Workplace Mental Health

The Changing Landscape in Backcountry Lodges

Since the emergence and ultimate retreat of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a great deal of focus on workplace mental health and well-being for employees across all industries within the province. COVID-19 has had a permanent effect on how the hospitality and tourism industry trains and cares for its people.  During the pandemic, travel restrictions and border closures, changing public health orders, quarantine measures, risk and exposure to illness, frequent documentation for new hygiene protocols, and access to quality Personal Protective Equipment all impacted organizational culture, social supports and changing expectations for staff in the industry.

But what unique factors within remote backcountry settings may make prioritizing employee mental health and well-being challenging? How might we promote stress resilience and well-being amongst our teams as we emerge from the pandemic?

Foremost, the nature of our work defies the conventional 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday routine. Irregular hours and extended shifts are par for the course, with seasonal fluctuations adding another layer of complexity to our schedules.  

Moreover, the remote and sometimes difficult conditions of lodge life can contribute to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. The isolation lack of social interaction, and especially when separated from family and friends, can amplify social and emotional issues among our teams. Being separated from broader community support systems for extended periods can take a toll on mental health, particularly for those predisposed to it.

Transitioning to and from the remote lodge environment can also pose adjustment difficulties, requiring workers to adapt to vastly different living and working conditions as they return home to their communities.

In some cases, workers may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. In many cases, the culture of having a drink as a way to relax and decompress from work has long been a part of the culture of the hospitality and tourism space. The lines between social substance use and dependence can quickly become blurred. Living and working in close quarters with the same group of co-workers can also lead to interpersonal conflicts, exacerbating psychosocial stress.

For workers in high-risk industries like backcountry guiding or avalanche forecasting, traumatic incidents or accidents in remote areas can lead to high levels of operational stress injuries. Moreover, accessing mental health resources can be challenging in remote lodges and rural, tourism-dependent communities, where options may be more limited.

Research shows that when teams have a supportive social ethos, clear leadership and structure, and mental health and wellbeing support woven into the organization’s fabric, staff performance improves immediately.

One model for thinking about how to better manage teams that work in a stressful environment is the 13 factors of psychological health and safety in the workplace, created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) as best practices for supporting the mental health and psychological safety of workers in various professional sectors.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic (an incredibly volatile and unpredictable time for tourism), it is imperative that we not only recognize our pivotal role in driving the success of our industry but also prioritize the well-being of our workforce. Utilizing frameworks like the 13 factors addressing unique psychosocial challenges, and providing access to necessary support systems, we can ensure a healthier and more resilient workforce, ultimately enhancing organizational performance and upholding the standards of excellence synonymous with backcountry hospitality and tourism. 

This may look like offering staff access to mental health literacy training, improved communication strategies, critical incident stress management and promoting stress resilience within our teams. By offering our staff the necessary space for focused debriefs, reconnection and respectful communication, we are taking small, but important steps towards improving the overall experience of our staff and guests as they live, work, and recreate together in the backcountry. 

About the Author:
Lexie (she/her) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC)  based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Montira Mental Health was born out of Lexie’s own experience as a hospitality manager at different backcountry lodges across British Columbia. Today, Lexie works to fill the gaps she observed by providing specialized mental health support for those employed within the hospitality and adventure tourism space. 
Find out more here: Montira Mental Health.

Experience Mother Earth

Reconnecting with Nature

Listening to a CBC What on Earth episode with Laura Lynch on Feb 4th, 2024 (42:45 mins), I was reminded of discussions in the classroom when I taught an Environmental issues class at Thompson Rivers University. The student conversations about climate change and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness were similar to the student experiences described in the CBC interview with Jason Brown, an instructor and researcher in the Department of Humanities, the School of Resource and Environmental Studies at SFU. Students question their own destiny, whether to have children or not and the relevance of finishing a degree when their future may be slipping away. As a professor and a baby boomer, I found these conversations of helplessness and eco-anxiety about the future heartbreaking. After all, I was privileged to be born in the ’60s when the idea of climate change was not a daily topic of conversation, nor was it an immediate threat to my future.

