Last year, at the age of 34 I did two things a lot of people never thought I would. I learned to ski (I used to snowboard... poorly) and I got married. It even snowed the day before our wedding... in September. Some would say Ullr blessed us! Better than just skiing though, in 2013 I also got to ski in the stuff of legends: fresh pow!
It was an amazing year. Being in love and being in powder are nearly one and the same. Both require a tremendous amount of work, balance and concentration, but when you get it right the feeling can't be beat and it's a stoke that will keep a smile on your face for days. Even falling, when in powder, or in love, is a laughable, joyous occasion. It doesn't hurt all that much and you can get up, and the powder or the love, just stretches on before you, coaxing you to just KEEP GOING! The more you ski powder, the more you are in love, the better you get, but you've got to keep at it.
That's why this past Sunday, following my first true attempt at a deep and steep line in the backcountry of the Wasatch Mountains, covered in fresh, untracked powder I was beaming. I had a few pretty big falls, but what gives? We were safe. No one was below us. The avalanche danger was minimal and I'm midway into my second season of life on skis. You don't learn without falling, right? My partner, waiting for me at the end of the run was not as stoked.
Three guys who had seen my run had decided I shouldn't be stealing lines if I couldn't ski the lines. They confronted him about his recklessness in bringing me to ski where we were without explaining any good reason for their angst, other than, we assumed, my lack of evident rad-ness. We assumed these guys had never learned to ski; they were just born awesome and with two sticks attached to their feet.
This sort of attitude, unwelcome as it is, is shockingly common in the backcountry and other extreme sports like climbing, surfing and paddling. There seems to be a belief that only certain people, maybe only those who drink a certain kind of energy drink, belong in certain places until some mythical level of dude-ness is reached that allows you keys to the kingdom.
It's an attitude that ultimately hurts the sport. Worse it is an attitude with significant consequences because it furthers the corrosive belief that we as a nation, as a community don't need to protect wild lands and open space because they're not really for everyone. If only some people, and anecdotally white men ages 22-35 who may or may not drink certain kinds of energy drink, participate in these activities and on these public jewels, we'll see the protections, and ultimately, the places slip away from us.
The thing is, as far as I can tell, it's never the pros or the real bad asses out there who seem to care. I've been cheered on following a yard sale through trees by Andrew McLean (who has no idea who I am), taught how to better place my feet on an ice climb by Steve House and exhorted on to summit a mountain peak by Conrad Anker. And let's get this straight; I am a mediocre athlete at best. I've only been playing in the mountains even part-time since I was 31. It's the guys, and it's almost always guys, who have something to prove to some unnamed higher power.
So listen up dude bros, don't be assholes. We've got to police our own and shut down the nug-nugs raining on our pow parades to make the backcountry, the local crag and the raging white water the place to be. Be safe. Practice your skills. Get in good shape. But don't hate the kid, or the bald man approaching middle age who's gunning as hard as he can, who woke up earlier than you and climbed faster than you to get to the top of "your line" before you did.
Offer some pointers instead or at least share your Dew and be a good ambassador for Winter's People!
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