25th Anniversary Editor’s Note: Townie Talk

“We don’t live in a ski town,” my friend said one night a couple of weeks ago as we sat on the deck of the Brewster River Pub and Brewery, dubbed the Brewski by locals. We were only a quarter of a mile from Smugglers’ Notch Resort, but it was off-season and still warm enough to sit outside. My response echoed off the unoccupied metal chairs: “What are you talking about?”

“It’s not a ski town. This is a farming town,” he repeated, stubborn in a way only a third-generation dairy farmer can be. I rolled my eyes. “We’re sitting in a ski bar, I work at a ski magazine, and almost all of us, our siblings and our parents have worked at the resort at one point or another,” I retorted, waving up to Smuggs’s twin, treed summits rising over the village below. “How is that not a ski town?”

His response was fair enough: look at the cow pastures, the sugarwoods, the sagging tree stumps left from when logging was king, our scars from high-school run-ins with farm machinery. Sure, a lot of us worked at Smuggs, but usually after chores or during winter when the hay barn was full. 

The truth is Jeffersonville, my hometown and the base of Backcountry Magazine, holds a duality. Fields of corn and organic vegetables form a patched-up quilt beyond the no-stoplight town, and trails no wider than a skier with her elbows out spiderweb the mountains that rise from the Lamoille River’s eastern flank.

Growing up here, I could appreciate the quaint, northern Vermont town and its quiet complexities. When you’re a teenager, though, 2,000 people don’t feed a big social life. Plus, I really wanted to learn how to properly use a crosswalk. But after college in Rhode Island and a few years in Boulder and Aspen, Colorado, I moved back home. Then into my office at 60 Main Street, where I’ve been working for Backcountry Magazine for the past five and a half years.

The first issue I worked on commemorated our 20th anniversary, and, strangely, I felt out of the loop while in my own backyard. “Call up Dostie and Dostal for story ideas;” “We’ll need to run that cover by Howie and Howard”—it was like learning grade-school tongue twisters. And, just checking, these are four separate people, right?

Things have smoothed out since then, and I’ve found a lot of that duality that I love about town exists at the magazine. Over the past five years, we’ve published news pieces and poetry. We’ve run photo galleries alongside introspective avalanche accounts. More recently, we’ve carefully weighed our amount of news coverage with investing in a journal-style format, cultivating longer stories that wind historical research with personal narrative. That shift presented a chance for me to ruminate for 25 pages not only on Vermont’s skiing past and future, but on Aspen’s, too. This year we’ve updated our covers and logo, edit and art teams lobbing suggestions back and forth to get the new look. Mike and Robin, our “art guys,” push our black-and-white editorial brains into new directions, and we spell check each cover.

Dichotomy extends beyond the pages, sometimes. Like when we fly away from gloomy New England weather to fluorescently lit trade-show floors and achingly crisp Colorado skies. A shwacky run through the Green Mountains holds its own beauty, but skiing bowls, fjords, volcanoes—all for work—well, it’s a good balance.

My point is even clear in my mentors, Howie and Tyler, in whose editor-in-chief lineage I follow. The former is the big-ideas guy and the latter, the detailed and deadline-driven one. Different tactics, but the same end goal of publishing something we can be proud of. Sometimes, they even wear matching Carhartt vests to work.

Five years later, back in Jeff as a townie with a career in writing and skiing, I’m learning to embrace it all. The deeper love of turns that permeates through an agricultural and tourism economy, just like in so many other ski towns I’ve now been able to visit. I’m making peace with frustrating revisions and the stomach-drop at having to pronounce Aiguille du Midi in a production meeting, the dreams cooked up in the skintrack and the grinding reality of implementing them, the play and the chores. Sometimes I wonder what my teenage self would have thought of the past five years with Backcountry. I think she’d be pretty impressed. —Lucy Higgins, editor, 2014-present

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