25th Anniversary Editor’s Note: Ain’t nothing to do but do it

Climbers and backcountry skiers have short memories. We possess an uncanny ability to jettison the grimmest mental details of unexpectedly demanding alpine epics—the crushing loads, the numbing cold and needling winter winds—in favor of the glowing pleasantries.

How many times have I, bedraggled at the end of a particularly hard day, mused that if I had known at the trailhead what I’d know by the end of the day, I may not have exited the car in the first place. This observation and phenomenon resonates as I reminisce about the birth of Backcountry Magazine.

We were, at the time, utterly inexperienced in publishing, and, most importantly, unnervingly underfunded. Did that stop us? Of course not. We launched headlong into a bright-eyed entrepreneurial experiment that simultaneously tested our mettle and greatly expanded our horizons. We were already seasoned outdoors people, but Backcountry became a full-on immersion into all things mountains: gear, geography, gravity-spiked descents. 

For me, though, the greatest treasure to be found was meeting the like-minded and like-passioned people who inhabited our corner of the high country. It was a time to rub elbows at trade shows and on snow with the characters whose words, guidebooks and photos I’d voraciously consumed for years, whose gear designs I’d relied on for many an adventure and whose exploits had proved inspiring.

There were also many trying and dispiriting moments. Did I mention the paucity of operating capital? How about the dirth of a consistent revenue stream? Three people were doing the work of a team of eight, cranking non-stop from May 1 to early February, all while maintaining side hustles to keep gas in the car and the lights on. My job description included executive editor (whatever that is), editorial planner, managing editor, gear editor, contributing writer, ad sales, box-taper and, occasionally, dustbin emptier. Whew.

I think my most disheartening moment was the time, en route back to the Front Range from a trade show in Reno, when I T-boned a cow at dusk just west of Austin, Nevada on the “Loneliest Road in America.” According to the shotgun-toting constable who arrived on the scene, I hit the poor fella at around 55 mph, rolling him over the top of the car. The impact obliterated the Altima’s grill, hood and radiator, crushed the right A-pillar and repainted the vehicle with a layer of partially digested sagebrush. We limped back to Reno, where Outdoor Retailer was winding down, on the back of a flatbed tow truck. Not my finest hour.

Darkness and enlightenment. Yin and yang. Being able to help kick-start Backcountry, while challenging, was a true personal and professional awakening—it was pure adventure. It was also the first time in life where I felt, really felt, “Yeah, this is what I’m supposed be doing on this earth.” The mag joyously wove together my life-long love of the mountains and mountain sport, of writing and photography, of layout, of gear (yes, I’m an unapologetic gear nut) and, absolutely, the coolest people.

Four score and five years later, if you asked me if once again I’d step out onto the trail of unbroken snow that was, and still is, Backcountry Magazine, I’d say, “Ain’t nothing to do but do it.” —Brian Litz, cofounder and editor, 1994-2001

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