All the way to Revelstoke, British Columbia–that’s how far I had to travel to see the future of guidebooks. A buddy and I had done a trip to Revelstoke last year and the folks at Parks Canada told us about a new, digital guidebook in the works: Uptracks, Bootpacks, and Bushwhacks. We scouted it online and marveled at the high-res digital images, detailed route beta, and comprehensive information. Problem was, it wasn’t yet finished and when it arrived, it would be digital only–printing it would run towards $200! It also included only the north side of the road.
We returned a year later for our final ski exam with the American Mountain Guides Association. Over the months prior to the exam we prepared diligently. I considered plunking down the $25 for Uptracks, so I returned to the site and was delighted to find that the complete, upgraded, digital version was out. Not only had author Douglas Sproul finished the south side of the Pass, he’d added several layers of functionality that truly sets the “Geobackcountry Mobile Optimized Rogers Pass Guidebook” apart.
First off, if you haven’t skied on the Pass, it’s time. Huge, varied, beautiful terrain spans the Trans-Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden, B.C. Forget heli bumps and cat skiing for the moment; world-class terrain stands before you the moment you step out of the car. Sure, there are some regulations to consider, but an hour spent familiarizing yourself with the scene is a small price to pay for getting the goods. Besides, all the info you’ll need is right in the Geobackcountry package, downloadable before you make the trip.
So, what makes the thing so badass? Everything. For $30 you get 333MB, which includes a complete intro to the Winter Use Permit system for the Pass, detailed overview maps with uptracks and descents drawn in, 100 textual route descriptions, 201 high-res images of individual routes and overview areas, and perhaps coolest of all, a Google Earth KML file that you can open within your GPS app on an Android phone or on Google Earth on your laptop. More on that in a sec.
So complete and detailed is the route information that it’s almost like cheating. Compared to what guys had to do on their ski exams of years passed, we had an unfair advantage. I’d tour plan the night before, laying out my GPS route in hillmap.com, then email it to myself and open it on my phone. I’d load the corresponding images from the Geobackcountry guidebook and I’d have a paper topo map, GPS info, and images stored in my phone for reference. If anything, it’s information overload, but in a whiteout or when onsighting in complex terrain, it’s invaluable stuff.
The textual descriptions describe crux portions of the route (which I’d note in my notebook for each day’s tour) and give suggestions for alternatives. They also give a difficulty rating, elevation gain, time estimates, and so on. Sproul has skied millions of feet on the Pass, so it’s like having Ethan Greene whispering in your ear when touring here in Colorado. A big advantage!
When I downloaded the book, I read through the contents and noticed something about a KML file that one could overlay in Google Earth. This would then show all the routes (ups and downs!) on the terrain–you can then zoom in/out, tilt, fly over, the works. Each route on the KML is numbered, so then you bump into your PDF-viewing program and read the text or check high-res pics. Cheating? Almost. But really, to steal Sproul’s aphorism, Knowledge is Powder. Yes!
In the description of the KML file, there’s some info about opening the KML in your GPS app (Backcountry Navigator, Gaia GPS, etc.). The description is mildly techy, so I dropped Sproul an email before we traveled north. He promptly replied, giving me some help, and adding, “Give me a call when you’re in town.” Which I did.
Two weeks later I’m sitting in Sproul’s kitchen in Revelstoke, being served dessert, red wine, and having a custom tutorial on the Geobackcountry guidebook. Not only is Sproul a genius guidebook author, he’s also a capable techy, and most important, a great guy. He showed me how he runs the the guidebook on his phone, so he can see his position real-time in his GPS app (Backcountry Navigator) with all his route information overlaid in the app. Awesome, especially for those unfamiliar with the Pass.
The only bummer with the Geobackcountry KML file, at present, is you can’t run it with an iPhone. No big deal, in my opinion, as you have so many other resources at your disposal you can easily do without, but still, it’d be cool for us Apple folks to have the functionality. With Sproul’s help, I tried to force the issue and got the KML to load within Gaia GPS, but it was buggy. I didn’t spend too much time trying to perfect it, as I was on my ski exam, but somebody with the genes for it probably could. Sproul’s not currently selling it to iPhone users, but with a nice email and some cajoling, you might be able to talk him into sending it to you.
Coming home to Colorado, I’m back in the Dark Ages of guidebooks again. Despite a hiccup on my crevasse rescue, I managed to pass my ski exam so now it’s on to rock climbing. If only Sproul had the time to put together an optimized guide for Red Rocks!
Big thanks to Douglas Sproul, his lovely partner Trace, and their merry crew of pranksters up there in Revy. If you haven’t skied there, you should–memorable terrain within reach of Colorado. And if you head up…click through to Geobackcountry.com and see where guidebooks are headed. Thirty bucks is a steal for something this much better than the current standard. Excellent work, Douglas!
If you’re interested in another and more in-depth review of the Geobackcountry magic, check out my buddy Lee Lau’s excellent piece over at Wildsnow.com.