Aspen Public Radio | By Kaya Williams
Published February 27, 2023
Lou is a friend of mine from the old days.. we shared a few skiing and mountain adventures over the years. His new book “Avalanche Dreams” is soon to be published this spring. I was fortunate to read early versions of the memoir as a Beta reader … an interesting life revealed.
Local alpinist Lou Dawson was the first person to climb up and ski from the summit of every 14,000-foot peak in Colorado. He founded the ski touring website “Wild Snow,” and has written more than half a dozen guide books on backcountry skiing; his latest book, a memoir titled “Avalanche Dreams,” will be released later this year.
Dawson will present a “Potbelly Perspectives” talk at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) Hallam Lake Nature Preserve on March 1 at 6 p.m. Reporter Kaya Williams spoke to Dawson earlier this month about the memoir, his upcoming talk and some lessons learned from a life of mountaineering.
Kaya Williams: How would you describe this new memoir in terms of how it relates to your personal life? Is it a love story between you and the mountains? Is it something else entirely?
Lou Dawson: I think it’s some of that, and then it’s kind of a journey on through to where I met my wife. And then we had our child and raised him here in the valley, and had this kind of pretty idyllic life, really, skiing and mountaineering, backpacking in Wyoming and doing all that sort of thing, which finally culminated with me and my son climbing and skiing down Denali in 2010. You know, I made that into the last chapter [of the memoir]. It’s kind of a good, good and high point of the whole of the whole story.
Williams: It’s my understanding that you’ll be talking quite a bit about this “idyllic life” you’ve lived, possibly leading all the way up to Denali, at ACES pretty soon here. What can people expect?
Dawson: It’s a little tough because I’ve had a life that’s multi-layered and has a bazillion great adventures. So it’s pretty tricky, all the way from my father, who was a really interesting creative guy, but had some troubles, and then on through spending my teenage years here in Aspen, and going to Aspen High, and deciding that I just wanted to be a climber, and then going around and spending a lot of time in Yosemite, being a climbing bum and kind of going through that phase of life, but never wholly satisfied with things and wanting more and wanting better relationships and ultimately feeling a strong call to having a family.
Williams: It’s interesting that you mentioned that point of satisfaction, which I’ve noticed a lot tends to occur in mountain environments where people are always looking for the next highest mountain, they’re looking for the next big objective. Have you found that true in your own life as well?
Dawson: Oh, yeah, you know, it’s definitely an addiction, and I struggled with that for a long time. And I always liken it to the rat that’s in the run wheel in the cage, you know, doing the experiments, and the rats just sitting there running on the wheel and running for the next experiment, the next hit of adrenaline. And, you know, that can be positive, and a lot of people have a phase in their life that’s like that. And indeed, the athleticism and the “Mind, Body Spirit” kind of aspect to it can be really wonderful. But on the other hand, if you’ve become highly addicted to that sort of thing, it can end up being self-destructive. And of course, I struggle with all that like crazy. I tried to explore those things in my book, using myself as an example, and some others that I hung out with too.
The athleticism and the ‘Mind, Body Spirit’ kind of aspect to it can be really wonderful, but on the other hand, if you’ve become highly addicted to that sort of thing, it can end up being self-destructive.
Alpinist and adventurer Lou Dawson, on the risks and rewards of mountaineering
Williams: And how have you navigated that over the course of your life, without spoiling too much of the book?
Dawson: Well, I think a lot of it was just time, you know, time to sort things out. And, you know, I was blessed that I stayed alive the whole time, because I went off and did some pretty stupid things that almost took my life. But I think it was a matter of finding a balance and things, you know, a little intellectuality, some spirituality, maybe just, in a word, it’s kind of trite to say it, but just growing up kind of leaving some of those childish ways behind — but on the other hand, having fun and always being wide eyed and loving the mountains and loving the mountain sports.