Jason Griffith

Backcountry Skiing by Martin Volken et. al.

Mountaineers books recently sent us a copy of Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering by Martin Volken, Scott Schell, and Margaret Wheeler.  For those of you who don’t know, Martin owns Pro Ski Service in North Bend, WA and a guiding service by the same moniker, with the other authors of this book being fellow guides for his operation.  Below is what we hope is a comprehensive review of the this excellent book.  The Chapters are organized as follows…

Chapter 1 Gear and Equipment
Chapter 2 Decision-Making in Avalanche Terrain
Chapter 3 Navigation
Chapter 4 Uphill Movement
Chapter 5 Transitions
Chapter 6 Ski Mountaineering Techniques
Chapter 7 Downhill Skiing Techniques
Chapter 8 Taking Care of Yourself and the Mountain
Chapter 9 The Mountain Environment
Chapter 10 Rescue Techniques and Emergency Preparedness

As pointed out by Sky Sjue in his backcountry skiing article backcountry skiers really come two origins.  The first are traditional skiers looking for new challenges.  These skiers typically have the necessary skiing technique to ski challenging terrain but lack the backcountry knowledge to safely navigate “out of bounds”.  At the other end of the spectrum are backcountry users like climbers looking for a easier and faster method for traveling during the winter and spring months.  Martin clearly recognizing the disparity in skill sets between these two groups and successfully emphasizes these differences throughout the book.  One passage that particularly caught my attention was pointing out that good skiers ski literally hundreds of thousands of feet and that this is something that a new skier cannot do in the backcountry.  Along the same lines lack in skiing competency and being able to travel quickly greatly compromises safety.

Every chapter is very thorough with tons of tips. More importantly I found the book really engaging; I suffer from half-read book syndrome and didn’t encounter this with this book. The flow of information is well thought-out accompanied by great pictorial and graphical examples.  Coming from a resort skiing background, with most my partners doing the same, I really found the uphill movement and transitions chapters helpful, learning tricks I didn’t pick up through my skiing partners over the years.  I found there were so many tips I had to write them all down and take them with me to read before I started a tour.  Throughout the book the authors are constantly emphasizing mountain safety and what aspects of backcountry travel contribute to safety; efficiency, aptitude, speed, awareness, and proper judgement.  This book doesn’t for a minute pretend to replace needed backcountry training like avalanche classes and in-bounds skiing.

We highly recommend this book for anyone, even the most advanced backcountry skiers.  There is no filler in the book, it absolutely littered with useful information from combined decades of professional guiding experience.  Martin Volken’s end product is a highly comprehensive, engaging, and well-written book on almost every aspect of ski mountaineering that I’ve seen.  It’s a real impressive piece of work in what could be Martin’s doctoral dissertation on ski mountaineering.

Backcountry Skiing can be found at many local retailers that support cc.com as well as Amazon.com.

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