My generation of baby boomers reaped the benefits of nature and propped up the neoliberal ideology and capitalist systems that regard consumption and growth as the formula for well-being. In this context, nature is regarded as something outside of ourselves, something we are not part of. The result is a complete unravelling of ecological and cultural connections to nature.  

As Robert Pyle (1993) points out, “one of the greatest causes of ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature in which many people live” (pg. 145). This ever-increasing alienation from the natural world results in an “extinction of experience”. The consequence of this embodied alienation not only impacts individual health but also frames our connections with and behaviour towards nature. (Baldwin, 2018). Part of the student’s frustration is knowing that we must consume and behave differently. Yet, they see other generations, community members and political leaders still oblivious to or unwilling to recognize the need for change. The dominant narrative stays the same.

Addressing current climate change problems seems daunting on a global scale today, but there is a growing movement to rebuild our understanding of and relationship with nature at the local level. When we connect with nature in the places where we live, work, and play, the importance of our interconnectedness with nature becomes more evident. Creating a sense of connection to place also facilitates and empowers community members across generations to engage in conversations of care that often result in action-oriented initiatives.

On the Canadian Government’s Citizen Science portal, numerous science projects are happening in local communities that welcome citizen participation in documenting wildlife observations, weather patterns, and pollinator species, to name a few. The projects combine the benefits of being in nature and advancing the collective knowledge of the many ways species and ecosystems respond to various impacts.

On the PaRx website, hosted by the B.C. Parks Foundation research indicates that kids and adults who spend more time in nature are happier and healthier. The PaRx prescriptions for nature is Canada’s first national initiative to promote prescribing time in nature for lifelong health benefits. Time spent in nature can also enhance efforts to restore care between people and the natural services we take for granted. Nature also needs our care and attention; action-oriented initiatives at the local level can be empowering. 

Over the years, B.C Parks has used revenue from the B.C. Parks Licence Plate Program to fund community-led conservation and recreation projects. As visitation to our parks increases, the need for more conservation efforts also increases. According to the BC Parks Blog, over 90 community-led projects supported BC parks in 2023, and demand for funding in communities is increasing. Projects include marine debris cleanup, species monitoring, trail maintenance, education programs and eco camps, to name a few.

Numerous non-profit organizations, clubs, community groups and neighbourhood associations seek to engage students and the broader community in collective actions to deal with the impacts of climate change. The value of engagement at the local level is knowing we are in this together.  As we navigate an uncertain future, it is often easier to have hope if we are part of local community initiatives that strengthen our connections to place. It is hard to care about something if you don’t feel like you are a part of it, and that includes nature.

“Remember how beautiful things can be when you pay attention”Student quote, 2018

Robin Reid
Retired Associate Professor, Tourism Management Department
Faculty of Adventure, Culinary, Arts and Tourism
Thompson Rivers University

What Is An Old-Growth Forest

What is an old-growth forest?

BC is home to some of the world’s last remaining old-growth temperate rainforests which contain some of the largest and oldest living organisms on Earth. Trees here can grow up to 300 feet tall and 20 feet wide and live to be upwards of 2,000 years old! The world’s largest western red cedar, the Cheewhat Giant; the world’s largest Douglas-fir, the Red Creek Fir; and the country’s largest Sitka spruce, San Jo’s Smiley, are all found on Vancouver Island, BC. These forests are critically important ecologically, economically, and culturally and are not replicated by the second-growth tree plantations that are fast replacing them.

Why are old-growth forests important?

  • They’re home to unique wildlife and biodiversity, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
  • Provide clean water for communities, wild salmon & other wildlife.
  • Store vast amounts of atmospheric carbon to help fight climate change.
  • Support First Nations’ cultural values.
  • They are pillars of BC’s tourism industry.
  • They are important for human health and well-being.

What is the state of old growth in BC?

Old-growth forests were once abundant in British Columbia, but after more than a century of aggressive logging, less than 8% of the original, productive old-growth forests (sites that produce big trees) remain in BC today. Shockingly, these magnificent forests continue to be cut down to the tune of tens of thousands of hectares each year. The endangered old-growth forests that remain are a global treasure in urgent need of protection.

