A few days ago, I got the season's first issue of Mountain in my PO Box. It was fat with ads, packed with features, and sported a pro-print editor's note (reprinted here, with permission) that got me fired up to power down and hunker down with the mag and a cup of the blackest coffee I could find.
Mountain launched last fall. For those of you keeping score at home, yes, that was also the fall where the death of print was loudly proclaimed by castles at every corner of the kingdom. And yes, it was also the fall after the collapse of a couple notable outdoorsy titles.
So to see a full-scale magazine rise from the carnage .... hell, to see it practically puking with ads in my mailbox in its second season ... is heartwarming. Maybe it's because of the lean spirit of the publication (their minimalist office in North North North Boulder is renowned for daily homemade burger grill sessions). But maybe it's because their recipe is working.
The editorial vision for Mountain comes from the mind of Marc Peruzzi ... a former editor at Outside and Skiing, who a few years ago penned the best article ever written on the love-hate relationship we all have with Boulder, Colorado (as well as another gem on "pot for athletes"). I pestered him via email until he answered a few of my questions.
WO: Was the kernel of the idea behind Mountain to offer content that isn't already available out there? Or was it to gather together an advertiser community that wasn't being served in some way?
MP: The answer to that question is “both.” Here’s why: I’ve always thought that there was a void in the market between the vertical ski, bike, climb, backpack titles and the bigger general interest, lifestyle-driven outdoor mags. Ultimately you write for the people you know, and I know a lot of people who are passionate skiers, cyclists, and mountain athletes that are looking for sharp content that speaks to a sense of place—the mountains of North America. Our readers have generally outgrown the verticals, but they also don’t connect with six-pack abs in Sayulita, or Lance on Everest stories either. So we can give them their correct dose of skiing and trail running (not the overdose of a vertical) and then surprise them with a story about wolf reintroduction or meth in the high country or an advocacy piece about grass fed beef. You would have to subscribe to five or six magazines to come close to our mix of content. And even at that you wouldn’t see the photography we run.
But none of that would matter much if we couldn’t get the ad support to make it happen. We went into this knowing that people who live or vacation in the mountains have a lot in common. Do you know any skiers who don’t own mountain bikes? Do you know any trail runners who don’t own a waterproof shell? Any Nordic skiers who don’t care about their food supply? Obviously the resorts understand this and that’s where we get most of our support; we push people to the mountains. But regional craft brewers, bike companies, apparel makers, ski manufacturers and on and on, like our readership, too. There’s no waste. We aren’t selling magazines to surfers or people looking to vacation in Monaco.
WO: If I were a writer, and I was looking to pitch you a story, what should I say to guarantee I get the assignment?
MP: First I’d subscribe to and read the magazine. Which is the first thing I learned in Intro to Magazine Article Writing in college. Spending a few dollars to potentially earn hundreds or thousands just makes business sense. And I’m nauseated by freelancers who bemoan the state of print but don’t give anything back. After that, I need to know that you’ll crush it on draft 1. There’s a tendency among today’s writers to phone in the first version because they’ve been trained by fat edit staffs to expect multiple rewrites. I don’t work in that world. One sloppy draft and you’re out forever. I’m not expecting everyone to deliver copy like a Hampton Sides, Mike Kessler, or Florence Williams, but work to the best of your ability.
WO: Now that half the world's freelance outdoor writers live in Boulder, is Boulder the best place on earth to run a magazine or the worst?
MP: Occasionally I capitalize on all the great local freelancers here in Boulder, but our creative director lives in Glorietta, New Mexico, and our contributors are, by design, spread out throughout the mountains of North America. If I had a connection I could do my job from a cave in the Sawtooths. But the ad sales guys are in a good place,
WO: How many medical marijuana dispensaries do you go past on your ride to work?
MP: On my 1.5 mile bike commute I pass four. One just opened across the street (they put out green balloons for their open house.) My favorite has a crude hand painted plywood sign that advertises: Used Books, LPs, Weed.
WO: Back when you were at Skiing, you worked on a couple generations of "Mountain Summer" ... a warm-weather edition for the Skiing crowd. But as I recall, the issue really struggled to draw advertisers. What did you learn from that experience that's being used by the crew at Mountain?
MP: Thankfully that was before my time. Just like you can’t write about dogs in Cat Fancy, you can’t write about anything other than skiing in Skiing. The audience was correct, but if I was an advertiser I wouldn’t buy it either. For our part, we never wanted to produce just another ski title. Ski titles had more relevance back in the 70s and 80s when people identified themselves as skiers and nothing else. But the user group has matured. I’m a skier, but I’m a cyclist, and a backpacker, and a backcountry skier, and a hack paddler too. And I also care about the environment and social issues related to the mountains. Mountain isn’t limited by the seasons.
WO: How many press releases do you get in a week? And how many do you read?
MP: I unsubscribe from a half dozen a day. I only read the ones that come from somebody who gets it. Please don’t pitch me on electric shavers or anything that you would bring to the beach.
WO: You were on staff at Outside, right? And Skiing? What is it about magazines that keep you coming back for more?
MP: Before getting into the magazine business I was a philosophy major and a ski shop manager, but I was always a heavy magazine consumer. Ultimately I pursued a journalism degree with the sole intention of writing magazine articles. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. It’s true that newspapers and newsweeklies have taken a hit from the new technology. But magazines that are about something will always matter.
WO: Who would win in a 100 yard dash: you, Sam Moulton or Tom Bie?
MP: Sam wins. Tom would show up 15 minutes late, muttering about fish. I would go for a ski.