A winter information to accountable recreation within the hinterland

It’s no secret that the pandemic sparked the biggest backcountry boom in history. The coverage was wall-to-wall with national news outlets far from the wild, from NPR, NBC News, New York Times to the Wall Street Journal. When the masses walk into the now snow-covered forests without much of a safety net, the questions begin: How can we all share this space and participate responsibly? How can we all enjoy comfort and solitude without putting others in danger? How can we expand the outdoor community while maintaining good etiquette with one another, with wild animals and with nature?

The questions only multiply when you look at all the different disciplines and avenues that we are recreating in public areas. By some estimates, backcountry users have tripled this winter, bringing niche sports into the mainstream almost overnight. Ski touring, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and skiing are still popular. This is demonstrated by crowded starting points, empty shelves in equipment stores, and your crazy uncle’s weekly text messages about avalanche risks. However, most of the negative effects are harder to spot and assess, let alone change.

One of the few epicentres of this trend is my mountain hometown, Jackson, Wyoming. Famed for their world-class powder, cowboy culture, legendary national parks, and Kanye West’s new ranch, Jackson’s 10,000 permanent residents are home to millions of tourists each year. Despite an international health crisis, lockdowns and the greatest fear of a pandemic, we have seen an increase in visitor numbers every month since June compared to last year. This rapid influx ventures past the ski area and popular restaurants, often into the hinterland, and often without a full understanding of how they affect others.

Rather than condemn the boom, the staff at Bridger-Teton National Forest and its nonprofit partner, Friends of the Bridger-Teton, have taken steps to lead by example and help people recover more responsibly. Together they created a series of films highlighting community members who are responsible for good etiquette and safe backcountry travel. These are not typical pressure-sensitive adhesives with strict rules and formal procedures, but rather voices from locals highlighting the problems, risks and love for the hinterland.

Through their stories, including close conversations with avalanches, wildlife, and hordes of other backcountry users, these characters set an example as good role models to follow. The same problems exist in mountain towns to the west, from Tahoe to Telluride, from Bend to Bozeman, and from Park City to Taos.

Responsible sled from friends of the Bridger-Teton on Vimeo.

Winter animals from friends of Bridger-Tetons on Vimeo.

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