Jul 18 2010

Tribute to Paul Ramer

© 2000

Paul Ramer

Paul Ramer circa 1995 wearing his elusive Avalert that never quite made it to market.

While there are many people who have contributed to the growth of ski mountaineering in America, few were more instrumental than Paul Ramer. It was his vision, more than any other single man’s which accurately defined, perhaps prophesied, the current landscape of the sport. Some of you reading this became aware of backcountry skiing through more contemporary voices, but they all stood on the developments and ideas first promoted in America by Paul Ramer.

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.

The binding that started the Alpine Touring revolution in America.

My introduction to Paul came as it did for most of us, through his binding. The mountains beckoned, I responded and in short order knew I wanted a binding that provided everything I had in my alpine bindings — locked heel performance and safety release — plus a free-heel for skinning uphill. The Ramer Classic looked like an erector set sort of contraption, but once I accepted it was the best option at the time, my faith in its performance was never disappointed.

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.

Paul Ramer's treatise on backcountry skiing, with his obvious AT bias.

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.

  • Mark

    Ramer was clearly WAY ahead of the curve.

  • Mark

    Thursday night nerdom: My wife and I are both sitting on the porch swing with laptops. She’s working; I’m editing stuff on Wildsnow and perusing EYT. It is prime mosquito season, so citronella candles are flickering and I’m wearing my Couloir hoodie, pointy hoop up (still in near-new condition–I covet it a bit) to keep the skeeters at bay. Great story about Paul Ramer.

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie


  • hossjulia

    I love reading this article. Working for Ramer in the early 90′s changed my life.
    I got hooked on snow science and became more human somehow. I was the dumb blonde beta tester for the Avalert, now morphed into the BCA Tracker. (They bought the rights and design from Paul).

    Paul taught me to ski better by skiing behind me and making puking noises when I lost my form.

    And hey, I got to drive the “Ramermobile”.

  • Herf


    I designed the Tracker DTS. The Avalert is in no way related, “morphed”, or a design precursor to the Tracker, other than both being 457kHz transceivers. There was no “buying of rights or design” or any discussions related to design. I talked to him once, on the phone, and he said he was on his third electrical design team for a new beacon and hoping for a breakthrough.

    I have a lot of respect for Paul Ramer, a very talented entrepreneur. He was a pioneer in a lot of ways, especially in AT bindings and technology.

    John Hereford
    Boulder, CO

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  • humboldtguy

    I remember the gear. I had the silver top skis and those tuning fork bindings.
    Yes those self arrest ski poles did sing, but so did my wife’s Peter Habeler’s.
    I very much miss the lone Rocky Mountain inventor model.
    Now its solidworks slaves, god bless their hearts.
    Next I’m going to try to find the guy who did our roosterhead climbing tools
    strolling down memory lane. Kids you wont know what it was like to take off
    a year or two and still be able to back to cheap college or easily find a better than
    decent job in construction without problem.