From peaks to the page
For Crested Butte’s Frank Konsella and Brittany Walker Konsella, skiing Colorado’s tallest peaks has long been met with a desire to pass on to others useful information — to encourage people to get outside, travel safely and learn to love wild places.
The Konsellas’ 14erskiers.com website for nearly a decade has detailed their own adventures while offering tips on routes and reviews of gear — an endeavor born out of the couple skiing all of Colorado’s “14ers,” or 14,000-foot peaks, and documenting their missions. Frank was the fourth person to accomplish the feat in 2008 and Brittany the second woman in 2011.
It’s only fitting that the couple’s next step would be to publish their own guidebook, released recently by Mountaineers Books — the nonprofit publishing company famous for the climbing skills bible “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.”
The Konsellas’ “Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Colorado” features a selection of 102 descents spanning the state — from mid-winter lines to technical spring routes, and for snowriders ranging from beginner to expert. It may not be the first backcountry guidebook centered on the Centennial State to hit the shelves but, by one highly respected account, may be the most complete.
“‘Backcountry Ski & Snowboard’ is obviously the one doing the best job of covering, in one volume, our daunting profusion of ski routes,” Lou Dawson, the first person to ski every Colorado 14er, wrote in a recent review. “Other books cover sections of the state in even greater detail, or focus more specifically on steep summit ski descents. But an overview such as this is incredibly useful.”
Looking far, wide
Routes are broken down by range — including the Park, Front, Mosquito-Tenmile, Gore, Elk, Sangre de Cristo, Sawatch and San Juan. From there, the 362-page black-and-white book contains route info — such as distance, starting and ending elevation, vertical gain and loss and anticipated time — as well as in-depth route descriptions, needed gear, maps and photos. The Konsellas also offer their own ski skill, fitness level and technical skill ratings.
Seattle-based Mountaineers Books has produced a similar guidebook for the states of Utah, Washington, Oregon and California and contacted the Konsellas in summer 2014 about writing a Colorado version.
That call came at a fortuitous time. The couple was looking for a new project and brainstorming ideas — but none that they could come up with caught their fancy.
“They asked us to submit a list of about 100 things,” Frank explained. “A lot of those were fairly easy — stuff we already knew or had seen from somewhere else or stuff that had been on our list to ski anyway.”
In turn, the Konsellas came up with a hit-list of routes to include in the book — about 70 of which they had never skied before, some of which they knew nothing about.
“Other than skiing the resort at Steamboat, we had never been up to the Park Range to backcountry ski,” Brittany said. “We didn’t know much about it so we just threw some names out.”
Over the last few seasons, the list has taken the Konsellas to every corner of the state. For instance, the book contains routes in the Flattops and Grand Mesa — areas neither of which are particularly well-known for their backcountry skiing potential — as well as obscure peaks absent from most backcountry bucket lists.
Close-to-home routes contained in the book include Perfect Trees on Monarch Pass, Dead Squirrel Couloir near Lake City and Gothic’s Spoon, Teocalli Mountain and Red Lady Bowl, to name a few.
“A lot of them we had seen on our 14ers (missions),” Frank said. “We were going to ski a 14er and it was like, ‘What’s that thing?’ When the book came along we got to go back.”
In selecting routes, the couple tried to stray from those included in other guidebooks to increase appeal among skiers who may already have such a book or two lying around.
By day, Frank is a real estate agent, and Brittany works at Elk Mountain Lodge, in website development, tutoring and property management. Both career paths have allowed the couple plenty of time to explore Colorado’s backcountry. Their documentation of those trips, they hope, encourages others to do the same.
“It doesn’t have to be scary,” Brittany offered. “But you have to plan. That’s the thing that we’ve gotten really good at with our guidebook because we’re definitely venturing into unknown terrain. … The hard part was actually researching where to go ahead of time. We had no idea.”
The Konsellas, like any writers of a guidebook, were cognizant of potential backlash they could receive for unveiling too much. As a result, they avoided any potential “powder stashes.” For instance, about two-thirds of the book is focused on springtime missions.
Still, Frank noted that skiers don’t work to protect the places they don’t know about.
“As a local example, if someone skis Mt. Emmons because of our book, and then becomes passionate about protecting it from mining threats, that's a great thing,” he added. “There are plenty of routes in the book that could be threatened in a myriad of other ways, from access issues to heli skiing.”
The book can be found on Amazon, 14erskiers.com and local gear and book shops. The Konsellas also welcome community members to upcoming events. They’ll be at Townie Books in Crested Butte on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. and at Rock ‘n’ Roll Sports in Gunnison on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)