Why it is Critical to Chronicle our Chronicles
By Andrew Hennigh
The plan was in place for the next morning; the avalanche control teams were notified, shot counts were given to the shot makers, and the forecast had been adequately analyzed and over analyzed. It was mid-March and this storm would be fairly routine so by 4pm that afternoon, with planning done, the snow safety department was spinning a few yarns in the office when I got the email on my phone, “Today we announced the difficult decision to suspend the operations of all of our North American mountain resorts, retail stores and corporate offices beginning tomorrow, March 15, 2020, for one week to assess the rest of the season.”
No avalanche control work the next morning, and over the next few days it would become obvious that the ski area wasn’t going to open again. No more early mornings, no more 10-50’s, no end of season parties, and no tear down. In the weeks to follow a few of us would go walk around the mountain and get out on skis for a couple hours. We joked about how the mountain had been abandoned, conjuring parallels with the ancient civilizations of North America who also seemed to just walk away one day for unknown reasons. There isn’t a person alive right now who doesn’t have a story about COVID-19 and how it affected them, but it will be the collection of our stories that will paint the picture of these times we’re living through. The more stories we collect, the clearer the picture will be for future generations. There will be a lot to learn from this period in history, not only about the global pandemic but about our culture as whole, about how we treated each other, how we treated the planet. The mistakes we’re making, our accomplishments, and our outcome can and will only be judged by those who study our history. If we have one collective goal as a civilization it should be to collect as many of our stories as possible so that we can leave those who come after us with a road map to our mistakes, our accomplishments, and to better outcomes than our own.
As a community, whether it be skiers, climbers, mountain bikers, river hippies or just good old-fashioned dirtbags, we all have wonderful stories to tell. Our stories of knee-deep powder days, sunrises from portaledges, and big whitewater descents could be the stories that give the world hope, joy, and determination as we navigate our way out of these trying times. That’s pretty heavy though, stories aren’t just important during moments of historical enormity. As the late great singer/songwriter, John Prine said, “If you’re writing a story song you better have a darn good ending, and if you don’t, you better have a good moral to the story.” If a story has something to teach us, then it’s a worthwhile story and if it’s also a good story it’ll reach a bigger audience.
There is currently a generation of ski patrollers who have seen storms, droughts, avalanches, wrecks and anything else that can happen on a mountain – things that we can’t even imagine — who are retiring and taking their stories with them. The next generation should be sitting around the floor of patrol shacks everywhere, crisscross apple sauce, begging these silver back patrollers to instill their wisdom upon them because if we can learn from their mistakes and their accomplishments, then we can skip those trials and tribulations and make our own mistakes to teach the next generation.
For all the stories that have been told around campfires, all the parables in patrol shacks, the folk tales of river runners, or dirtbag potboilers, there are countless numbers of stories missing from our collective narrative. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are far fewer BIPOC participants in the greater outdoor recreation community. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that women are consistently telling us that they have been made to feel marginalized by our greater outdoor community. Our collective narrative is incomplete and because of this; we are missing out on vastly different perspectives that not only could contribute wonderful stories but that may be able to teach us lessons that we have never even considered because we have always lacked that context. Our biggest challenge in the outdoor community right now shouldn’t be to ski the biggest line, it shouldn’t be to make first descents on rivers or first ascents on mountains. Our biggest challenge, the thing that will progress our sports and our communities, should be to include anyone who wants to go outside and play, to include anyone who wants to excel, to include anyone who wants to work in our industry. Then we can begin to collect their stories and learn and grow and maybe even improve our collective outcome as a society.
P.s. Shortly after finishing this article our Assistant Patrol Director, who had recently retired after 32 years of patrolling, passed away unexpectedly. He was a mentor to an entire generation of patrollers and one of my biggest regrets in life will be not sitting down with him, a bottle of tequila, and a tape recorder.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Ed Masters.