25th Anniversary Editor’s Note: Long Train Running

We started out as competitors, Backcountry and me. My crazy newsletter, le Chronicle du Couloir, became a magazine in 1993. During the transformation to national distribution I considered renaming it Backcountry, but Bela Vadasz convinced me to stick with Couloir. At the time, my calling was chutes, not meadows. That left the door open for a competitor to use the name.

It didn’t take long.

The first issue of Backcountry hit the stands in the fall of 1994. The error of not grabbing the name was undeniable. I told Brian Litz, a former Couloir contributor, subsequently Backcountry’s cofounder and editor, that he was a traitor. The publisher, David Harrower? I goaded him, saying, “He will rue the day he can keep up with me.” 

The gauntlet had been thrown down.

In spite of being competitors, Litz and I became friends. He’s too disarming to hold a grudge against, and we attended the same press events all the time. We even tried to negotiate a truce, a merger, in 1999. Harrower would have none of it. 

The race continued. Susie Sutphin took over as sales manager and not only made Couloir profitable, for a change, but convinced me to launch a second magazine, Telemark Skier. My strategy was to take a bigger chunk of the advertisement pie and starve Backcountry out of existence. It worked, but it boomeranged.

Height of Land Publications, a team of five led by Adam “Howie” Howard, took the Backcountry helm in 2002. They lacked publishing experience, but they had fresh enthusiasm and team spirit to get the job done.

Meanwhile, the internet was growing like a weed. Telemark Tips was on fire as the world-famous forum where Mitch Weber stirred the pot of controversy, using moi as a regular target. That was my first taste of how fast and furiously things can get out of hand on the web.

Ad spends shifted from print to screens and the freeheel horde migrated to Dynafit, making Telemark Skier a liability. The weight of publishing on three fronts was crushing: it was two mags and a website under the Couloir umbrella against Telemark Tips, Lou Dawson’s WildSnow.com and Backcountry

A three-year-long search for an investor ensued, which led to renewing the courtship with Backcountry. In 2007 Couloir and Backcountry formally merged. I was more than happy to let someone else break trail for a while.

It took a few years to figure out how to work together. I’m not a good follower. The key is spending time together.

These days, we hang at their annual gear-fest week at Powder Mountain, Utah. I’m head of the tech crew, wrenching bindings, fitting boots and serving as a mole for the tele tribe. They tolerate me, ’cause a free heel is required in the backcountry, and I rib ’em for submitting to training heels. And as the editorial year unfolds, I write a few stories as requested.

Twenty-five years ago, Backcountry was my adversary. As things unfolded, we became partners. Competition is good; cooperation can take us farther. It took a conversation on a skintrack for that to happen—a handshake, not a lawsuit. Backcountry, the word, is about the people, places, time on the trail and fellowship. The best name for a magazine promoting and documenting that would be, whadya think? Backcountry? But it’s not about the “name™,” it’s about the word. I’m psyched to be working with ’em, to promote that experience, for as long as I’m able. And if their brand benefits, that’s OK with me.  —Craig Dostie, Couloir publisher and editor, 1988-2007; Backcountry senior editor, 2007-present


  1. Scott Bombard says:

    Nice piece. Glad you didn’t have a mountain goat as your logo. 🙂

Speak Your Mind