What conservation progress has been made?

Under relentless pressure from the Ancient Forest Alliance, the BC government has recently taken some great steps toward protecting old-growth forests after decades of mismanagement. These include appointing an independent science panel that identified 2.6 million hectares of the most at-risk old-growth forests that should be deferred from logging while long-term conservation plans can be developed; launching a 300-million-dollar conservation financing mechanism to support the creation of new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (this is key, as the support of local First Nations governments is a legal necessity for old-growth protection); committing to double the protected areas in BC from 15% to 30% by 2030; and most recently, signing a landmark BC Nature Agreement with the federal government and First Nations Leadership Council which will see over a billion dollars aimed toward the conservation, stewardship, and restoration of lands in British Columbia — a historic leap in the right direction! These are profound, game-changing achievements that deserve to be celebrated.

What still needs to be done?

Some critical policy and funding gaps remain that the province must address. These include making sure that conservation financing funds are now linked to protecting the most at-risk old-growth forests through “ecosystem-based targets.” Conservation financing should also be directed toward supporting sustainable economic development in First Nations communities in place of old-growth logging jobs and revenues. Short-term “solutions space” funding is also needed to help offset potential lost revenues for First Nations to help enable the deferral of the most at-risk old-growth forests in their unceded territories. Finally, any new protected area designations created by the province must also maintain proper standards and permanency (i.e. no commercial logging, mining, etc.).

Where can I visit old-growth forests?

On Vancouver Island, the town of Port Renfrew has become known as the “Tall Trees Capital of Canada.” It’s home to the famed Avatar Grove, Big Lonely Doug, Eden Grove, the Red Creek Fir, and other fabulous forests to visit. For the more adventurous traveller, the nearby Walbran and Carmanah Valleys offer incredible rainforest getaways. Cathedral Grove, en route to Port Alberni, is Canada’s most famous and visited old-growth forest, with its towering Douglas-fir trees and beautiful redcedars. Around Vancouver, be sure to check out some of the old-growth trails in Stanley Park and Lighthouse Park. For those in the interior of BC, Ancient Forest Provincial Park outside of Prince George is a wonder to behold!

How do I get involved?

The Ancient Forest Alliance is always looking for the support of individuals, groups, and businesses across the province as we lead the push to protect endangered old-growth forests. We encourage people to visit our website to learn more and join our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest pictures, videos, and stories! You can also search and follow us on our social media channels, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.

After more than a decade of hard work, our efforts are starting to pay off in major ways, so join us as we work to finally preserve these ancient and irreplaceable ecosystems for generations to come!

Written by TJ Watt – Ancient Forest Alliance

Politics of Place

How do we reframe the conversation of sustainability?

In 1996, my Master’s Thesis at the University of Calgary explored the concept of sustainability. It included terms in the glossary such as biodiversity crisis, ecological sustainability, ecosystem management, landscape and resource approaches and Western value systems. I look back on this work and ask myself, have we made any progress in understanding what we are trying to sustain? 

In the early 1990s, when writing the thesis, global warming and climate change were not part of the mainstream narrative. Nor were the scientific warnings that humanity would be approaching the limits of a finite planet by the 21st century. Perhaps this was because we were focused on a conventional, unsustainable expansionist worldview in which nature was valued as a resource for human use. Today, the dualist set of values that separate humans from the natural world, normalized in modern society, is devastatingly affecting the planet’s ability to support humanity.

While the concept of sustainability has been around for a very long time, it was in 1987 when the Bruntland report coined the term “sustainable development,” giving impetus to economic conditions and opportunities to protect the environment and meet the needs of current and future generations. Within this context, balancing the social, economic, and ecological dimensions of sustainable development was deemed necessary to address the problematic development trajectory that humanity was pursuing.  

However, for the past three decades, economic valuation systems focused on short-term growth and profit maximization have needed to catch up in accounting for the value of a healthy planet and the well-being of humanity over the long term. The result is that we are currently pushing up against the limits of a finite planet with only a tiny window of time to correct our trajectory and embrace a world in which we wish to live now and in the future.

