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Hooked on the Outdoors

2nd Annual Outdoor Person of the Year Awards

by John Byorth
February 4, 2005
© 2005 Hooked on the Outdoors

After receiving an abundance of worthy nominations, we first narrowed the list to 25 people, and then asked Hooked contributors and friends to cast their vote to help narrow the list further. The result: the following Top 5, and subsequent runners-up. These finalists all share the common characteristic of giving back while remaining selfless. All have founded or run companies and organizations that define what every outdoor enthusiast ought to strive to be. They are, without a doubt, deserving of what we feel at Hooked to be Outdoor People of the Year.

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Marcus Libkind: The Warrior of Wildlands (second place)

If you happen to be skiing in the California backcountry of the Sierra Nevada and you experience the solitude of wildlands, take a moment to whisper a word of thanks to Marcus Libkind.

Photo of Marcus Libkind on Sierra High Route
Libkind fuels his passion
on California's Sierra High Route

Libkind’s crusade began the day he took cross-country skiing lessons in Yosemite in the early 1970s. That experience secured his affection for the backcountry, leading him to become a ski instructor in the Bay area and eventually quit his job as an engineer a few years later. Libkind immersed himself in the outdoor lifestyle, opening up Sunrise Mountaineering in Livermore, California, where he promoted backcountry travel and gave backpacking and skiing workshops. When ski touring gained popularity in the late 70s, he began writing guidebooks for California backcountry adventures. By this point, there was no turning back for Libkind.

“I was confronted with the realization that the pressures of commercial development and the use of snowmobiles had, and would, continue to negatively change the landscape on which human-powered winter sports took place,” Libkind recollects. “It was not a pretty thought.”

Libkind had moved to Lee Vining, California, to continue research for the fourth volume of his guidebook series, Ski Tours in the Sierra Nevada. What he found was much more than the information he was seeking. Plans to develop the Sherwin Ski Resort at Mammoth Lakes alarmed him, as did the knowledge that developers were also wooing the Forest Service to convert the Inyo Craters area into a resort. This happened at a time when the Forest Service was preparing to write its long-term 15-year management plan. Any open doors for development and motorized usage in the plan would set a precedent, further threatening non-wilderness lands and, subsequently, backcountry recreation.

“The organized snowmobile community was lobbying for free range over all non-wilderness lands on Inyo National Forest,” Libkind says. “But nowhere was there a voice for the human-powered backcountry community — a community that is inclined toward self-sufficiency and individualism, often choosing to avoid the regimentation of organized groups in favor of the solitude of winter wildlands.”

Photo of Marcus Libkind on Peak 7272 in Alaska
Summiting Peak 7272
in Alaska's Denali National Park

What resulted was the first advocacy group for human-powered backcountry winter enthusiasts, a conservation committee within the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, often referred to as the Nordic Voice. From then on, backcountry exploration took a backseat in Libkind’s life to preserving winter wildlands.

Over 16 years, Nordic Voice would see many places in the Sierra Nevada and greater Tahoe area closed to development and maintained as backcountry wildlands. Eventually, the committee broke away from the Sierra Club and morphed into Snowlands Network, which has battled for issues like the recent victory over maintaining 70 percent of Tahoe Meadows free from motorized usage. Libkind also helped found the Winter Wildlands Alliance with two other backcountry advocacy groups, creating a more national presence for the fight for backcountry users.

After all these years, what keeps Libkind motivated to be involved?

“My 12-year old daughter, Sophie. She is quite the backcountry skier. I realize she is never going to have the opportunities I had, but I certainly don’t want them to get worse. If when you go out there and you look at where you are and say, ‘I would regret if the solitude of this place is destroyed.’ Then you need to be involved.”

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