Apr 15 2014

BCM’s Gear Test: A Family Affair

Beer – it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Snow Sista's sipping PBR's.

Snow Sista’s sipping PBR’s.

When you read the dispatches from the Backcountry Mag crew on the status of their annual Gear Test week at Powder Mountain resort you can’t help but think what a party scene the whole affair is. Indeed, a festive atmosphere does dominate the whole scene. How could it not? After all, a week of skiing where you simply MUST ski as much as you can, on as many different pieces of gear as you can, with a gang of like minded skiers sounds like a perfect formula for hedonistic bliss.

Except that’s only the facade that makes it to the headlines. What makes it all work is something far less sexy sounding – family values. Yes, I’m talking about raising families and doing the right things and not letting things get out of control even though they can, but in a family way, still do.

The Howard Family

BCM's family affair, Howie in orange on the L.

BCM’s family affair, Howie & Holly (org&blu) on the L.

It starts at the top, with Adam Howard. As part owner and editorial director he has become the man who manages the vision of what the backcountry is to the magazine’s readership and in so doing, influences what the Height of Land publishing company does to promote that vision. Gear testing is part of the equation, a part he loathes dealing with, but one that is nonetheless necessary. To deal with it his whole family gets involved, from his parents down to his kids, plus employees, partners, and contractors too.

His mom, Muffy Howard heads up one of the more critical aspects of managing a week long gear test with 50-plus participants — food. It is no small job and she gets it done without compromising quality or scrimping on bacon. His Dad, Duane, manages the database to keep track of what was tested, and therefore, what needs to be pulled from the test, or promoted within the test to get adequate ratings and comments to compile BCM’s Gear Issue (shipping next August. Subscribe here).

Back: Holly & Howie Front: Toni & Hazel

Back: Holly & Howie
Front: Toni & Hazel

His kids — well, kids will be kids and the beauty of Hazel and Toni being there is it allows, even encourages, other testers with kids to bring theirs along too so the kids really can be kids doing kid stuff with other kids.

What family would be complete without a Mom. Holly, like her husband tends to move quietly in the background. Howie tells a different story though, saying, “she’s the glue that holds it all together,” then reminds me she runs customer service for subscriptions, a duty I know from first-hand experience requires more than a pretty smile. She has one of those too.

The main thing this whole family involvement creates is a family atmosphere in a scene otherwise easily given to debauchery. Instead of everyone trying to out do everyone else, everyone looks out for everyone else. Being a family kind of guy, the familial thing just sort of ripples out.

Part o’ the Fam

KT takes advantage of a rare lull in the wrenching department.

KT takes advantage of a rare lull in the wrenching department.

My role in the March ’14 test was to assemble and be part of a four-man tech crew. Our job was to adjust bindings to testers boot sizes and DIN settings as they cycled through over 100 different models of skis with every known AT binding and a few tele ones too. Geoff Clark and Kris Thomas ran the ski barn, while Doug Wurzelbacher and I fit boots for those with the “right” sized feet. Oh, and we were also encouraged to help test skis, but once the testers realized it was no longer a self-serve affair they lined up to be helped. We typically got 3-4 runs a day, except Kris who couldn’t restrain himself to less than 6, and was the only tester to break a pair of skis. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

Bar BQ outside the ski barn at Powder Mountain.

Bar BQ outside the ski barn at Powder Mountain.

Then a minor disaster struck. A fuel injector went belly-up on Doug’s diesel truck. While most of the testers partied hard at the traditional “prom night”, unaware of the dilemma, the tech crew spent the last night of the test week researching whether this problem really required an immediate repair – it did – and who was the most reputable, fastest mechanic in Ogden to do the job.

Saturday morning found Doug at Larry H Miller’s Dodge dealer, who, though not well liked according to internet reviews, was willing and able to get the job done before the end of the day for $1200. That was better than the other alternatives we had considered, but still painful.

Next day, unbeknownst to us, someone set up a tip jar in the ski barn. By the end of the last day the test team had said thank you with their wallets to the tune of almost $200. Kris suggested, “rather than split the proceeds, we give ‘em all to Doug.” And so it was.


That’s how a family works. They take care of their own. Makes me and everyone on the tech crew feel proud and lucky to be a part of Backcountry Magazine’s gear test this year. All thanks to Adam “Howie” Howard and the BCM family.

© 2014