Conservation, Skiing and a Sense of Wonder

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”

Mountains and snow, the perfect combination for the ultimate outdoor play adventure. Skiing is a shared family passion although  roles have changed over the years. I’m now the one following behind my children. I must have trained them well!

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It has long been a family tradition to go skiing in Whistler every winter season with our close friends. This particular trip we have a perfect snow day – a storm came through during the day and into the night, moving eastwards by dawn the next day, to leave deep powder, cold air and blue sky sunshine in its wake. Perfect snow, calm weather and unlimited visibility warrants a search for the perfect slope with untracked snow.

 

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Hoisting skis onto our backs we make the trek up to the top of Flute Bowl. Each time I climb, although only a distance of around 700 feet up a cat-track, I question my sanity. Ski boots aren’t my go to choice of footwear for climbing in snow and I lag behind everyone else. I’m old with short legs is my best defense!

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The views from the 6,611 foot summit make everything worthwhile. Having grown up in England where the mountains, rugged and awe inspiring in their way, more closely resemble mole hills in comparison to these mountains, I am struck by how fall-to-your-knees, heart-stoppingly incredible this view is. Looking west, the Pacific Coast Mountain Range, of which Whistler ski area is a part, eventually falls away into the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean. Turn to the east and the peaks stretch towards the Rockies.

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Look north and the mountains, as part of the Pacific Cordillera chain of mountain ranges, reach to Alaska. To the south they extend down the backbone of North, Central and South America into Antarctica. Mountains beyond mountains indeed!

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Today, I barely have time to look. My companions have already marveled at the view while waiting for me. As soon as I arrive, we are ready to go, over the lip of the ridge and into a bowl of powdered sugar, floating through turns, as clouds of ice crystals spin and drift around us. I take my time, partly because of the pitch of the slope but also to savor this moment. We worked hard to get to the top and I don’t want the descent to be over in minutes.

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The snow pack this year is good. In fact it’s a little above average which is welcome news not just for skiers. Snow pack acts as a huge reservoir of water, recharging lakes and rivers in the spring and summer, supporting healthy salmon runs and the wildlife that depends on these resources. There is capacity for increased production of hydro-electric power, plentiful supply for crop irrigation and reduced danger from wildfires.
And yet, the glaciers on the peaks that surround us tell a different story. Despite good snow pack these glaciers, together with glaciers around the world, are melting at an alarming rate due to higher than normal summer temperatures, staying above freezing level even at the highest elevations. Of the 200,000 glaciers on Earth, 17,000 of them are found in British Columbia and scientists predict that by the end of the century many of these will have disappeared if we don’t take drastic measures to curb climate change.
Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer speaking at a General Assembly said:

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”

For teaching and learning to stick there needs to be an emotional connection that plants the seeds of wonder in the first place. Time spent playing outdoors, whether skiing down a mountain as an adult or digging in the dirt with a stick as a child, sparks that sense of curiosity and wonder. Curiosity leads to questioning and knowledge acquisition. Understanding follows knowledge, leading to empathy and a desire to protect.

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We live in a complicated world and I realize my human actions have to be weighed against the bigger picture. Skiing is a perfect case in point. I love to ski but the very nature of the sport exacts a toll on the environment I love: the energy expenditure to haul me up the mountain, grooming and avalanche prevention to create the trails I ski, to the compaction of the mountainside I love to ski down. Choosing to ski at places like Whistler that have made sustainability, energy efficiency and a zero operating footprint their primary focus, is one decision I can make.
And so I come back to those moments outdoors that demand my full attention. The fall-to-your- knees with the sheer beauty of it all moments.

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It’s true! We will only conserve what we love. And playing outdoors whether I’m hiking, skiing, or watching the natural world going about its business reminds me, just in case I might have forgotten, that we live on an exquisitely beautiful planet worthy of gratitude, respect and care.
A sense of wonder may not be enough to combat the environmental challenges we face, but surely it’s an important, hopeful first step.

About Sheila

I started Play Without Ceilings to share my passion for getting outdoors to enjoy a nature inspired, healthier, happier, play full lifestyle. I grew up in England and now live in the Pacific Northwest. I love all things outdoors from lying in the grass listening to birdsong to hiking mountains and every outside moment in between. Thanks for stopping by and may you find inspiration for your next adventure.

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