After a multi-year hiatus, The Mountain Gazette is back under the leadership of none other than Mike Rogge. Mountain Gazette photo.
For many of us, the words “adventure journalism” conjure up notions of classic writers like Edward Abbey, Yvon Chouinard, and Dolores LaChapelle waxing poetic about the nuances of mountain culture. Forging a life in the mountains, whether it’s on the glaciated peaks of Alaska, or simply in the notorious bars of a town like Jackson Hole is a complicated process, and there’s a lot to say about it. With the evolution of media over the past decade into shorter-form, bite-size sound bites of reality, we’ve lost a sort of voice of the mountains – that of long form, creative, and poignant writing about the unique lives we need. We’re not going to sugar-coat it, TGR has fallen victim to it too - and as the editor here, I’ll be the first to admit that damn it’s hard to do that sort of thing right.
That’s why I was stoked to hear the news that Mike Rogge, former editor of the Ski Journal and the guy who got his career started at Newschoolers.com of all places, had a dream to breathe new life into an old classic: The Mountain Gazette. It’s the place where the Abbeys, Chouinards, and LaChapelles of the mountain world had a space to let loose. Thanks to some savvy business thinking, Rogge was able to make that dream a reality, and the first issue of the resurrected Mountain Gazzette will be available Fall 2020. It will come out twice annually as a high-quality coffee table book featuring some of the best writing and images around, celebrating what makes our lives in the mountains better than anyone else’s.
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I caught up with Rogge to hear about bringing his vision to life, his view on the state of media, and what to expect from the magazine.
Mike Rogge in his natural habitat. Mike Rogge photo.
TGR: Mike Rogge – you’ve been around the block when it comes to ski media. Can you give us the Spark Notes of your career path? Who are you?
I am a skier, I’m a new father, husband, son, brother, friend. This is my 15th year working in the outdoor industry, primarily on the ski side. I’m a published author, an award-winning director. I’m also an award losing director and writer. I think I’ve just been allergic to bullshit my entire career, which has served me both well and not well depending on who you ask.
I value readers and consumers of content above everything else. It was instilled in me literally in my sophomore year of high school with one of my teachers, and later in college at a small school in the Adirondacks called SUNY Potsdam. I always think it’s cool that the guy who wrote Nightmare on Elm Street went to school there, as well as TC Boyle, a crazy-renowned writer. All the way through, every mentor in my life has preached to me that you have to value readers above all, or else you have nothing. We tend to get scrappy, especially in the outdoor industry, and we tend to do so at the expense of the reader, which is I think the last place you should be doing that. If they like the content, everything will take care of itself.
Can you tell me a little about where you got started? The media world has constantly evolved over the course of the last 15 years, what have you learned?
When I was in college, Newschoolers.com got bought my a company called Studio 411, which was actually a DVD distribution company. Jeez, that makes me sound old. I’ll just say I also had a rotary phone and a Model T car. It was way back in 2006!
I was working at restaurant called Mama Lucia’s in Potsdam, and I was young and completely miserable. I did have a blog on Newschoolers where I wrote about some street skiing kids in the Adirondacks. I went to places like the Vermont Open, the Molson Snow Jams, which were really just held in parking lots with artificial snow and were where Andy Woods and Dave Crichton and Scott Hibbert and the Three Phils would go compete at. I was absolutely captivated by the New Canadian Air Force with Mike Douglas and JP Auclair, and the just the whole ski scene in general. I think it was a great time to be on the East Coast, because you didn’t have to go very far to see skiing change very rapidly.
Does this scream "adventure journalism?" Mountain Gazette photo.
Basically, I became kind of tight with some of the early NS founders, and some of them reached out to see if I would put my blog on the homepage. At the time, I was using this cool new tool that I learned about in college called Facebook, where a lot of pro skiers were, and you could just send me them a message for an interview. I cranked out something like 50 interviews in a semester and was paid enough money by Newschoolers that I quit that restaurant job. That was the last non-outdoor or ski-related job I ever had.
What were some memorable moments from that time?
It’s funny, I’m pretty sure my first NS interview was with Lynsey Dyer. For all those interviews, I remember just asking question that I think people wanted to know, which was “how do you this?” It’s the number one question I still get to this day. I learned that there’s really no exact science to it, and especially these days, people are taking a real hard look at what they want to do with their life?