Where do we go from here? While the political dimension of sustainability is not highlighted in the literature, it is an essential consideration if we are serious about pursuing sustainability as a framework for the future. The political decisions made today about safeguarding biodiversity, ecosystem health and species at risk need to be actionable locally to avoid the devastating outcome of the sixth extinction at the global level.

As many have suggested, there is still time to turn things around, but it will require transformative change – a paradigm shift. This is not without complications, as many societies and institutions globally and locally have different understandings of sustainability as a concept and how it should be achieved. Let’s face it: sustainable development is a muddy term open to interpretation. Fundamentally, questions of what we value and what we want to sustain play an important role in understanding and improving our planetary conditions.            

In December 2022, countries gathered in Montreal at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) to finalize a global agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. In Canada, only two provinces, Quebec and British Columbia, have committed to protecting 30% of their provincial land base by 2030.  

The nearly million square kilometres of B.C is not mapped correctly or understood. How can we make good decisions about habitat protection and biodiversity if we don’t know what is happening in the landscape holistically? To address this concern, the province of British Columbia allocated $38 million in April 2023 to support a LiDAR data-based mapping program of landscapes for all of B.C. While a more modern mapping tool is helpful, it is only as good as the following political decisions. For too long, B.C. has prioritized timber supply over other values on the land base, such as ecosystem protection or species at risk.

If we are serious about meeting the goals of biodiversity, ecosystem resiliency, species at risk and mitigating climate change, we must rethink land use decisions. Adopting a landscape approach that prioritizes biodiversity and ecosystem health requires better communications across governments, ministries, communities, and industries. In other words, we need to include the right people at the table.

The recently signed historic, tripartite agreement between the BC government, Federal government, and First Nations leaders, valid until 2030 and supported by $1 billion in joint funding, will hopefully transform how land use decisions are made in B.C. The agreement includes commitments to conserve enough old-growth forests “to support the recovery of 250 spotted owls and restore 140,000 hectares of degraded habitat within the next two years” (The Narwhal). This agreement is significant and timely in supporting commitments to protect 30 percent of the land base in B.C. by 2030. It also highlights the importance of money, partnerships, and political will in transforming the direction of biodiversity and ecosystem health decisions.  

In 2023, I am hopeful that we are finally on the path to overhauling how land is managed in B.C., and a new collaborative framework will result in a paradigm shift that values nature conservation.    

Robin Reid
Retired Associate Professor, Tourism Management Department
Faculty of Adventure, Culinary, Arts and Tourism
Thompson Rivers University

Newest/Coolest Gear

As the technical editor for Ski Canada Magazine, it’s my job to know about the new gear for next winter before it arrives in stores. I test the latest jackets and boots, skis, and goggles. Basically, I call skiing work. Yeah, it’s a tough job. While my purview includes a lot of lapping groomers, backcountry skiing is my preference and the source of most of the growth in ski participation. So, it’s here where I get most excited and where most of the innovation is taking place. From more environmentally friendly ski construction to the ongoing quest for the perfect do-it-all boot to more breathable layering and new ideas in avalanche safety, there’s a lot of cool stuff in the pipe.

Some of it is available now. Some of it will arrive in stores in August and September. Either way, check in with your local retail shop to find out more about these cool products. Take it from a gear guy, talking about and thinking about new gear is a good salve when your next powder turn seems way too far away. Here’s some covetable gear to get you through the summer.

