It is no secret that the epidemic stimulated the greatest Backcountry Boom in history. Its coverage was comprehensive with national news outlets Out of the Wild, from NPRAnd the NBC NewsAnd the The New York Times, to me Wall Street Journal Pick it up. When the masses head into the now snowy forests without much safety net, the questions arise: How can we all share this space, and participate responsibly? How can we all enjoy solitude and isolation without putting others in danger? How can we expand the outer community while maintaining etiquette towards each other, the wildlife, and the natural world?
The questions only multiply when thinking about all the different disciplines and ways we recreate on public lands. According to some estimates, the number of users in remote countries has tripled this winter, bringing previously niche sports into the mainstream almost overnight. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing are more popular than ever, as evidenced by overflow lanes and empty shelves at equipment stores, and your crazy uncle sends you text messages about avalanche hazards every week. But most of the negative impacts are difficult to see and assess, let alone change.
One of the highlights in this direction is my home in the mountain city, Jackson, Wyoming. Known for its world-class powder, cowboy culture, iconic national parks, and the new Kanye West ranch, Jackson’s permanent 10,000 residents host millions of tourists every year. Despite the international health crisis, lockdowns, and the height of fear of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of visitors every month since June, compared to the previous year. This rapid flow passes through the ski resort and popular restaurants, often in remote locations, often without a full understanding of how they affect others.
Instead of condemning the boom, employees of Bridger-Teton National Forest and its nonprofit partner Friends of the Bridger-Teton have taken steps to lead by example and help people rebuild more responsibly. Together, they created Film series Which spotlights community members who embody good etiquette and safe travel to the country. These are not your typical public service announcements with strict rules and formalities, but rather the voices of locals highlighting the issues, risks, and love of the back country.
Through their stories, including close calls with avalanches, wildlife, and hordes of other users in remote areas, these characters set an example to lead by example. These same problems exist in mountain towns across the west, from Tahoe to Telluride, Bend to Bozeman, and Park City to Taos.
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