natural to pursue," and so on, at some probably tedious length.
Referring to the shorter and more dramatic quote that was eventually published, he writes, "Well, you can see how it happened."

Oct/Nov 1993, p. 21, Advertisement: "Marmot Amazes - 20 ox. Ultralight Randonnee Binding"

This is the first appearance of the Dynafit Lite-Tech binding in Couloir magazine. As alpine touring gear becomes lighter and nordic touring gear becomes heavier, the weight advantage touted for the past twenty years by nordic enthusiasts is disappearing. In the Dec 95/Jan 96 issue (p. 9), Esko Cate of Black Diamond, Washington, writes that he has been using an early version of the binding for six years. The binding was designed by Fritz Barthl of Tirol, Austria.

Oct/Nov 1993, p. 26, Dawson, Lou and John Moynier, "Hey, Fatso's Back"

This article notes the beginning of a trend toward shorter, wider, shapelier backcountry skis. "Fat" alpine touring skis in this review are mostly about 100 mm wide at the shovel but a few are considerably wider. "Fat" telemark skis are mostly about 85-90 mm wide at the shovel. A few skis have dramatic sidecut (like the Kneissl Ergo, 99/61/99) but most are still traditionally shaped, with 20 mm or less sidecut.

Couloir Magazine, 1994

Feb/Mar 1994, p. 2, Letter from Lowell Skoog: "Don't forget joy of discovery"

"As someone who writes and speaks about backcountry skiing, I too have wrestled with the question of publicizing secret spots. My solution is to recognize three kinds of backcountry places: 1) those that are already well known and accessible, where additional publicity has little effect; 2) those that are very remote, where difficult access prevents them from becoming popular; and 3) places that are accessible yet for some reason little known.

"I don't mind publicizing spots in the first two categories. This is how we introduce newcomers to the sport and inspire experienced skiers to expand their horizons. The last group however, are backcountry gems. I don't write about these spots or mention them in my slide shows. Although the wilderness is a big place, the number of good, accessible, little known spots is tiny and always shrinking.

"Some people get indignant when I decline to name my secret spots. These are perhaps the same people who demand to know everything about the private lives of public figures.

"My response is to assure these folks that if we meet at one of my secret spots (or one of theirs!) I'll greet them cheerfully and join them for a great day of skiing. I trust that everyone's experience will be richer for having spent the time to find these spots on their own. The process of discovery is one of the great joys of wilderness skiing."

Feb/Mar 1994, p. 10, Dawson, Lou and Craig Dostie, "Simply Bind Moggling"

This review is a good snapshot of backcountry ski bindings in the early 1990s. For alpine touring, the Dynafit Tourlite Tech is the most innovative (see couloir-1993-oct-p21). This binding uses special fittings installed on the Dynafit boot to eliminate the binding plate (the boot itself becomes the plate) thus achieving lighter weight. The boot toe has sockets that mate with pins on the binding toe piece (similar in concept to the older Ramer). The boot heel has slots that latch onto spring-loaded pins on the heel piece. More conventional, touring-oriented alpine bindings are the Ramer (Classic and MT-2000) and the Silvretta 400 series. Downhill-oriented alpine bindings include the Emery Altitude, Sk'Alp 8007, and the Omni Secura-Fix (an adapter that fits into downhill skiing bindings). The lighter, touring-oriented bindings are not recommended for extreme skiing in this review.

For nordic touring, four bindings styles are available: three-pin, cable, releasable, and NNN-BC. Telemark racing has been the driving force behind the development of releasable nordic bindings. Voile makes the most popular releasable binding, although a Ramer binding is also reviewed. NNN-BC (New Nordic Norm - Backcountry) bindings are based on the Salomon cross-country system and are not reviewed or recommended here.

Oct/Nov 1994, p. 56, Simmons, Drew, "Not Afraid of the Dark"

On June 5, 1994, Mark Newcomb and Stephen Koch skied and snowboarded (respectively) the Black Ice Couloir of the Grand Teton in Wyoming. The pair skied a 120-foot pitch on belay, switched to crampons and made two 150-foot rappels, then switched back to skis and descended the remainder of the couloir off-belay but with the climbing rope anchored as a hand line. The article includes a photo of Koch snowboarding the lower couloir holding the hand line.

