Carl Skoog: Remembering an icon of Washington ski mountaineering and photography

Mountain environments tend to attract strong, knowledgeable and sometimes even eccentric personalities. So to learn more about these individuals who leave their indelible mark on the backcountry community, we asked their friends and colleagues to speak about why these people have attained the status of being a “local legend.”

Before his untimely death in 2005 at age 46, Carl Skoog logged innumerable first ascents and descents and shot dramatic imagery in his home mountains—Washington’s Cascade Range—where he explored with his brothers, Lowell and Gordy, and many friends. And for Cascade-based photographer and adventurer Jason Hummel, Skoog’s work provided inspiration aplenty to continue the tradition of adventure ski photography in the state’s rugged ranges. —Louise Lintilhac

Carl Skoog at the end of the 1995 Multiglisse Traverse, so called “North America’s first-ever ski mountaineering race” held near Pemberton, B.C. [Photo] Lowell Skoog

Before I made a name for myself as a photographer, I had the pleasure of meeting Carl on a trip to North Cascades National Park to climb and ski Sinister Peak’s north face—a route where Carl claimed the first ascent a quarter century before our trip together in 2005. As we tromped through slide alder, he told me about his upcoming trip to South America’s Cerro Mercedario, a mountain on which he would ultimately pass only a few months later.

At the time, I was a guy with a camera who was hoping to become a photographer and, to me, Carl was living the life. There was no limit to the questions I could ask, and I talked his ear off the entire time we brush-bashed our way up Downey Creek. We discussed film and the rise of digital, how to set up your settings, what type of film he liked and much more.

Photography-wise, Carl is my muse. He was a guy who went into the mountains he loved for personal adventure and discovery. He didn’t go solely for pay or for a big photo shoot; he went because the mountains attracted him, his heart and soul. Blisters and sore shoulders were a small cost in comparison to the adventure. Those exploits were all the payment that either of us needed.

Both our careers were kickstarted by pioneering adventures into the Picket Range, arguably the most infamous mountains in Washington. In the spring of 1985, along with his brother Lowell and their friend Jens [Kieler], they made the first ski traverse of the range. When they returned, Carl decided to submit his photos, and they ended up being the beginning of his career in photography. In 2010, Forest McBrian and I made the first winter traverse of the Picket Range. When I returned, my imagery of that trip boosted me into life as an adventure photographer.

It was in following Carl’s footsteps—almost literally—that launched my career. At times I was retracing some of the Skoog brothers’ paths to get out into all of these different places throughout the Cascades. And, in a way, I have always felt that I was out there carrying on the tradition of being deep in the North Cascades and taking real and honest imagery of adventure. I take pictures of anyone I go on an adventure with and, in Carl’s case, he was often taking pictures of his friends or his brothers.

In carrying on the tradition of taking photography deep in the North Cascades, my life has paralleled Carl’s. Ultimately, being in nature is what makes us tick. Photography is, in a lot of ways, secondary. And I feel it was the same for Carl. It wasn’t a job. It was his calling.

This article was originally published in the November, 2017 Backcountry Magazine Photo Annual.

Comments

  1. kurt stiles says:

    Carl Skoog…Visionary Ski Mountaineer, Master Wilderness Photographer and very approachable is answering questions on both activities. I spoke to him a few times and found someone super passionate and quite able to motivate and mentor, even at a distance.

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