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Recommended Ski And Avalanche Book List

November 9, 2009
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I haven’t posted in a while.  I’m planning on posting a brief review of the Black Diamond Orbit lantern, but I haven’t really felt like it yet. Since this is November and everybody is jonesing for snow, I thought I’d post a list of my favorite ski and avy info books. Warning: The list is somewhat California-specific.

I put these roughly in the order I think one should own them, with the first book being a “must-own,” and so on…

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (Various authors)

This is “the Bible” of mountaineering. FOTH includes basically all one needs to know about eating, sleeping, travelling, working, recreating, and staying alive in the mountains.  From what clothing to wear to how to make certain climbing moves and set anchors in rock, snow, or ice to avalanche avoidance to predicting mountain weather to group dynamics and expedition planning, this book has it all in at least a basic level of detail.  Now in its seventh addition, this book should be on every mountain person’s shelf.

Secrets of the Snow (LaChapelle)

Written by perhaps the most important North American contributor to the field of avalanche forecasting, Secrets of the Snow is not a tome of secret knowledge or a thick textbook.  It’s an unassuming little book of 101 pages, but it’s easily my favorite book on snow conditions, avalanches, and the visual and sensory clues that one may use to keep oneself safe in the backcountry.  It’s almost more photos than text and provides simple illustrations of the effects of wind, rain, temperature fluctuation, and other environmental factors on varying snowpacks.  Great toilet reading.

The Avalanche Handbook (McClung and Schaerer)

This is basically a textbook, but having been in school for 22(?) of my 26 years, I’m used to, and sometimes enjoy, reading textbooks.  This book contains everything you ever wanted to know about avalanches–forecasting, avoidance, management, rescue, etc.  Well-written, with lots of great color illustrations of things like wind deposition, orographics, and snowpack layering.

Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering (Volken, Schell, and Wheeler)

Co-authored by three of America’s finest guides, this book is somewhat similar to FOTH, but geared specifically toward skiing.  It’s chock full of little things that even experienced backcountry skiers would benefit from.  “Guides tricks” if you will.  Something I like to pull out around this time of year as a refresher.

Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra (Mingori and Greenberg)

An area-specific guidebook, this is really a must-own for the California backcountry skier.  Published less than a year ago, the book only covers from Tioga Pass to Bishop Creek, so it’s not a complete guide to the High Sierra (an area which I consider to extend roughly from the Twin Lakes area near Bridgeport, south to Mount Langley).  However, it covers much of the core ski terrain accessible in the well-traveled Highway 120/Mammoth/Bishop areas. The route descriptions are very detailed with specifics on approach, angle, hazards, and descent. It also includes beautiful color photos, often with ripping skiers/snowboarders (some of whom I know in person or online). I pull out this one when I’m looking for inspiration.

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain (Tremper)

One of the most popular and informative avalanche books on the market. Tons of easily accessible information.

Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book (O’Bannon and Clelland)

A great “tips and tricks” book that covers many facets of backcountry skiing with humorous illustrations. Recently revised and updated. I have both editions around somewhere and the revisions were fairly extensive and helpful. Great toilet reading. 🙂

Wild Snow: 54 Classic Ski and Snowboard Descents of North America (Dawson)

Lou is one of the fathers of backcountry skiing as we know it today. A very influential figure, his book (and blog/website) is a great source of inspiration and trip ideas. Well-researched in terms of history and route description, the book offers select ski classics over the entirety of the continent.

Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines (Gaffney)

Dr. Robb’s seminal work. A must-own if you ski Squaw. Or even if you just appreciate steep skiing. Bonus Chapter: The Gnar Game by the late great Shane McConkey.

The Mount Shasta Book: A Guide to Hiking, Climbing, Skiing, and Exploring the Mountain and Surrounding Area (Selters and Zanger)

This is THE book on climbing and skiing Shasta. Gives details on all the numerous routes and approaches (some of which are very tricky), as well as other interesting stuff to do in the area (read: swimming and fishing). The book includes a pull-out topo map tucked into the back cover as well. Andy Selters also wrote The MountaineersGlacier Travel & Crevasse Rescue. I’ve yet to pick up a copy, but I’m sure I will at some point.

[/List] This is by no means exhaustive, but these are the basics I recommend. There are a couple of Tahoe-area guidebooks that I’ll throw up here at some point, but they’re a bit older than Mingori and Greenberg’s book, so I didn’t put them on this list.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2009 12:17 AM

    Interesting…. I would put Tremper as the #2 book on the list.

    • Colin permalink*
      November 10, 2009 6:49 AM

      Yeah, I was originally thinking that it should be higher, but I don’t own it because REI didn’t carry it when I worked there several years ago when I started reading up on avalanches and took Avy I. So I bought that LaChapelle book and The Avalanche Handbook. Have you read the LaChapelle book? It’s actually pretty readable cover-to-cover. It’s also got more practical “tips,” rather than straight less-related chapter topics. Hard to explain until you read it. It’s more entertaining and, dare I say, soulful than any other avy book I’ve read.

      I also have “Snow Sense” by Fredston and Fesler, but I don’t like it as much as any of these.

  2. November 30, 2009 8:43 AM

    That’s a good list, another one that we used in my first Avy course in Jackson Hole was, SNOW SENSE (Jill A. Fredston and Doug Fesler). Allen & Mike’s, is a good read. I’ll have to look for, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

    • Colin permalink*
      November 30, 2009 8:18 PM

      Interesting. I didn’t know any avy courses used that. I have a copy and I’ve read through it once or twice. Pretty solid book, but I liked the other ones a bit better. I’ve read through Tremper more and I think Nick’s right… that’s the one to have if you’re only going to have one avy book.

      I’ll think you’ll find that Freedom of the Hills is invaluable. 🙂

    • November 30, 2009 10:20 PM

      Ya, I took a 4 day, Avalanche Level I Course through, Jackson Hole Mountain Guides back in 2002 and that was our main reference book. In Tempers’ book, his Acknowledgments mention that Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler were his mentors.

      During the course we received over 30 inches of snow with 60 mph winds in Jackson, so we were able to see the real conditions. We had our classroom portion in Jackson and went up to Teton Pass to dig pits and practice searches. The last day we spent all day at the Pass and snowshoed up, digging pits along the way. The snowboarding down was our reward.

      We used Tempers’ book more in a 2004 Avy II course I took through the Ski Patrol. All good info.

      • Colin permalink*
        December 1, 2009 4:05 AM

        Sounds like an awesome course. My Avy I was only two days and happened to be in one of the few dry spells we had in the Sierra during the winter of ’05-06. The curriculum for it was a thick reader.

        I could see how Tremper would be more Avy II curriculum. I’m hoping to take my Avy II later this season, pending finances and whatnot.

        Thanks for the excellent comments! 🙂

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