Marcus Baranow, the man behind Confessions of a Ski Bum – 51 North (51degreesnorthmagazine.ca)
One of the definitions of confession is “to disclose one’s sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.”
When it comes to the self-professed agnostic and guidebook author Confessions of a Ski Bum, Marcus Baranow’s confessions aren’t sinful, but might be considered divulgence to those who think the backcountry should have gatekeepers.
The other part of Baranow’s nom de guerre “bum” can be defined as brassy as “a vagrant” or benignly as “a traveller” or “a wanderer”. The latter seems fitting for this fastidious ski tourer, whose only real motivation is pure curiosity.
“I got nothing else to do really,” jokes Baranow. “I like skiing. I like exploring. So do other people. So, I guess my motivation is that I do what I like and now I’m helping other people do what they like to do. So why not?”
Baranow, who arrived in Banff 13 years ago has been tootling around the area year-round finding, or rather, documenting ski tours. The rather equalitarian author doesn’t necessarily see what he does as something revolutionary, but something almost anyone could do.
“Within the context of which we live and the technology that we have available to us – there’s no secrets,” says Baranow. “You go on Google Earth and can literally just look at any slope and think ‘that looks sweet. The idea that these places are secret and unseen is beyond ridiculous at this point. If anyone has a problem with me writing, is an asshole – to put it nicely.”
However, as one gets to know Baranow, it becomes clear that although he might see himself as a ski tourer amongst ski tourers, he really is unique and is the best person to spread the good word. He puts in over a hundred days each year and “could be blindfolded and drunk and still find my way home” in the areas that he is covering.
“I like mapping things out, and I’ve been doing it since I was like 10 or 11 years old, going to the outside of the resort and just exploring and then taking people and telling people where to go,” says Baranow.
Baranow grew up riding at Antoine Mountain, just outside of Mattawa, Ontario. As a youth, Baranow wanted to be a professional skier, but he adjusted his expectations with his ability and was also interested in other things – mainly punk rock, hacking and activism.
As a youth, Baranow and his family would put on punk hardcore shows in his basement and ran a small local music label. Although Baranow’s parents – who were devout Pentecostals – didn’t share the same views of Baranow, they supported him.
After years of going on tour with punk bands and being involved with local activists who worked on an rarray of causes, Baranow moved west and found ski touring. Although ski touring is not necessarily a form of traditional activism, it does align with his ethos and so does sharing information. Thus, the Confessions of a Ski Bum guidebook made complete sense.
“Originally I was gonna write all the books zine style – photocopy them and leave them around, anonymously,” says Baranow who used to make zines as a teenager while in the punk hardcore scene. “I thought it would be a legit way to write a guidebook – just leave around town and it’ll be this weird phenomenon.”
The idea of the anonymous zines is where he came up with the name.
“It’s almost like a confession – like in Catholicism. Sort of like me confessing where and what I’ve been doing,” says Baranow. “But then, after talking to a few mountain guides that were like, ‘that’s probably not a great idea to do it anonymously because these people don’t know who’s providing this information and whether it is legit.’ There was a lack of self responsibility in a sense or rather, no foundation of responsibility for that information. But, I kept the name and made my first book with that name, but also with my real name.”
That sense of responsibility runs strong in Baranow. Since writing his first book in Febuary of 2013, Baranow has stayed on course for sharing info and transparency whether those sentiments are felt or not. He also offers his book for free to those who need it.
“I’m not sure I ever plan to disrupt the ski industry, and I’m not sure I really have with my books or the other things I do,” says Baranow. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve helped steer the local culture, but then other times I see something and feel like I’ve had no impact at all.”
It is clear that he has had some impact because, in some ways, he has reached his childhood dream of being a “professional skier.” In other ways, he has kept true to his teenage self and has tried to use whatever platform to share his Huxleyan beliefs.
“I think the industry is wack in a lot of ways. I think the whole “ambassador” thing has gone to a place it means nothing, at best – maybe abusive at worst. The way most sponsorships work and how social media plays into all that just seems lame and fake. There is this underlying racist and sexist culture within skiing too, and both of those issues don’t seem obvious to people until you bring examples up, and I think that’s because the ski culture has just accepted it at this point as normal. The ski industry seems fucked to me, and probably why I’m kind of an outlier to it all, whether that’s been my decision or not is probably up to debate though.”