Thursday, May 28, 2020

Local skier writes guidebook to backcountry skiing

“Knowledge and information are always good things”

There was a time, admittedly fairly long ago, when information on backcountry skiing would come by word of mouth. Butte Bagels would be packed in the morning with skiers wolfing down breakfast bagels and chugging mediocre coffee and discussing the plan for the day.

Miss out on the morning meeting and you could catch info about the local backcountry at the bars that night and if someone was nice enough, they might scribble a somewhat legible map on a bar napkin.
As the local scene grew and technology advanced, information about skiing came by the Internet through blogs and Facebook postings but rarely, if ever, was one treated to the information about the actual location where one might skin up and where one might ski down. You still had to either find a local or hire a local guide to take you into the hills.
Local Andy Sovick has now added another way for anyone venturing into the local backcountry to gain information: the Off-Piste Ski Atlas.
Sovick spent the past nine years skiing the Crested Butte backcountry and the past three years putting together the information on skiing the Crested Butte backcountry into a local backcountry skiing guidebook.
He grew up in Ft. Collins, Colo. and his passion for the backcountry and maps in general started at an early age, aided by his parents.
“My folks were both adventurers,” says Sovick. “Especially my father. He taught me how to read maps.”
Sovick’s passion for maps continued as he grew up and he even started a geography club in middle school.
“I love maps and I love guide books,” says Sovick.
Sovick’s father was a telemark skier back in the day as well and when Sovick turned 12, his father bought him a pair of TUA Grand Neige skis, 205 centimeters long.
“He showed me the door,” says Sovick.
One thing led to another and when Sovick was living in Durango, he started to truly explore his passion for backcountry skiing making his way throughout the San Juan Mountains. It was then that Sovick really started thinking about putting together a ski guidebook.
“I’ve always wanted to make a ski guide book since I was 18,” says Sovick.
Three years ago, Sovick decided it was time to merge his passion for guidebooks with his passion for backcountry skiing.
The idea was not without concerns. Sovick admits he was hesitant for a number of reasons such as local pushback.
Feedback to Sovick so far has been positive for the most part, but he admits he “lives under a rock” so he may have missed some of the scorn. Nevertheless, he realizes a guidebook may rub some people wrong.
“I’m certain some people are going to be upset,” says Sovick.
He adds that he was surprised that there wasn’t a guidebook out yet and that since his book’s release, he’s had several people claim they were starting out with a similar product.
“I’m just amazed that this is the first one of the area,” says Sovick. “I had one guy tell me he already had a pilot lined up to do the same thing.”
He believes a guidebook is not the biggest reason for traffic in the backcountry. Rather, it’s already happened and he hopes a guidebook can serve as another tool to keep people safe.
“I’m concerned that there are more people in the backcountry than ever before,” explains Sovick. “That concern was one of my motivations for writing the book. I think this book will help keep people safer. I’m trying to provide them with a resource.”
He was also concerned that the guidebook may provide access to backcountry skiing to inexperienced users. Sovick makes it very clear on the second page of the book the hazards of venturing into the backcountry.
“Every location showcased in this atlas is prime avalanche terrain… This atlas should in no way substitute for good judgment or sufficient experience…,” are just a few of the many cautions Sovick includes throughout the book.
Ultimately, Sovick believes that due to technological advancements in equipment, the overall stoke for the backcountry experience has led to the surge in backcountry enthusiasm over the past decade. As a result, Sovick believes information is key to safety.
“Knowledge and information are always good things,” says Sovick. “I see it as a resource to stay safe, smart and educated.”
 Sovick admits he also struggled with what areas to include in the book. In the end, he decided to limit the book to 10 locations for a couple of reasons.
“I decided to do the spots that aren’t even a secret, in my mind,” says Sovick, “the spots that are easiest to get to but still provide a variety of skiing. Also, I wanted to keep the book small, portable and light so people can carry it with them skiing.”
Sovick points out for the weight-conscious backcountry users that the book weighs a mere 2.8 ounces.
With the areas decided upon, i.e. Snodgrass, Coney’s, Schuylkill to name a few, he then lined up local photographer Chris Miller and found pilot Rob Duncan out of Crawford willing to fly them around to get aerial shots of the venues.
Duncan “loves flying and said that if I pay for gas, he’ll take me flying,” says Sovick. “By the way, that gas is expensive.”
But it wasn’t until March 2013 that everything came together for aerial photos. Sovick wanted bluebird skies, quality coverage and fresh snow without tracks. As a result, early one morning after the area received close to two feet of snow followed by a clear day, Sovick, his wife and Miller climbed into Duncan’s 1967 Cessna Skywagon.
“We took photos of everything,” says Sovick. “It was one of the coolest days of my life.”
With pictures in hand Sovick then struggled with design and layout but called in the expertise of Keitha Kostyk to help him put it all together.
The guidebook is currently available on Sovick’s website, and at local stores such as the Bookworm in Gunnison and the Alpineer and Rumors in Crested Butte for $18. A portion of the proceeds from sales will be donated to the Crested Butte Avalanche Center.

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