Young turk gives venerable Mountain Gazette a second life
The legendarily irreverent magazine that featured the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, George Sibley and Edward Abbey was purchased by a young entrepreneur eager to revive the title that has been dormant since 2012.
The legendary Mountain Gazette magazine started documenting the changing West in the mid-1960s. Twice, the influential artistic, literary and incisive magazine went dark — once for 20 years and again for the last eight.
Appreciation for the Mountain Gazette never died, even when it stopped publishing. Older issues can be found in curated collections in antique stores. Lovers of the magazine collect them like precious vinyl records.
And now the journal of culture and commentary is getting a second, second chance.
Mike Rogge, a 34-year-old skier and new dad from Lake Tahoe, is breathing new life into the idled magazine, hoping to revive the glory days when Mountain Gazette harbored the stories and characters that defined high-country culture.
Rogge bought the dormant Mountain Gazette and its website in January from Summit Publishing Co., which prints the popular, free Elevation Outdoors magazine seen on racks all over Colorado.
Rogge didn’t necessarily have a plan when he inked the deal. He knew the magazine, of course. Its writers — like Edward Abbey, George Sibley, Mary Sojourner, John Nichols, Dick Dorworth, Hunter S. Thompson, M. John Fayhee — had inspired his youthful exploration of the West. He got 50 boxes of old magazines shipped to his house as part of the deal. He spent hours poring over the issues. He’d post photos of his favorite covers on Instagram. People loved them.
So last month he started selling classic Mountain Gazette covers. He’s got clothing and drink glasses coming soon. Those sales will help fund a twice-a-year magazine. It’s going to be big — 11 inches by 17 inches — printed on good paper. He’s hoping to get folks to pay $50, maybe even $60 a year for subscriptions.
Rogge owns a media production company called Verb Cabin that helps brands share their stories with videos featuring colorful characters. “I believe everyone has a really good story but they may not know how to tell it,” he said.
His dream is to rebuild Mountain Gazette with a host of diverse voices writing stories that aren’t available anywhere else.
“Mountain Gazette has written a lot of the canon of the outdoor industry and outdoor culture and my hope is to make that canon look a little more like mountain towns today,” he said. “I want to publish things other places won’t publish.”
The last person to resurrect Mountain Gazette in 2000 after a more than 20-year hiatus was M. John Fayhee, a legendary journalist and scribe who spent 12 years at the helm of the magazine. His insightful eye reshaped Mountain Gazette, with irreverent barstool insight, an abiding appreciation of the West’s characters, an razor-sharp criticism of interlopers seeking to get rich on a town’s culture and landscapes, and a stable of the region’s top writers. His approach celebrated the artistic and literary heritage forged by its founder, Mike Moore, with long-form essays — think wandering 25,000-word explorations of Western culture, weather, and life and death in high-elevation towns — and a definitive rebuke of flashy outdoor mags heavy with gear reviews and top-10 lists.
“Outdoor media can certainly use a countervoice, one that does not rely upon selling out secret places and toeing an ever-present ‘company line’ that is essentially dictated by the increasingly powerful outdoor-recreation industry,” Fayhee said in an interview from his home in Silver City, New Mexico.
Mountain Gazette, Fayhee said, was one of the few so-called outdoor publications that challenged the outdoor industry just as hikers, bikers, skiers and climbers took on the extractive, real estate and resort-development industries.
“MG was always brutally honest and always spoke truth to power, often to the detriment of its bank account,” he said. “We need that attitude now more than ever. I look forward to seeing that flag raised once again.”
Mountain Gazette was born in 1966 as the Skiers Gazette. The magazine blanketed the West with influential stories that reflected the region’s shifting ideals. Moore changed the name in 1972 and began to explore critical issues facing the West alongside art and literary offerings, which separated the magazine from other publications. But he closed down in 1979.
Dick Dorworth wrote for the Mountain Gazette in the 70s and recorded the tumultuous history of the magazine in his essay “Survivor.”
“For people like me, writers, artists, photographers, that was a golden time. We could write anything and Mike Moore would publish it. As long as it had some authenticity,” Dorworth said. “I’d love if he could do anything close to what Mike was doing back then.”
Dorworth has been watching Rogge’s slow roll-out of the MG brand.
“He’s got old Gazettes for sale for $40. Which cracks me up,” he said. “I really wish him the best. I’m ready to send him some material if he wants.”
In the aughts, Fayhee and his partners sold the Mountain Gazette to GSM Media, which then sold to Skram Media, which then was acquired by Active Interest Media. DeMaso and his Summit Publishing Co. bought Mountain Gazette from Active Interest in 2010. DeMaso stopped printing the Mountain Gazette in 2012, citing the challenge of selling ads across such a broad distribution area covering all of the Rocky Mountain West.
Pete Kray was the editorial director of Mountain Gazette under GSM and Skram.
He remembers a particular story written by Fayhee during his tenure that he felt “pretty much summed up the essence of the Mountain Gazette.”
All the outdoor magazines were writing about the top 10 mountain towns to live in or move to, so Fayhee proposed the top mountain towns where a visitor had a good chance at getting his ass kicked. “Ass-kicking towns” was a two-part series highlighting six towns in six states across the West where, Fayhee wrote, “the tsunami of population influx and all that comes with it are not the defining social characteristics.” (A high-five for the first to remember Colorado’s town. Or is it a high-elbow now?)
“Each issue was its own animal. That’s the coolest thing you can say about any media. You go in there and you don’t know what you are going to get,” said Santa Fe-based Kray. “I think Rogge has respect for that and he’s studying how to do it right. He wants to make a magazine that everyone wants to read. I want to sit down and read something I didn’t expect and might make me think about something a different way. Mountain Gazette did that and I think it could do that again.”
That was Fayhee’s favorite part of running the Mountain Gazette: giving a platform to aspiring writers who eventually went on to establish themselves as high-caliber writers.
“It would be inaccurate to say we ‘discovered’ Mark Sundeen, Brendan Leonard, Devon O’Neil and Jen Jackson — all of whom, because of their talent, would have found outlets for their writing no matter what — but we did provide them a venue for some of their early work,” said Fayhee. “It is heartening to see how well they have done. I hope the re-resurrected Gazette provides young writers the same opportunity.”
It was Fayhee who came up with the tagline for Mountain Gazette that lingered long after the magazine shuttered: “When in doubt, go higher.”
“That can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but to me that means, when faced with a problem how do you up your game and be better?” Rogge said. “I don’t know everything, but I know that for publishing to exist in 2020 it can’t look anything like it has in the last 100 years. I think outdoor journalism needs this right now.”