  1. A lighter slack country boot
    The first four-buckle boot from Dynafit is pursuing the Holy Grail: a powerful downhill performance that’s also light, comfortable and walkable. The Tigard is available in a 130 and 110 flex. The overlapping, three-piece shell design is the beefiest yet from the veteran touring brand, but it weighs in at a respectable for touring 1,500 grams for a 26.5 size. The Hoji Lock System integrates the ski-walk mode into the shell and cuff, reducing play on the down and easing foot entry and hiking. It allows a 70-degree range of motion for comfort on the up. ($1,000)
  1. A more environmentally friendly ski
    Atomic plans to overhaul the construction of its entire ski line to reduce the environmental impact of every model. It started with the 2023-2024 Backland family, including the 1,370 gram 95, a powder surfing, lightweight touring-focused ski. They switched to locally sourced poplar wood with hardwood inserts underfoot and a manufacturing process that reduces production waste. In total, they estimate the new process cut emissions by 30 percent. Atomic says they will continue to try to improve the process as they roll it out across their line.
  1. A ski for the 50 Project
    The QST Echo 106 is the ski Cody Townsend used last winter to continue ticking off objectives on his 50 projects, an effort to ski all the lines in the book “The 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America”. Salomon took their versatile QST 106 shape and lightened it up, both in weight and environmental impact. Construction includes a karuba and poplar wood core, basalt fibres, and cork. Thirty percent of materials are recycled, including the 100 percent recycled ABS sidewalls. At 1,760 grams, it’s not particularly light but if it’s good enough for Townsend…
  1. A jacket for the uptrack
    The right layering can help you ski farther and faster in more comfort. That’s the goal of the Patagonia Upstroke Jacket and its partner pant. The new Fall 2023 kit is a slightly burlier version of Patagonia’s Upstride kit. The Upstroke used a recycled polyester stretch-knit fabric backed by polyester. All that’s to say is it’s soft, highly breathable, and insanely stretchy. Two zipper pockets double as vents and another two fit skins. It’s our new favourite jacket for touring when it’s cool.
  1. A better way to reglue skins
    Most skiers only attempt to reapply skin glue once. It’s such a challenging and messy process few attempt it twice. Montana’s Big Sky Mountain Products heard our pain and is now offering skin re-gluing, likely the only service of its kind in North America. For about half the cost of a new pair of skins, skiers can send theirs directly to the company to have the old glue mechanically removed and the new glue applied. Check with a Big Sky retailer or online to find out more. Climbing Skin Reglue Service
  1. A recyclable ski
    G3 is threatening the future of ski benches and fences. The Vancouver-based brand has figured out how to make its skis recyclable. Until now the resins and glues used to hold the various parts of a ski together made it impossible to recycle and break them into their individual components (wood, metal, fiberglass, etc.) at the end of their life. G3 won’t divulge specifics, but it has figured out a way of unlocking the resin to make it possible to separate an old ski into its constituent pieces for reuse or recycling. It’s rolling out the construction across its line of skis, the G3 Recyclable Ski.
  1. A lifesaving vest
    Whether it’s an avalanche burial, tree well, or simple snow suffocation, people die every winter from running out of air when stuck in the snow. To help save lives Safeback is working on what it calls “the world’s first active air supply.” Either in a vest or pack, the device sucks air from the surrounding snow and pumps it around the face of the victim via two hoses. Safeback says it extends the average burial survival time from 15 minutes to more than 90. Safeback Avalanche Survival Gear
  1. An easier binding
    The Marker Cruise 12 is a classic-looking tech binding system but is easier to step into than most. A bumper helps align the toe into the right spot and the heel requires 30 percent less step in force than Marker’s Alpinist binding. The heel piece is also made from bio-based plastic mixed with carbon fibres and has both vertical and horizontal play for more predictable release values.
  1. A binding for the kids
    Lots of parents want to get their kids touring but are held back by heavy gear or the absence of junior-sized touring products. Marker’s new F5 JR Tour crosses off both problems. The frame style binding fits alpine or touring norm boots in sizes 23.5 to 30, offers low DIN settings of 1.5 to 5, and is one of the lightest frame bindings available.

Written by Ryan Stuartryan.stuart@shaw.ca / IG-@ryan_adventures
Award-winning, dependable, professional freelance writer for magazines, websites, and more.

Conrad Kain – Revisited

Pat Morrow – the amazing story of climbing legend Conrad Kain

Photographer/mountaineer, Pat Morrow, author of Beyond Everest, Quest for the Seven Summits, has been “preaching the word of Kain” since he became the president of the Conrad Kain Society 15 years ago. The society was created to keep the legacy of Austrian mountain guide Conrad Kain’s contribution to Canadian mountain climbing alive. Kain was the first alpine guide hired by the Alpine Club of Canada and emigrated from the Austrian Alps in 1909.

