The backcountry is big, and with backcountry touring taking off as a popular winter activity, it feels smaller each season. The traffic is increasing, the skintrack is crowded and the powder is bumped out by ten o’clock. It’s frustrating, we all want the mountain to ourselves but the expansion of the sport brings new opportunities and new technologies. Avalanche classes are filling up, educating newcomers and creating more partners worthy of steep lines. Beacon technology is developing as fast as the demand and guidebooks are providing access information for those looking to explore outside of their regular tours. The industry is booming. Jaded locals complain and tenderfoot tourers are as eager as ever. The growth of the industry should be welcomed with open arms but the danger of a rocketing rate of newcomers should be taken seriously.
Working for Beacon Guidebooks has made me hyper-aware of this issue and has also made me question whether or not I work for the dark side. I too want the backcountry to myself, but as we expand and offer new products each season we make remote locations more accessible. I reassure myself with a reminder that our mission is not to help people find bigger, badder lines in the mountains, but rather it is one of educated decision making and the exploration aspect is a byproduct of the information we provide.
Beacon Guidebooks has and always will receive emails from folks who are unhappy about our atlases bringing more traffic into their coveted zones. It’s a valid complaint, no one wants their secret stash being devoured by a conga line of backcountry enthusiasts. As a company, we do our best to respect these concerns and do what we can to not give away secrets and just focus on the already popular zones of the area.
There is no doubt that guidebooks are contributing to the increased traffic in the backcountry, and with more users come more calamities. Our mission is not to enable users to get into threatening situations, it is to provide information which can help the user carry out a safe tour. We do not endorse high risk undertakings. What we do champion is education and more importantly, the application of education. The atlases show you where your options are, what they are like, and how to get there. They give you the information to help you make safe decisions but they can not make those decisions for you.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about the conflicting dichotomy of wanting to share our experiences while still maintaining the seclusion that the backcountry provides. We both agreed that we want everyone to experience the sensational things that we experience, but if everyone experienced these things it wouldn’t be the same experience. The opposing desires elicit feelings of selfishness but also the reality of being a recreationist in a growing industry. Everyone deserves to have those remarkable moments but not everyone can, or maybe, everyone just needs to go find their own.
And so with the growing backcountry community, more and more people are having similar experiences on the same mountains. I think most people share the selfish mentality of wanting the whole mountain to ourselves, but we also understand that with this rapidly evolving and expanding sport we need to make room for the newcomers. It’s no secret that guidebooks contribute to this traffic, and this story is not meant to defend Beacon Guidebooks despite my position, it is meant to illuminate the growing rarity of secluded experiences. Guidebooks are slowly being accepted as an inevitable contribution to the backcountry discussion, but the resistance is far from over. We all want to feel weightless in untouched powder, but for that you might need to go where the guidebook won’t take you.