Do you think the answers to those questions have changed over the years? The world of an athlete has certainly changed since 2006, wouldn’t you say?
I agree. I’m so bored with Instagram right now. It’s so boring. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s just terrible right now. It’s so crazy to see athletes do their best job to post stuff like “these are trying times, and I’m not quite sure how to express this moment, which is why I rely on this CBD oil, and if you enter code RADSKIER you’ll get 15 percent off your first purchase.”
I have nothing against pro athletes, but I really wished brands would require them to be a little more themselves. Whoever is running Rockstar’s social media, please stop making your athletes just post stuff with Rockstar. It’s so bad, man. Their athlete roster is filled with incredibly interesting people, and I think it would be much better to expose your audience and customers to their personalities and life stories rather than just exposing them to this beverage.
In terms of how it’s changed, though, I used to tell people to start a blog and get an audience. Today, truthfully, I think that’s impossible. Now, what I would encourage people to do is reach out to outlets like Teton Gravity or Powder and try to get some stuff published online. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. That’s the number one thing. Someone who loves the outdoors is valuable to a publication like that, no matter who you are.
I really hope that all outdoor publications are judging pitches based on their merit. If you have a good story idea, keep pitching it. If you have a good story idea and nobody is taking it, send it to me at Mountain Gazette. I love publishing stuff that people don’t want.
Tell me more about that new gig. I think it’s cool that Mountain Gazette has been around since the early 1960s, and it’s survived until now.
It was started in the early 60s, and had a good run until 1979. It was home for a lot of legendary writers like Dick Dorworth, Hunter S. Thompson, and Edward Abbey. It was known for being this weird, eclectic, thoughtful piece, and people loved it. I’ve found that out since taking over the magazine – people have a really deep connection. It’s great, I still haven’t won everyone over. I actually just got one yesterday from this guy who emailed me saying that he just didn’t believe in me. So I had to convince him, and I think I did. But I’m ok with that.
Over the years, the Gazette has seen writing by loads of legendary authors. Mountain Gazette photo.
It was resurrected the first time in 2000, by this guy called M. John Fayhee, who’s kind of become a legend in his own right. He’s published a few books including an anthology of the Gazette. He turned it into this sarcastic, character-driven literary bible for a lot of folks. The number one question I get is whether Fayhee is going to contribute. And he will.
Where are you planning on taking it?
It used to be a free monthly, and that business model was not interesting to me. So I’m turning it into a bi-annual coffee table book, that will be delivered once in the fall, and then again in the spring. It’s going to cover mountain town culture. As broadly as I can say it.
It’s fair that a lot of people right now probably haven’t heard of it. The most recent issue was published in 2012. For a while, they were primarily Colorado-based. The new version will be national, but I do want to honor the history of the publication without just re-creating it. I want to re-interpret it for today’s world, with the editorial looking a little more like mountain towns do across the country today. There are a lot of people that visit mountain towns and have the experience of a lifetime, and I don’t think we give enough credence to that.
I learned about it from my friend Peter Kray, who wrote The God of Skiing, who talked about the Gazette being this Holy Grail of outdoor editorial. I think it’s going to be a place where people feel comfortable sending these deeply personal pitches. There’s a lot more to being outside than just getting rad. If we only view living in a mountain town as the days we get the raddest, it’s going to be a pretty disappointing existence. If you find the beauty, excitement, and adventure in the mundane things, it’s going to be a lot more exciting.
During Covid, I really learned to love that. There’s lots of things I learned to no longer take for granted.
Are there any specific stories or pitches that you’re excited to share?
We have a writer who found this photographer who has this very unique approach. And that story is going to be about how this photographer has found the one element that connects every single person that goes outdoors. They are taking photos of that in a way I’ve never seen before. The story is about that element, and I’m really excited to read it.
We’ve gotten a lot of pitches about the current world like race, identity, and COVID. There’s definitely places that are better outlets for that kind of thing, but by the nature of our editorial mission that stuff will certainly find a home here too.
In the end, I hope it all just becomes a direct reflection of the people involved.
We're stoked on the future of this legendary publication. Mountain Gazette photo.
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