In 2009, the third edition of Kain’s handsomely illustrated bio-book, “Where the Clouds Can Go” was printed with a new foreword by Morrow who had read the book as a teen. He say he feels that the book helped him shape his worldview in terms of his approach to the mountains and mountain climbing. “There’s also an intriguing historical component to the stories about pioneer life in the Purcells and Rockies over a century ago” he said. The book sold out several years ago, and Morrow has been working with its publisher Rocky Mountain Books, the ACC and the office of the Austrian Consulate to Canada. Where the Clouds Can Go will be published as a reprint, available this spring.

The Kain Society has organized many events over the years, and taken upwards of 120 teens from the Rocky Mountain Trench on a 3-day introductory climbing program to get their hands on the Bugaboo rock that Kain and his guests explored beginning in 1916.

Check out www.conradkain.com for an in-depth overview of legendary mountaineer, Conrad Kain, and the society’s events.

Pat & Baiba Morrow
www.patmorrow.com

4 Bad Ass Women

Conquering Mountains and Barriers

On March 8, Christina Lustenberger and her frequent expedition partner Andrew McNab, climbed and skied a technical 45-degree couloir on the southwest face of Mount Niflheim in the Monashee Mountains.

Lustenberger is an ex-World Cup alpine racer from Invermere-turned-ski guide and bad ass big mountain skier. For the past several years Lusti, as she is known, has been ticking off a list of striking first ski descents, from the mountains of Western Canada to the remote granite spires of Baffin Island.

She is one of the women carrying on a tradition of female badassery in the mountains of Canada that is worth noting. And she’s doing it with, what you might call, typical Canadian understatement. Of her recent foray with McNab, she posted simply on social media, “Niflheim. Where the bad people go.”

Bad, as in “good” bad.

Georgia Engelhard belonged to a vanguard of affluent Americans who found their mountain bliss in Canada. She was also a pioneering alpinist who helped blaze a path for women on the sharp end of the rope.

The Manhattan-born adventurer visited the European Alps as a teen with her family and climbed Mount Rainier with her dad in 1926. On a trip to the Canadian Rockies that same year, she ascended Pinnacle Mountain above Larch Valley with guide Edward Feuz Jr. The Rockies was her summer home away from home for 15 of the following 25 summers. In 1929 she climbed nine classic peaks, including a traverse of Hado Peak and Mount Aberdeen. In 1931 she summitted 38 peaks, a tour de force summer that included nine trips up Mount Victoria for a 1932 Parks Canada-sponsored film called She Climbs to Conquer.

In addition to mountains, Engelhard conquered gender-defined rules. She thumbed her nose at the Victorian-era conventions of the day demanding women wear ankle-length skirts in the mountains and became one of the first female alpinists to wear wool pants like her male rope mates. A century later, it seems like a ridiculous notion, but at the time it would have taken some courage on behalf of Engelhard to withstand the withering looks of her stuffy critics.

She is but one of many women to break barriers in the mountains. Diny Harrison is among them. She broke a barrier without giving it too much thought when in 1992 she became the first internationally certified female mountain guide in Canada.

At the time Harrison was too immersed in the rigour of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides examination regime to ponder the significance of a woman dancing onto the stage of a then very male dominated show. To her it was simply the pursuit of a passion for mountains that was kindled in her teens. When she was 14, Harrison traveled west from her native Toronto for a 10-day adventure at High Horizons, a mountaineering skills camp started by legendary guide Bernie Schiesser. This experience prompted a move west.

Prior to diving into the mountain guiding life, she worked on the ski patrol at Lake Louise and was an avid backcountry skier. The idea of choosing her lines and “always skiing first” appealed to her. Friends encouraged her to knuckle down and focus on becoming a ski guide. She was used to hanging with the boys, comfortable in an outdoor locker room environment overflowing with testosterone. An energetic, engaging and assertive-as-needed personality  served her well.

After earning her guide stripes in ’92 she embarked on a 17-year career with Canadian Mountain Holidays, eventually becoming assistant manager at CMH Revelstoke. She also guided summers with CMH, Yamnuska Mountain School, Banff National Army Cadet School as well as internationally with a number of guiding outfits, while also honing her linguistic chops becoming fluent in French, German and Italian.   

