Opinion » Alta States

Wayne Flann — bringing respect back to the mountains

by

comment

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."

American writer and cantankerous nature activist, Edward Abbey

There's something about mountain life that touches human beings in profound and mysterious ways. It's not for everyone — some people absolutely loathe spending time in the high country. Fair enough. Still, for those drawn to its severe standards and uncompromising nature, life in the mountains offers a refreshingly honest take on man's true place in the grand wheel of nature.

The lessons are harsh. The consequences of stupid (and/or ignorant) behaviour are often fatal. Alas, in this environment one rarely gets a second chance to screw up.

And yet. And yet... To actually be allowed to tread among these lofty summits — to experience the wonder, awe, and yes even sometimes transcendence they can trigger — well, maybe that's why the world's high places have always played such an important role in the great religions. I mean, you don't need to be a fundamentalist to feel god-touched while watching a sunset from a local peak...

You all know what I'm talking about. That's why so many of us came to Whistler in the first place. Why we settled here, started families, set down roots. We all love the mountains. We all love the incredible vertical playground they provide. From skiing to biking, climbing to touring... or even just plain walking, Sea to Sky features some of the most accessible big-mountain terrain on the continent. And some of us just can't get enough of its offerings.

But technology is a funny thing. As our tools and toys improved, many of us were emboldened to venture further and further afield. Suddenly we were able to reach places — and do things — that our forebears would have shuddered to think possible. And that awe and respect somehow faded a bit. I remember in 1984 when a trio of skiers managed to ski the Spearhead Traverse in under a day. That was impressive. Last month, that same journey was accomplished in a little over three hours.

Cool, eh? But not really. I mean, 50 years ago that was a nine-day trip. Is it really progress to reduce one of the world's most beautiful glacier-and-mountain traverses into a head-down morning sprint? Hmm...

Still, mountain touring is the one bright light in the snowsport business universe. While overall spending in 2012-13 once again dropped for ski gear (down two per cent) and even more for snowboard stuff (down eight per cent), it rocketed in backcountry-related buys (up 21 per cent).

And anyone who does any ski touring locally has felt the boom in recent years. On big days (and even on some not-so-big days), parking a car along the Duffy Lake Road has become an exercise in frustration. As for the danger...

Add a comment