The Dec 94/Jan 95 issue contains several letters commenting on this story. Dave Nettle points to stylistic shortcomings of the descent--the fact that it was not a complete ski descent and that a rope was used for safety. Mark Newcomb responds acknowledging these points. Tom Turiano chides the editor for the subtitle, "Jackson boys survive first descent of the Black Ice Couloir." He argues that ski mountaineering in the Tetons is 15 years ahead of the rest of the country and is "beyond the understanding of the mainstream." In the Feb/Mar 1995 issue ("Style Matters," p. 20), Lou Dawson discusses what he considers to be perfect style in a ski mountaineering descent: to reach the summit under your own power, to begin skiing from the very top, and to ski down continuously without the use of ropes. Dawson comments on recent descents of Denali, Pyramid Peak, and the Grand Teton. Finally, in the Apr/May 1995 issue (p. 3), Andrew McLean argues that there is nothing wrong with rappels and belayed skiing, as long as the descenders are candid and honest about what they did.

Couloir Magazine, 1995

Apr/May 1995, p. 30, Carl Skoog photo: "Lowell Skoog traversing on Panther Point, B.C."

Reticence about publicizing Northwest ski destinations is shown by this reversed image and misleading caption. ("B.C." stands for "before crowds.")

Oct/Nov 1995, p. 18, "Access: The Multiglisse Traverse"

In May 1995, Peter Chrzanowski organized "North America's first-ever ski mountaineering race," the three-day Multiglisse Traverse, in the British Columbia Coast Range near Pemberton. "Most observers agree the Multiglisse Traverse was an organizational fiasco." Of six teams, only one finished the course. Four air evacuations were required, including one for Chrzanowski, who broke his leg. Steve Threndyle, leader of the winning team, said, "In a perverse sort of way, Peter has raised some important issues about the compatibility between skiers, snowmobilers, and land managers and whether timed mountaineering races should really be held. I'm not sure if this is the best showcase for the sport anyway. To most backcountry skiers, racing is anathema."

Oct/Nov 1995, p. 42, Vadasz, Bela and Mimi, "Lifesaving Arrests"

This article describes self-arrest on skis using an ice axe, ski pole tip, or ski pole self-arrest grip. In the Dec 95/Jan 96 issue (p. 4), Paul Ramer objects to the advice that only one self-arrest grip should be used: "I've noticed that there seems to be a natural axiom: if you have only one self-arrest, it will always be in the wrong hand when you need it (and if the blade is removable, it will be in your pocket.)"

Couloir Magazine, 1996

Feb/Mar 1996, p. 27, Dawson, Lou, "Extremitis"

The author explains the European roots of the term "extreme skiing" and the lack of interest in steep ski mountaineering in the U.S. in the 1980s. He writes: "A few skiers touted their 'first nordic descents.' Yawn. For the sport to be sexy it had to stick to the point: to ski at the ultimate limit of the possible; to ski spectacular terrain; to master the unknown by making first descents. Who cared what equipment you used--what counted was the mountain and route you skied down!" Instead, during the 1980s, the North American ski media focused on a small group of western skiers who jumped off cliffs. "Magazine hacks and movie moguls promulgated these stunts as 'extreme' skiing." He concludes: "Yes, the word 'extreme' was stolen from us. Then it was doused with gasoline and burned to ash." He wonders what the sport formerly known as extreme skiing will be called in the future.

Apr/May 1996, p. 4, Letter from Paul K. Edwards, Jr. M.D., "Why Toothpicks?"

Responding to Lou Dawson's column in the Dec 95/Jan 96 issue (p. 28), Paul Edwards writes that the "skinny ski period" of the 1970s "was not, as Lou suggests, a fad, peer group pressure, or media hype phenomenon." Instead, the old cadre of ski mountaineers who had used alpine touring equipment since the 1950s "just got diluted out (and thereby less visible and less influential) by the huge spill-over of Nordic skiers to alpine terrain that occurred with the explosive growth of cross country skiing in the '70s. Our alpine regions were simply overrun by a bunch of folks who were basically out of their element; yet who persisted for years in trying to make their tools do something they were never intended to do."

