In February, local skier and MSU alum Chris Kussmaul released the first edition of his guidebook, “Peaks and Couloirs of Southwest Montana”. The book features about 200 ski descents with in-depth descriptions and maps across the Absaroka, Bridger, Gallatin, Madison and Tobacco Roots mountain ranges.
Kussmaul has lived in Montana for eight years now—first moving to the state off a Craigslist ad for waiting tables in Glacier National Park—and was the president of the Backcountry Skiing Club for two years while working towards his degree in geology. What first began as Kussmaul’s blended hobby of skiing, photography and cartography five years ago continually built momentum, culminating in the most extensive resource ever published about skiing in Southwest Montana.
“I felt like there weren’t enough resources for my friends to get out into the backcountry,” Kussmaul said. “It started off as a passed-around PDF between me and my friends that kept getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger—so I decided it was time to step up the quality, make it look professional, and release it to the public.”
Kussmaul noticed that rock and ice climbers in the area had similar books that created opportunities for in-depth preparation and hazard analysis the night before, but no such resource existed for skiers venturing into extreme terrain. On top of the danger, he also noticed a severe lack of accessibility information to even get his boots on the ground.
“There’s no information about trailheads—even online and even from the Forest Service,” Kussmaul said. “There was an untold number of days with me in my truck, driving to what I thought would be an access point, and getting turned around by snowdrifts… There’s nothing worse if you only have Saturday and Sunday, and you want to ski a big objective, and you drive an hour and a half to the Tobaccos, just to find out the access point you wanted to use isn’t viable.”
However, Kussmaul also made sure not to give away too much information, to preserve the same sense of excitement, discovery and adventure that he experienced (just minus the frustration and headaches).
“To be honest, this isn’t a book for everyone,” Kussmaul said. “A lot of the routes are long, hard and downright dangerous… There’s plenty of routes for a beginner, but there’s plenty of routes to get people over their heads quite easily, and I want people to understand that—and I think the community has understood that.”
Unfortunately, not everyone in the Bozeman skiing community has welcomed the guidebook. Locals have sent complaints to Kussmaul, directly and indirectly, regarding the implications of such a publically accessible resource. Complaints range from accusations of overcrowding the backcountry with inexperienced skiers to exploiting the mountains for a profit (though it should be noted Kussmaul doesn’t even foresee recouping the cost of publication alone for years to come).
“There definitely is a local sentiment that backcountry skiing guide books aren’t needed and that adding more people detracts from the experience of those already there,” Kussmaulsaid. “The book is about lowering the bar of entry for people... at its base, it’s just meant to help others get out and enjoy the public lands around us.”
You can purchase this guidebook at the MSU Bookstore in the trade books section near the food and art department. For more information on the guide book, or to other local shops to purchase it, visit skiingmontana.org.