In light of recent events and events over the course of the last two years, I am urging all media outlets to band together and make a significant change in their publishing practices. It is time that we stop glamorizing the backcountry in our magazines, newspapers and websites. Hardly a week goes by now where the Vail Daily or Sneak Peak or some other high country print or electronic media carries front cover or Page 2 photos and articles about the backcountry. It is time for us to collectively pull-back from this practice. It is my opinion that these pictures and articles have enhanced the allure of these dangerous areas and created a culture where people feel familiar and are empowered to go to them. Although these images are not the sole reason that backcountry skiing takes place, it certainly stokes the fire of the thought process that drives one to decide to go there when they pick up the paper over their first cup of coffee in the morning.
Why do we need to put photos of our locals skiing or riding the backcountry on the front cover of our papers or magazines? The last time I checked, Vail Mountain has the largest skiable acreage in the United States. Is there not enough terrain or photo opportunities in-bounds? Are the only great shots photographers can take out-of-bounds? It is time for us to shift our culture and celebrate the great terrain and snow that exists on Vail Mountain inside the ropes. We should look to embrace the great mountain environment that Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service provides for our community and glamorize the “in-bounds” aspect of this terrain.
As a community, we cannot even fathom the job that Vail Ski Patrol has to handle when the call goes out concerning incidents in the backcountry. Yet the local news media continues to print pictures of skiers and riders in the powder that we all know exists out there, even in light of the danger associated with it. I see this as a perpendicular thought process with one community (the media) not pausing to think about the other (Vail Ski Patrol, Mountain Rescue and the local community) and the power that these images have. Why can’t we all think about the consequences of these images and how they deliver the “Wow, I must go there!” factor?
It would seem that our community has collectively lost its patience for the in-bounds aspect of what Vail can offer and seeks to find alternative sources of great snow elsewhere. One could point to the low snowfall and relatively poor conditions over the last several years as fuel to the need for powder. However, I would urge my fellow members of the local community and the news media to take a breath, slow down and think about how images, articles and our unquenchable need for fresh, deep snow can affect each other and the community at large. I’m not nearly delusional enough to think that this will prevent people from going out of bounds, but maybe, just maybe, it might slow down the charge of bodies marching out through the backcountry gates.
It is time for us to put a stop to this glamorization of the backcountry. We can do it if we decide to. It will be a challenge for all of us, especially the news media. So I ask you Vail Daily staff, Sneak Peak staff, Aspen Times and Summit Daily News — are you up to the challenge?
John (JC) Cole