Outdoor publications have faced a difficult crossroads over the past decade or so: Chase after limited ad dollars with a hearty helping of top-10 lists and gear reviews — or cut their losses and shut down. Sometimes both. Watching Powder Magazine — an outdoor staple and paragon magazine of my childhood in a mountain town — publish its last issue almost one year ago was another painful blow, which brought up the question: Is outdoor journalism at the end of its rope?
Far from it. The 20th century business model might be tired and frayed but the underlying artform is still as vivacious and fresh as ever, according to Mike Rogge, who began resurrecting and reimagining the storied Mountain Gazette last year.
“For me the [print] medium is one that I loved as a kid,” Rogge said. “I used to pick up copies at the grocery store with my mom — Freeze, Powder, Freeskier — and two out of the three of those aren’t there anymore. I felt like there was a place for it, and my bet was right.”
Rogge is a Tahoe resident and former Moonshine contributor who now divides his time between the Gazette, his wife and son, and the local media company he founded, Verb Cabin. His more than 15-year career as a magazine editor has spanned the prolific publications Powder Magazine, Vice Sports, and The Ski Journal, but he says he still felt like he was starting from the ground floor after buying the Gazette. For the first time he was now a publisher, and he immediately started picking up the phone and making calls. Rogge consulted everyone from the co-founder of MTV, to the former publisher of VICE Magazine, to the founder of Rolling Stone and numerous others to craft a business plan and vision for the Gazette that fit the 55-year-old magazine’s legendary spirit. A $60-a-year subscription will ship the gigantic, matte finish, coffee table centerpiece to the reader biannually in the spring and fall.
“What I realized was it’s totally doable; it’s the subscriber model, and what I think is cool is you put all the value where it always should have been, which is on the readers — informing, entertaining, and captivating your readers,” Rogge said. “And what you do is, you say if we’re captivating you, please pay for this thing; we don’t give it up for free.”
The next step was formulating an editorial vision for the magazine, starting with poring over the 50 boxes of old issues Rogge had mailed to his door. The Gazette has a history of engaging readers for decades with its genuine take on the outdoor lifestyle and disregard for what might be called “standard protocol” in the world of journalism. Rogge said that founding editor Mike Moore didn’t mind bending a few rules for the sake of a good story, letting his writers write on “longer than maybe they should have” and publishing long series over multiple issues, sometimes even 100-page manuscripts. In a long-ago written article for the magazine called Survivor: The long (down and dirty) history of the Mountain Gazette, former writer Dick Dorworth calls the publication “a place to develop and regularly publish the kind of writing I most enjoyed and thought most valuable but could not get published elsewhere.”
The Mountain Gazette was originally launched as Skier’s Gazette by Moore in 1966, and a team of offbeat literary dirtbags quickly turned it into a writing- and photography-forward, irreverent, counterculture publication of mountain towns across the country. According to Rogge it “became a home” for writers varying from true mountain bums like Dorworth to national household names like Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson. Plagued by financial issues — Dorworth writes that Ed Abbey would typically send a check to the Gazette with his manuscripts — the magazine shuttered and reopened countless times over the past five decades, each time leaving a palpable void in the literary outdoor world.
Now, about one year after resurrecting the title, Rogge said he already has about 3,000 subscribers and plans to hold true to the roots that gave the Gazette its cult following. It was a magazine founded on colorful characters and the stories behind them, and so it’s a people-focused trail he wants to take the magazine down. In the latest issue, the stunning 11-inch by 17-inch cover photo of a silhouetted firefighter abreast a wall of flames highlights one of the main features on the men and women who fight fire in the West. The striking matte finish, large format magazine — 99 square inches larger than most traditional publications — was chosen to highlight the large landscapes that the Gazette’s stories will occupy, according to Rogge.
“We cover the stories that happen when you walk out your front door, whether your front door is in Lake Tahoe or Manhattan, Los Angeles, Denver, Boulder, or wherever,” Rogge said, adding that this wide-lens approach gives the magazine the opportunity to produce stories that most established outdoor publications would shy away from, and hugely expand the talent of the writers and photographers he gets to work with. A writer from LA is making the case in the next issue that the coyote is a better representation of America than the bald eagle. Another upcoming feature will take a look at the country’s houseless people — who by nature spend more time outside than anybody. Behind the keyboard and lens, the Gazette also hired the first black female senior photographer in the history of outdoor publications this year, and Rogge says another artist is using the Gazette as a way to come out of the closet.
“Our magazine is good because of the people who make it … and that means the writers and the photographers,” Rogge said. Issue 166 of the Gazette will ship to subscribers around the country (and farther) in November.