IT MIGHT HAVE been the winter of 1989 that my roommate, Reed, who’d been skiing with a cadre of Los Angeles-based ski mountaineers, handed me a sheaf of photocopy paper bearing the title, le Chronicle du Couloir.
Translation, en l’anglais: The Chronicle of the Mountain Chute.
My memory isn’t ironclad here, but I believe le Chronicle was composed of three sheets of A3, folded in two and stapled in the crease. There were actual articles about unleashing one’s heels on those pages. Or rather, a series of exhortations. One piece informed the great unwashed about the early “lead change”; another a primer on laying down the perfect skin track, and yet another extolled the virtues of plastic-cuffed leather boots.
“Where’d you get this thing?” I asked.
“Craig Dostie. He wrote it.”
“One of the skiers in the group. An engineer,” Reed said, as if that explained everything.
“Hope he doesn’t quit his day job,” I said.
Before long, le Chronicle began to appear in the mail.
“You paying for this thing?” I asked Reed. “Thing,” because that’s what it still was – something beyond classification.
Soon enough the Thing began to look like a newsletter (Dostie having made the jump to glossy stock), and soon thereafter le Chron sported color. And advertisements. And then a few more ads. And the newsletter became an even thicker newsletter, until it began to resemble an actual magazine. Dostie’s was the only name on what there was of a masthead, but soon he had a contributor or two, and then more ads, and then the le fell away, and then the Chronicle and du were axed to reveal one big Couloir. And on every issue was emblazoned the catchphrase “Earn Your Turns,” a dictum distinguishing the ski mountaineers who summited peaks under their own steam from those who gained the summits courtesy of a chair lift.
Thus was Couloir brought into the world.
Back in those days there just weren’t many magazines devoted to splinter sports. There was Powder, of course, and Climbing, and the like, but none dedicated to the smallish skiing community whose raison d’etre was an antediluvian method of steering skis. It seemed an unlikely business proposition at best.
But Dostie wrote well. He could preach, passionately and provocatively. He more often than not made sense. He won converts. He began to attract a stable of fine contributors to his magazine. As Couloir matured and mellowed, Dostie carved out a corner of the periodical for himself. The Soapbox contained, to my sensibilities at least, the magazine’s most interesting content.
I’ll let Craig tell the story of how he built the newsletter into a beautiful book-bound glossy, and did, in fact, trade his engineering habit for paper mongering. He eventually sold the whole shooting match to Backcountry, back when it seemed everyone was dropping their knees and freeing their minds. He now writes EarnYourTurns.com, and he’s lost none of the passion that put Couloir on the map in the first place.
Come late autumn, I usually click on Earn Your Turns to spy on Craig’s thoughts about the coming winter. I did so last week, and damned if he hadn’t written a pungent editorial about the primacy of the bent-kneed turn that could have come from the first issue of le Chronicle.
Plus ça change, plusc’est la mêmechose. That’s French for “Things haven’t changed much since that first photocopied debut of The Chronicle of the Mountain Chute.