What is it about being in the backcountry that is so alluring? Words can barely scratch the surface of the sensations of awe, grandeur and exhilaration while skiing in God’s creation. How does everything fit together so well, so symbiotically, and yet appear to be a huge cacophony of titanic forces we can barely comprehend, let alone understand the history of their formation. And amongst that, we travel, gliding and striding through the wonderland of mountains throughout the world, playing in a desert of frozen water, soaking in the views from on high, and enjoying the camaraderie of friends.
Alan Bard called it the Backside of Beyond, and the beautiful thing is, it’s not that far away. Just a short hike out of bounds, turn the corner and traverse over a ridge and suddenly what was hidden is ripe for the taking, untracked and beckoning for indulgence.In hindsight it seems inevitable, and my path is no different from many others. Riding under the lifts is fun, but what about all that stuff beyond the rope? Back in the 80s it was common to accept that going out of bounds simply wasn’t legal. It was an easy condition to accept since downhill gear is obviously not good for cross-country movement.
But on my very first cross-country tour out west I was immediately tempted to want to ski all the mountains surrounding the valley we strode through. I wasn’t aware that people were already doing so in the Alps. Then I ran into Zeke, who turned me on to telemark skiing with metal edged cross-country skis and a year later I was in SmelLA, doing a cross-country tour with my girlfriend at Barton Flats in the San Gorgonio mountains. All I could think about was how great it would be to be able to ski the steep slopes all around, only with some beefy alpine skis. That was in March.
Flash forward to November, 1982. An early season storm came through southern California the first days of November. The streets around Upland and Cucamonga were full-on rivers of runoff and one man was even washed away to his demise. That was down in the valley. Up in the San Gabriel mountains over ten feet of snow covered their steep sides. Snow Valley and Big Bear were open, Mountain High was open, and so was Mt. Baldy. I had just paid for a new clutch on the car so a lift ticket was not in the budget. After three weeks of being taunted by the snowy flanks of 10,060-foot Mt. Baldy I couldn’t sit back any longer, so I loaded my skis and boots on my back and commenced to find the trail and hike to the base of Baldy Bowl.On that very first trip to earn my turns I ran in to John Wedberg, the man who would show me all the basics of backcountry skiing, from getting the right gear to picking the best slopes to having the right attitude. By 1988 the Sierra Club group he led, the Alpine Ski Touring Committee, was in need of fresh talent so I began a newsletter, Le Chronicle du Couloir, to get the word out.
When I realized people were actually reading that crude newsletter, in southern California no less, the wheels started spinning to create something bigger, and Couloir magazine was the inevitable result. And then the information revolution on the web took place and this site is the rebirth of what began on paper as Le Chronicle du Couloir. As I’ve known from the beginning, it isn’t about how you make the turn, but rather, whether or not you Earn Your Turns.
To the promotion of that endeavor this site is dedicated. That and other sports that are human powered and involve athleticism, strength, skill, in the playful pursuit of harnessing the elements in nature, snow, sun, wind, water, dirt, mud – and sweat.
For those of you who subscribed to Couloir magazine and its promotion of the Earn Your Turns philosophy, this will be the online version of what was begun with that publication.
You might think of it as Couloir unplugged, or the solo version without a backup band although guest performances are welcome and encouraged.
Mission Statement of EarnYourTurns here
Josh Madsen Interviews Craig Dostie – an outtake from Hippies, Punx & Misfits
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