Wild Woman: Outside Magazine's Abbie Barronian
I’ve written for a lot of magazines and over the course of my lifetime, subscribed to many. But my favorite magazine, hands-down, is Outside. Its content encompasses all of my own outdoor interests while providing new information in a fun way. I had the opportunity to speak to Abbie Barronian about her experience as an Associate Editor at Outside (one of several) where she has worked for the past three years. The 27-year-old is based out of Santa Fe where she’s able to incorporate her many outdoor loves into her everyday life in the offices of this famed magazine—though she and the rest of the staff are working remotely for the time being
What does your job at Outside entail?
Abbie: It entails a lot of different things even though editing seems cut and dry. I was a freelance writer for about 3 years before Outside. I came on assuming I’d continue to write a little bit and edit. That’s remained the story. I definitely edit 90% of the time to 10% writing. The writing looks like various in-house and online print stories. I write a lot of gear reviews mostly cuz it’s fun and kind of an easy thing to do. I have a lot of friends in the outdoor industry so it’s a good way to keep up with friends. I write about a lot of backcountry ski content cuz that’s a realm I’m really interested in. The editing side of things is really interesting. Editing, as it turns out, is 40% actually sitting down and editing stories and maybe 20% developing pitches and ideas, either on your own or with writers and then 40% sending emails and doing administrative work. Editing looks kind of exactly how you’d imagine it looks: a writer and I are excited about an idea, they greenlight it and send a draft, we send back and forth a few times. It’s really interesting, the feeling at Outside of editing is a lot more collaborative with the writer than my experience on the writer end had been. Whenever I edit a story and send it to top edit, there’s a sense of ownership because of the collaborative nature of the process.
Why Outside? What about their content and message resonates with you?
Abbie: Quite a lot of things actually. The biggest thing was that as a freelance writer it’s hard to feel a sense of growth, especially since I came out of college into freelancing. I was interested in working with a team. As a freelancer you’re kind of disposable. A big part of coming to Outside was a work culture thing, but as a publication Outside inhabits this interesting space where it’s totally endemic, it’s specific to the outdoor industry and also is a national title that other people respect and has serious clout in other fields. We work with really brilliant writers who get published in the New Yorker and Atlantic. I worked for Powder (R.I.P.) and Adventure Journal before and have a ski background. I spoke to people who love to do the things that I love to do on a daily basis, but it felt like there wasn’t any reach outside this niche. It felt like a good way to continue my trajectory in the outdoor industry. Being a place that has a really high edit standard, we fact check everything we publish. We have the resources to assign really ambitious, interesting work. Not to say that all of our work is ambitious, we definitely do fun, small essay and gear review type stories.
What are some of your favorite stories you’ve written?
Abbie: I think my favorite pieces that I’ve written were for Powder, largely because I interned at Powder when I was 20 and took time off college. I lived in southern California at their offices. I was so kind of star-struck; it was my first job in the industry. The people there I looked up to a lot. When I left my internship, I was like, that was cool, a good kind of detour from my normal life. I got back to school in Chicago and the editors there reached out to have me write stories and sent me on my first sort of reporting trip. I did this really harebrained road trip through the northern Midwest to write about skiing in the Midwest in a giant snowstorm. I was given an opportunity there to really take the reins and report features that involved traveling and showing up in a place where you didn’t know anybody and asking questions. That was really fun, and I also grew a lot from being given that responsibility so young and so early on. It was like, whoa, these people really think I can do this. In that, I profiled this woman Kim Reichelm, a legendary extreme skier in the ‘90s, and Powder was like, go hang out with her for a couple weeks. I went to Aspen and we skied together. She was in her 50s at the time. She’s just a riot, she’s a writer, a brilliant skier. We went surfing in Mexico together. I was 21 and I’m like, I get to hang out with this person who’s the coolest person in the world. I was really proud of how that story came out. I really enjoy writing profiles of people who are complex. That whole batch of profiles and features at Powder at that time was really formative and fun.
What’s something you’d like to write about but haven’t gotten to yet?
Abbie: Oh my god, there’s so much. I’m really interested in psychedelic therapy and mental health; that’s a space I’ve been into a lot and pitching to Outside and discussing whether it’s something we could cover. As someone who’s always been in the outdoor industry, I don’t always feel super confident pitching stories outside that realm. I’m really interested in mental health and the frontiers of research in that space.
What was your relationship to the outdoors like growing up?
Abbie: I grew up just outside of Seattle and I grew up in a really outdoorsy family. Both my parents are really brilliant skiers and we always camped. We were just an active family; we had a cabin in the south-central Cascades and grew up skiing White Pass, a really cool small ski area near that cabin. It’s always been a part of my life, also a part I took for granted like, everybody hikes, everybody camps. When I was a teenager, I got really psyched on skiing and mountains. I got dead set on climbing Rainier and I did that when I was 16 with my dad. That was something he also didn’t have any experience in so it became this space for both of us to explore at the same time. Over the course of the next 10 or so years, we climbed all the Washington volcanoes. I did a NOLS course, got my Avy 1, and just started getting into the outdoors in a more serious way and realized it was a space I loved and was empowering to me and I was good at. I can look at a map and understand a route and make a decision about it; it was just a really cool thing as a young woman to realize I could do these things on my own. I always had an understanding of the outdoors as a place that someone had to open the door to me for, but I realized I could open the door myself. I went to school in Chicago and lived in New York for a bit then moved to Santa Fe three years ago. I also learned to mountain bike and climb and started doing a wide variety of sports. It feels more kind of integrated in my day-to-day life. When I was living in New York, I would come out west every winter traveling and sleeping on couches. I did a winter at Baker, a winter at Alta. I always felt I was jumping into these worlds, but now it’s part of my life in Santa Fe where there’s trails I can bike, etc.
Does everyone at Outside incorporate outdoor activities into the workday?
Abbie: They’re journalism nerds first, outdoors people second. People work hard, but there’s also a culture of recreating. On a powder day, it’s not uncommon to see people trickling in late. There used to be after-work mountain bike rides. At the climbing gym, you can’t go without seeing seven of your coworkers. There’s absolutely a culture of going out and getting after it, but everyone at Outside probably works harder than they should.