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“I got a great education at Western,” Howard says, “but I really wanted to write and ski and travel.”
It’s been a long journey from the classrooms and ski slopes of the Gunnison Valley to owning Backcountry Magazine and several other publications, but he says he wouldn’t change a thing.
Howard discovered Western with his high school counselor in Cambridge, Vt., while using a computer program that matched colleges with his interests.
“I moved from Vermont to Gunnison, sight unseen. I’d never been there, but I knew it was for me,” he says. “I’d never been west of Washington D.C.”
Howard studied communications, journalism and political science, when not skiing the backcountry around Gunnison and exploring the desert.
“It didn’t take long to fall in love with the area and the school and the people,” he says. “I realized there were a lot of people like me there because it was empowering. I wasn’t just this oddball mountain guy. There were lots of folks like myself.”
Howard graduated from Western in 1997 with a degree in Communication, and he interned at Powder. At the time, Derek Taylor, another Western graduate, owned the ski magazine.
When his internship ended, Howard headed back to Vermont. There, he wrote freelance stories for Powder, Backcountry, websites and trade magazines. To help pay bills, he also worked as a builder around Cambridge and as ski patroller at Smugglers Notch.
Then, one day, the phone rang.
“It was the publisher of Backcountry Magazine. He said they were closing their doors,” Howard recalls.
That night, Howard and friends hatched the idea of buying Backcountry Magazine and keeping it alive.
“Four weeks later, we had put together a business plan, assembled investors and published our first magazine. It was a huge risk. But when you’re young, you don’t know any better,” Howard says.
Four years later, Howard took another chance and bought Couloir Magazine. Three more years passed, and he purchased Alpinist Magazine. Today, Howard’s publishing company, Height of Land, employs 15 people. The company has launched Kronicle, a new backcountry snowboarding magazine and Climberism, an online climbing magazine.
“It’s been a blast,” Howard says. “And I’ve met so many Western grads along the way. The outdoor industry is filled with Western grads. Backcountry Magazine hosts a ski-testing weekend every year where people come from across the industry to test new skis, and a dozen of the 50 people have Western connections.”
In addition to his publishing career, Howard has also served as an elected official. In 2009, then-Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas appointed him to a vacated state representative seat. He ran for office again and won, serving through 2012.
“It was an honor to serve the public,” he says. “And when I think about it in the context of my Western education, I’ve used both my Communication major and my Political Science minor.
“Western prepared me for the real world, and I’m proud to be a Mountaineer.”