Our readers write

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When Managing Editor Anne and I read manuscripts destined for these pages, we often write margin notes to each other questioning style, clarification or fact checking. Sometimes a facetious comment is simply “How many edletters?” George Koch’s columns, for instance, often have this notation. When editing a particularly bold statement by a writer, we often wonder how many readers will comment on what has been written.

These days, not many have time to physically put pen to paper and write a letter to a magazine editor, but the postman still delivers letters occasionally. In fact, handwritten envelopes are always the first to be opened and I usually get to them before those that appear electronically in my inbox. Until I changed my e-mail address, I had more than 600 a day dumped into my mail program, about 400 of which were offering to let me work from home (I already do), to increase the size of my anatomy (I’m big enough thanks) or to share in the spoils of a mysterious multi-million-dollar bank account in Nigeria. (Years ago, I toyed with one of these offers via e-mail for about six weeks, but that’s another story.)

I find the Letters to the Editor (or edletters as Anne and I call them) can be one of the most entertaining pages in a magazine and Ski Canada has very loyal readers—and when we get something wrong, or right, or we didn’t provide enough, we hear about it. Presenting it all on printed paper may be pretty old school, but it’s a much bigger blog than most e-communities on skiing.

Opinions and comments from readers are read by everyone around here and (eventually) almost every letter is published. The only time we hold back the mike on the soapbox is when writers aren’t really commenting on anything in the magazine but perhaps wanting exposure on their business or organization. Critical readers, on the other hand, are valued.

Ski Canada readers aren’t all one age or geographic group. They’re not exclusively on the racecourse or hucking off cliffs or in the terrain park. They are skiers who are on-hill more often than the average, though. They’re simply a good cross-section of who goes through a lift line. Our edletters come from all over Canada and beyond: Europe, Down Under, Iran, Turkey and just recently from Namibia…and this doesn’t include all those Nigerians offering me millions for helping them empty bulging bank accounts.

A friend, who I shall call Leslie, was editor at another ski magazine a few years ago and she sometimes wondered if anyone ever read her book. “We never got any letters,” she recalled awkwardly when I asked her about feedback, “maybe half a dozen in four years.” And of those who did take the time to write? “Most people had an axe to grind—how nice it was that they shared it with me.”

We have pretty thick skin here; we can take it. I’ve only called the police once about a hand-delivered edletter, but after reading it to the officer over the phone three times, neither of us could understand what was being said so it went into the wastebasket.

A regular letter we receive is “Why don’t you do more on insert particular area of interest here.” This normally comes down to a space issue—we have lots to say but we just don’t have enough pages in which to say it. Indeed, it was (another) heartfelt letter from a reader from Huntsville, Ontario, who wanted me to write about his telemarking sister in Golden that inspired this scribbling.

I’ve always enjoyed reading the letters that generated more letters: helmets will do it (we have several in the bank), and surprisingly snowboarding is still enough of an issue to get people going. But I think the longest-running exchange, over the course of a year, was about our decision to use Michelangelo’s David (and not covering up his who-who) as a visual in a story on Whistler Gay Ski Week.

I try to bite my tongue and let the letterwriter have the last word, but sometimes a letter is screaming for a reply and I just can’t help myself. In margin notes in my copy, Anne sometimes reminds me that “not everyone shares your humour, Iain….” But it’s more often applied to my sarcastic response on the edletters page. Sometimes I push the limit and feel a little remorse after the completed issue has gone to press. Years ago a reader complained on the edletters page about stories that turn to the back of the magazine. I responded briefly with the reasons and then offered: “For more on the subject, please turn to page 146.” The issue size that month was 130 pages.

Iain MacMillan
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