Apr/May 1996, p. 30, Barnett, Steve, "Doing the Cascades Inside Out"

This article describes two ski trips in the North Cascades during which the author and friends were flown by helicopter into the range then spent a day skiing out of the mountains. One trip began with a drop-off near the summit of Golden Horn Mountain. The party skied down to Snowy Lakes, then climbed and descended into Tower Creek, Cataract Creek, and Pine Creek, finishing at the North Cascades Highway. On the other trip they were dropped on Gardner Mountain and skied a route that included the small glacier east of the summit. The author writes: "There may exist those who would denounce us for impurity or perhaps just for extravagance. Good! May we never have to share powder with them out on Gardner Glacier."

Nov/Dec 1996, p. 54, Vadasz, Mimi and Bela, "Rating Ski Descents"

This article describes a system for rating ski descents, originally developed by Anselme Baud in 1977. The system rates technical difficulty as follows: There is also an overall difficulty grade, from I through VII, similar to the UIAA system for grading climbs. Modifiers for weighting the rope (A0) or skiing on belay (B) are also suggested.

In the Jan/Feb 1997 issue (p. 6), letters from Dave Nettle and Lowell Skoog comment on the S-system. Nettle laments the modern tendency to put numbers on everything we do in life. Skoog cautions that, used carelessly, the system could shortcut sound judgment. It also could foster an obsession with higher numbers, leading to the sort of petty bickering that is common in the climbing magazines. "Before embracing a climbing-style rating system, we should recognize that the ethos of technical climbing differs from skiing in a fundamental way. In climbing, belays are the rule. Unroped climbing is a fringe activity that the climbing community doesn't encourage. Therefore, higher numbers don't necessarily imply greater danger. In steep skiing, on the other hand, belays are viewed as taints. Focusing on numbers--in an ethos that prizes the unroped solo ski descent--may be asking for trouble."

Couloir Magazine, 1997

Jan/Feb 1997, p. 8, Rassler, Brad, "Dave Beck: Sierra High Route Pioneer"

In April, 1975, Dave Beck, Nick Hartzell, and Bob Couly skied the Sierra High Route from Shepherd Pass to Wolverton. Beck and friends had attempted the route during the big snow year of 1969. Following publication of Beck's book, Ski Touring in California, the route became the most popular crossing of the high Sierra, with hundreds of people skiing it each year.

Jan/Feb 1997, p. 26, Barta, Kern, "Snowshoe Review"

Molded plastic snowshoes are available from MSR (the "Denali Lama" designed by Bill Forrest) and TSL. The TSL 225 features a randonnee-like plate binding and a heel elevator for climbing. The MSR has a zigzag lace binding and no heel elevator. Most snowshoes still have aluminum frames and decking made of heavy-duty synthetic fabric. There is a full-page ad for the Denali Lama on the back cover.

Mar/Apr 1997, p. 20, "Assorted Gradoo"

The Black Diamond Whippet is a new self-arrest grip which consists of a steel pick that can be attached to a Black Diamond pole handle. The pick is shaped like a small ice axe, with a triangular tab bent to one side to improve grip in soft snow.

Oct 1997, p. 10, Parker, Paul, "Shaping up in the backcountry"

The author discusses the implications of "super sidecut" skis, the latest trend in alpine ski gear, for free-heel skiers. He defines super sidecut skis as those with sidecut in the high twenties (millimeters) or more. At the time of this writing, highly shaped alpine skis are targeted primarily at intermediate alpine skiers. The author feels that for most free-heel skiers, moderately big sidecuts will be an advantage. Since these skis are designed to be skied on edge, not skidded, they're suitable only for use with relatively stiff buckle boots. In the February 1998 issue (p. 8), Mike Hattrup writes that K2 has been testing shaped skis for four years. He asserts that shaped skis are being accepted by advanced, off-piste skiers more wholeheartedly than Parker acknowledges.

Oct 1997, p. 16, Robinson, Doug, "The Right Reverend Bardini"

Allan Bard died in a fall while guiding on the Grand Teton in July, 1997. His friend Doug Robinson describes some of Bard's ski adventures, including the Redline Traverse, "the crowning achievement of ski touring in the Sierra," which was completed in stages by Allan Bard, Tom Carter and Chris Cox during the springs of 1981-83. On p. 54 is an essay by Bard, "The Backside of Beyond."

