Against America’s tidal wave of enthusiasm for Telemark, Paul was adamant that Alpine Touring (AT) was the way, not Nordic. It was an uphill battle all the way. Steve Barnett’s book “Cross-Country Downhill” distilled the enthusiasm for backcountry skiing in 1976, and his choice of telemark gear cast the mold for those who followed. He was just following Ric Borkovec, who chose Nordic as a rehab option to a ski injury, and then found exhilaration in the freedom it provided. Others, like Doug Robinson, Paul Parker, and Alan Bard began to wax eloquent on the telemark turn and the die seemed cast. When the first all-plastic telemark boot arrived, the Terminator, American interest in AT practically dissolved.
Paul Ramer never wavered. He knew that alpine skiing would remain the major discipline because he wasn’t promoting cross-country skiing with downhill turns thrown in, he was promoting downhill skiing with a free-heel thrown in for mountaineering caliber cross-country mobility outside the resorts. Unfortunately, he was about 20 years ahead of his time and the fruit of his labors and ideas didn’t catch fire in America until the last years of his life.
It led, inevitably to my own efforts to proselytize ski mountaineering through my involvement with a section of southern California’s Sierra Club, The Alpine Ski Touring Committee, a group led by my personal mentor, John Wedberg, which led to the creation of a newsletter, Le Chronicle du Couloir, which became Couloir magazine.
While most readers of Couloir were of the telemark persuasion, that was only because at the time 80% of American backcountry skiers were using telemark gear. Throughout it all I believed as Paul Ramer did, that the future was with Alpine Touring equipment. It didn’t require any new skiing skills, just a new binding and climbing skins.In fact, what few people realize is that part of the motivation for starting Couloir was, despite my own eventual preference for telemark, to promote the sport of ski mountaineering all the way to the extreme level, for which alpine equipment is clearly superior. While telemark gear has shown it can keep up, it has not raised the bar for performance in the ski mountaineering realm. Besides, Paul’s main point, that it was simply easier for more people was also undeniable. That premise, more than anything else was why I chose to promote the alpine aspect of backcountry skiing because only by making the switch to backcountry skiing easy, which AT gear does, could the sport hope to achieve any sort of momentum and viable growth.
Thus, in launching EarnYourTurns.com it seems fitting to start at the beginning, with a tribute to one of the men who helped make the sport what it is today, and who was instrumental in my involvement, even the very inspiration for the “earn your turns” mantra.
On the following page, a rerun of an interview with Paul Ramer, first published in Couloir magazine Vol. XII-5, Spring 2000.