“Learning is not a spectator sport.”
I cannot remember the last time I reviewed a book, save for a high school literature class. Alas, I found the review of Snow Travel, written by Mike Zawaski, published by Mountaineer Books in 2012, to be worth the relatively short amount of time it took to brush-up on mental skills and decision making points I have forgotten since my first introduction to mountaineering in 2009.
Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Moving Across Snow By Mike Zawaski
[Reviewed by Al Smith III]
Having received the instructional 2013 National Outdoor Book award, the contents became full of meaning once, nearing the end of the book, I began piecing the chapters together to form a full picture of what the author has studied, experienced and written about. For example, the beginning of the book covers the basics: gear, clothing and ‘know before you go’ types of things. Logically progressing from there, the book dives into various techniques for safely traveling on snow – both American and French – with pictures and descriptions to assist in learning.
What I like about the first few sections is the way in which the author weighs the pros and cons of techniques he describes. In reality, a mountaineer on the side of a snow slope is going to make an informed decision on what best fits the situation at hand and foot. From my perspective, as an beginner/intermediate mountaineer, the author conveys the importance of this, as in the book is not an end-all, be-all, and that appropriate practice, sound decision making and experience will lead to stronger chances of more safe outcomes in the mountains.
In later chapters, Zawaski goes into advanced techniques, built upon the basics first introduced. As well, he provides the what to do if and when techniques fail, conditions shift, or errors of human judgment occur. For example, if you are using a combination of technique A & B to cross a steep snow slope, and having taken proper precautions initially to set yourself up for best-case mitigation of risk (as an informed and educated mountaineer who reads appropriate resources and practices them), you are thus also prepared for worst-case scenarios and how to respond without hesitation.
Additionally, I enjoyed the intentional course the author took in piecing together the flow of the chapters, much like logically building a house from the ground up. While the majority of the book is aimed more directly at mountaineering applications, lessons for skiers, boarders, and hikers venturing on snow carry a weight of importance not to be passed up before one travels into the mountains.
The one critical piece for the reader that stood out to me may come with a grain of logical salt: of every technique, suggested proceedings or described detail of pertinence, no substitute can be made, nor expected, for failing to practice before you go into inherit risk situations. I feel Zawaski was explicit about this, and the last chapter goes into a summary of sorts – detailing the important points first mentioned in subsequent chapters. For those looking to go the extra step, further considerations and a teaching appendix – ideal for beginners, or timely review for those with varying degrees of experience – lend credit to the worth of this book’s purchase.
Wrapping up, I am struck by the rekindled knowledge that comes to the surface. I recognize the figurative rust that has built up since my introduction to the rewarding venture of mountaineering. It would seem prudent to review a book such as this, as to recall the details one may forget personally, when adventuring with friends, clients, and beginners, at the beginning of each snow travel season. My appreciation goes to Mike Zawaski for his sharing of knowledge and experience in this instructional book.
Al Smith III is the co-founder of The Climbing Zine. He is an adventurer in many disciplines, though often he finds himself staring at the snowy slopes of mountainsides wondering what it would be like to be consistently in the risk/reward of the mountains – building respect for those that commit to doing it on the regular. He writes at his blog, Living Is Loving.