Wayne

The Great Beta-Share Debate

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It’s a debate that transcends sports: to share and blow out the zone, or to keep it secret.

That is the question.

From the holistic surfers trying to ensure their spot does not get overrun by tourists and commercialism, to the crusty Pemberton sledders trying to keep their Hurley zones shrouded in ambiguity, to skaters keeping spots quiet so as not to get it skate stopped, to mountain bikers keeping their loamers off strava, every outdoor sport has an unwritten code of conduct interwoven with nuance.

This code of conduct operates as a form of stewardship and self-sustaining management by the community itself and is generally void of government intervention and red tape. Before the age of social media and the ensuing uptrend in individuals venturing to the outdoors (yes I believe these two things are interwoven), this code of conduct preserved the area from implosion. But in this new age of instant-information, and without trying to sound too cliche, it is so easy to see a cool photo of an alpine lake on Instagram and think “hey I should go there” without going through the multitude of hoops that backcountry recreationalists historically went through as they learned the skills needed to reach that lake in a safe manner. It can pose a risk to individuals who visit these areas without a full understanding of the implications in going there. This is of course but one of the many facets that affect this “great beta debate”.

Who remember this magazine cover? Memories from articles past by Chef.

I digress. I’m not here to throw my uwarranted thoughts on the matter as I don’t think it is fair to preach my singular worldview unchecked. At the end of the day, I’m simply a recreationalist that is just lucky enough to have an outlet such as this where I can smash my keyboard without any real contention.

So I snooped around and asked some stakeholders in the community of their opinion and perspective.

Sam Mckoy – ACMG Guide, Natural Resource Management Degree Student

Sam Mckoy atop Mt Waddington NW Summit

Luckily enough, one of my oldest friends (our parents used to share a house together in Whistler in the 1980s), Sam Mckoy, is an ACMG ski guide as well as in the midst of completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resource Management at the University of Northern British Columbia:

“There is a current constant competition for space to recreate in the backcountry of the South Coast and Sea to Sky area. Whether it’s commercial recreation, mechanized leisure, non-mechanized leisure, or natural resource industry, everyone wants a slice of our mountainous areas.

With a rapidly growing urban population surrounding Vancouver, increased interest in backcountry recreation and ease of access with improving technology (gear, smart devices, etc.), it’s no wonder that the numbers of hikers at Joffre Lakes, snowmobilers on the Pemberton Icecap, or backcountry skiers in Cerise Creek are sky high.

With the increase in numbers, there hasn’t been any significant response from the government or parks in creating more opportunities and establishing more access to the backcountry in the area. There are some groups, mainly clubs, establishing official trails and huts at their own expense but they don’t have the means to do a whole ton. So there is also a do-it-yourself culture of renegade hut building and finding/developing secret stashes. The lack of increased access is a problem though. As areas get busier, people aren’t getting the expansive, quiet experience that is often sought after and frustration arises. But instead of banding together, user groups don’t often get along and are at each other’s throats. Snowmobilers versus backcountry skiers, commercial versus recreational, hikers versus mountain bikers, the list goes on. At the same time, some areas are feeling significant environmental impact from the increased pressures.

Whereas the community of people going outdoors might have been small and tight-knit back in the day, today there are various smaller groups and communities of people going outside to pursue an activity such as backcountry skiing. And those groups clash amongst themselves also. For example, those parked at the hut going to bed early for an alpine start and following gut wrenching ascent don’t want a gong show of partiers showing up at the cabin. Elitism begets accessibility and general public enjoyment.

This isn’t exactly new but with social media and an information exchange era, the stress is high. We forget that no matter what is shared on facebook or instagram, the information is out there everywhere for those who want it: guide books, topographic maps, Google Earth, blog posts, photo albums, etc. and there is really nothing that can stop that.

Instead of fighting each other and trying to keep places quiet and secret or preventing blow-outs we should be thinking about how we can manage our backcountry so that there is a place for everyone. This means thinking about First Nation values, animal habitat, user types, legal huts, establishing education and ethics, maintaining and establishing trails, etc. There is space for everyone out there and rather than being up in arms trying to prevent another blown out spot we should be writing letters to the government, campaigning for park funding, etc. I’d encourage people to go outside, live healthy, appreciate nature, etc. but we just can’t sustain high numbers in singular locations like Joffre Lakes. We have so many opportunities for backcountry areas that if there was any (even partially) significant effort by the government and our large communities, we’d have one of the best multisport backcountry destinations in the world.”

Matt Gunn – Guidebook Author, SWBC Backcountry Veteran, South Coast Touring Admin 

Matt Gunn is a well known member of the community for his lengthy contributions to trip reports, guidebooks, and promoting good outdoor stewardship. A few years ago, Matt Gunn started a Facebook group called “South Coast Touring” as a way to connect likeminded individuals in the Southwest BC area to share condition reports, information, and photos. In the last year or so, the group has exploded in volume which has sparked diverging opinions on the merits the group provides. Though he does generally stay in the background of the discussions that arise, Matt mentions the following:

For me SCT is a tool to crowd-source snow conditions and destination beta. I’m trying to manage the group in a way that supports that function. There have been heated debates over the pros and cons of information sharing but they get negative and don’t achieve anything, so SCT isn’t the place for that conversation. I get that people have a sense of scarcity and worry about crowds showing up in their zones but the South Coast is massive and anyone who is fit, imaginative and motivated can find quality terrain with no one around.

Local Whistler Search and Rescue Member

From a WSAR perspective, nobody is too concerned about social media blowing out the locals not so secret spot and creating flash mobs in places that used to be fairly quiet. The big part where social media plays into an area WSAR might be concerned about is an uptick in novice backcountry users ending up in places once reserved for those with a significant level of experience and preparedness. In the past, backcountry users gained knowledge of terrain via mentors with experience gleaned over many years. With social media, anyone with an internet connection has access to GPS coordinates to the really cool photo they saw on Facebook or Instagram. That sort of thing becomes problematic when a novice backcountry user gets in over their head and are unprepared when something unexpected happens like getting lost, an injury or force of nature creates a situation that user is simply not prepared to deal with due to lack of training, inadequate food/water/gear and/or exp.

I think the other aspect of social media worth mentioning are Facebook groups created to share photos and trip reports. These pages can provide useful info, but anything worthwhile typically gets buried in Tinder-like requests for novice backcountry users to partner up on excursions. While that may sound appealing to some, it flies in the face of proper backcountry etiquette of not going out with people you don’t know and have a level of trust in their skills and capabilities. This is where WSAR typically finds the most trouble. An adhoc group of virtual strangers end up in a first aid situation, typically at or near sundown, without proper gear or knowledge to deal with the situation and potentially spend a night out exposed to the elements with a subject in need of medical attention. Obviously that sort of thing happened long before social media, but WSAR has seen an exponential rise in these types of call outs as a result of folks using social media as their primary tool accessing the backcountry.


I don’t intend to solve any of the issues that relate to this discussion, nor do I want to push one side of the coin or the other.

If I’m going to stand by one opinion on this dialogue, one worldview I would push, it’s that it is important to go about this discussion in a rational and pragmatic way without appeals to emotion.

If we as backcountry enthusiasts can pride ourselves on being (somewhat) competent at removing the human factor when making decisions in avalanche terrain, I think we can do the same and look at this from a more objective standpoint.

So what do you think, fellow reader?

Is Instagram ruining the backcountry and its mystical allure?

Are we all just jaded crusty locals?

Is there a happy medium between the two?

Let me know.

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Feature Cover Photo Taken by Wayne Flann @ wayneflannavalancheblog.com

 

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