Dec 1997, p. 48, "New Avy Threat: Pacific NW Center to Close"

Since 1975, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center has served the citizens of Washington and northern Oregon by forecasting avalanches and severe weather. The center has three avalanche forecasters, Mark Moore, Kenny Kramer, and Garth Ferber. In the past five years, avalanche fatalities in the Northwest have declined consistently to less than one per year. Due to funding cuts by the Washington Department of Transportation, the center may be forced to close after February 1998. The January 1998 issue (p. 13) reported that Washington Governor Gary Locke approved an emergency appropriation to restore state funding through the current season, thanks in part to over 200 letters received in support of the center.

Couloir Magazine, 1998

Jan 1998, p. 4, Bleichman, Ben, "Editor's Note"

"One of the most frequent gripes we field here at the Couloir office is that our monthly celebration of backcountry glisse is dangerous to the sport itself. Some folks out there fear that the features, maps, and travelogues we publish are going to crowd the slopes and ruin the solitude of our favorite mountains." The editor calls them "elitist whiners."

Jan 1998, p. 18, Coombs, Doug, "Hood: Commitment on the NE Face"

In late spring, 1997, the author skied the southerly of two couloirs on the NE face of Mt Hood. These couloirs are just north of the Cooper Spur route. The northerly chute was descended on snowboard five years earlier by Steve Koch. The author climbed to the summit from Timberline and kept in touch with a friend on the Cloud Cap side by radio. After a few hundred feet of turns at the top of the couloir, he encountered a sun crust and exchanged his ski poles for an ice axe. He sidestepped narrow ramps to pass two rock bands, then switched back to ski poles to ski the central portion of the couloir to a final rock step with 40-foot ice gully. Here he placed a rappel anchor to inspect the gully. Concluding that he could straight-run the gully, he climbed back up and pulled the anchor. While sidestepping back down with ice axe in hand, his skis scaped through to ice. He let go of his ice axe, schussed the ice gully, and made a high speed turn lower to stop. He switched to crampons to climb up and retrieve his ice axe, then completed the descent on skis, which required a ten-foot jump over the bergshrund. He called the route a "ski descent not a ski run."

Jan 1998, p. 46, Erben, John, "Profile: Luke Edgar"

This profile discusses Edgar's role as Director of Sales for K2 Snowboards. He helped develop the company's Clicker binding system for snowboards, snowshoes, and crampons.

Feb 1998, p. 38, Ad for 1st annual Elk Mountains Grand Traverse

The race from Crested Butte to Aspen covers 40 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain and is billed as "an extreme endurance backcountry skiing race."

Feb 1998, p. 40, Rothman, David J., "Boundaries: The Next Ten Years"

For this Anniversary issue of Couloir, a chronology of highlights from 1988 to 1998 is shown. The author discusses changes in the sport in the past ten years, particularly in the visibility of backcountry skiing. Ski resorts are opening boundaries and making steep, adventurous terrain accessible from their lifts. For the publishers of Couloir this is a positive trend, since it blurs the distinction between in-area and backcountry skiing and may bring new readers and advertisers to the magazine.

Oct 1998, p. 22, "Success Couloir, Mt Rainier"

On July 3, 1998, Luke Edgar and Chad Kellogg descended the Success Couloir on Mt Rainier's SSW face on snowboards. They began the descent from Point Success, averaging 50 degrees with some sections at 60 degrees. The couloir had previously been skied from 13,500 feet, but this was the first known descent from the top of Point Success (14,158 feet).

Couloir Magazine, 1999

Spring 1999, p. 20, "New Products"

Featured are the Skyhoy, the "first step-in releasable telemark binding" from Fritschi and Black Diamond, and the Black Diamond Avalung, an avalanche survival vest. Also on p. 33 is a review of helmets, the first to appear in Couloir.

Spring 1999, p. 39, Barnett, Steve, "Yurt Feelings"

Two years ago, North Cascades Heli-Skiing, headed by Randy Sackett, erected a large yurt at Barron, a few hundred yards away from Windy Pass on the edge of the Pasayten Wilderness Area in the North Cascades. The yurt is typically reached by helicopter and offers good skiing below timberline. Above timberline, on the slopes of Tamarack Peak, the snow is often wind-blasted and excellent weather is required for skiing to be feasible at all. Parties can fly out or ski out over the Hart's Pass road, which typically has snowmobile tracks and requires a half day or so to reach Mazama.

Oct 1999, p. 44, Olde, Darin, "Washington Breaks Snow Record"

Mt Baker ski area set an unofficial world record for snowfall during the 1998-99 season when it received 1,124 inches.

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