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Ski film shows our folly

Matt Zalaznick
Vail CO, Colorado

Helicopters swooping over 14,000-foot peaks don’t count as solitude ” not even when a solitary skier is being filmed doing something really cool.

Chris Davenport climbed and skied all of Colorado’s fourteneers, but the U.S. Forest Service says footage of him on at least one of the peaks is illegal because it was taken in a part of the backcountry specially protected by Congress.

Davenport and filmmaker Ben Galland didn’t ask for a permit until after they’d shot the footage. And the forest service also nixed the segment because it decided a ski movie that required helicopters was not a proper activity in what’s supposed to be pristine and protected capital-W Wilderness.

While it’s hard not to admire Davenport’s sense of adventure, it’s also hard to argue with the feds, who don’t want a movie to lure any winter crowds to fourteeners that are already overrun by hikers in the summer.

I may be blaspheming here, profaning Colorado mythology, but what, after all, is the point of skiing ” or even climbing ” every one of the state’s fourteeners? Davenport says his feat celebrates the majesty and ruggedness of the peaks he conquered, but he also ends up a symbol of our communal over-celebration of the backcountry.

We go into the woods to commune, to both lose and find ourselves, but our presence there does damage ” and that damage is worsening as more and more and more of us seek the ever-vanishing solitude of the West’s ever-shrinking wilderness.

Locally, climbers of the Mount of Holy Cross may, several years from now, have the visual company of the mansions and chairlifts of the private Battle Mountain ski resort across the valley. So much for escaping into the woods ” you’ll not only be reminded of civilization but of a segment of it that’s wildly wealthier than you are and hasn’t invited you to enjoy its private ski slopes.

Not only is there sprawl crowding out the backcountry, but now there’s a class war being waged on the wilderness.

Truly celebrating the wilderness would be to leave it alone, not trample all over it or set campfires in it ” or carve out of the forest sprawling ski resorts that spawn endless real estate development and which we’ll promote with aggressive marketing campaigns that lure greenhouse-gas-spewing 757s full of visitors, who rent fuel-guzzling SUVs to drive to land-gobbling golf courses.

The best example of this loving-the-land-to-death is Mount Everest. Climbing the world’s highest peak is revered in some circles, but reports of the litter on the mountain sully those achievements in the same way Davenport’s feat loses a little luster for its path through protected territory.

It’s seems even more pointless to make a movie of someone skiing each of the state’s highest peaks. But in our reality-TV-crazed society, if something wasn’t filmed it didn’t happen.

Plus, a film allows others far less intrepid or skilled than Davenport to invade the wilderness. Watching a fourteener on TV doesn’t cause erosion or damage the fauna, but it somehow seems more disrespectful of the land.

Davenport’s achievement would be a bit more special had he kept it to himself, or to a diary, or even to some still photos. A movie only magnifies the dangerous adoration of the backcountry of which we’re all guilty.

Assistant Managing Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 748-2926, or mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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