Alison Criscitiello, who heads up the University of Alberta’s Ice Core Lab, is another pioneer. Not only is she a world leading scientist in the traditionally male-dominated field of glaciology, she‘s also a bad ass mountaineer whose career blends her profession with a passion for adventure.

There are so many women who have smashed gender stereotypes in the mountains and inspired others to do the same, that it seems unfair to single out just a few for mention. Climbing mountains can strip life down to its simple essentials. Assess the conditions, weigh the risk against the reward, make decisions, and move – or not. Why shouldn’t mountains also strip life of its artificial barriers?

Written by Andrew Findlay – @afindlayjournalist

Mission Critical

BC Species at Risk

Next month representatives from nearly 200 countries will gather in Montreal for COP15, the United Nations biodiversity conference. The hope is to reach  an agreement that will reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and achieve full recovery by 2050. Nevertheless, maintaining biodiversity and the ecosystem services our planet needs is more important today than ever before. In fact, it’s mission critical.

That’s why British Columbia needs to step up its game, in a big way. For too long our province has lacked a coherent plan and legislation to protect species and biodiversity. The result is an ongoing series of trade-offs with the resource extraction sector and an incremental loss of habitat.

Wilderness and wildlife are our calling cards as a world class adventure and tourism destination. From the grasslands of the South Okanagan and the Interior Rainforests of the Incomappleux River Valley to the Columbia River wetlands and the Great Bear Rainforest fjords, BC is blessed with a biodiversity and topography that is arguably unrivaled. It’s also home to more species at risk than any other province or territory, with more than 1,900 species, sub-species and ecosystems officially at risk of extinction, including southern mountain caribou and spotted owls.

During the 2017 election campaign, the BC NDP made special mention in its platform of the fact that BC has no  “stand-alone species at risk legislation.” They promised to do something about it.

“We will bring in an endangered species law and harmonize other laws to ensure they are all working towards the goal of protecting our beautiful province,” the NDP boldly stated in its campaign. Half a decade later, not enough has changed, and that’s a travesty.

In 1996, the territories and all the provinces (except Quebec) signed the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, agreeing to enact legislation and create programs to protect species. BC was one of four provinces that let the ink dry on the accord then didn’t follow through.

A Saw-Whet Owl, not much bigger than your hand.

As reported recently in The Narwhal, the BC government says it protects at-risk species with a basket of legislative tools, including the B.C. Wildlife Act, the Land Act and the B.C. Forest and Range Practices Act.

However, a new report from the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC highlights big gaps in this approach that is putting at risk species and habitat in even more peril. The report is based on an independent audit by biologist Jared Hobbs, who was commissioned by the groups to analyze existing federal and provincial species protections in BC. 

The result, says Hobbs in his report, is “continued unabated habitat loss and consequent decline for many species.” He notes that mapping of at-risk species habitat is outdated and incomplete, and BC’s patchwork approach fails to address all the threats facing critical habitat.

It’s a sad indictment of land use in BC. That’s why the Sierra Club and Wilderness Committee are urging incoming Premier David Eby to quickly create at risk species legislation in collaboration with Indigenous communities and make it law by the end of 2023.

As Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said in a recent Sierra Club press release, government already has the reports and directives in its hands.

“One of the key recommendations of the 2020 provincial Old Growth Strategic Review Panel was for B.C. to enact a new law to establish ecosystem health and biodiversity as an ‘overarching priority’ across all sectors,” said Chief Phillip. “There is no more time to waste.”

In other words, we need a reset on species and habitat protection. Yes, it will take a paradigm shift on a landscape level, like how we develop our urban areas or carry out logging. But it’s possible, and necessary. For example, I recently visited two small scale woodlots in the Comox Valley whose operators have been practicing a very different type of forestry for the past 30 years. They manage their woodlots like living and functioning ecosystems, with timber and fibre being just one of many benefits they provide. It seems simple on paper, but this sort of thinking needs to be applied across the province, and it starts with robust at-risk species legislation. It’s time to get with it, BC.

Written by Andrew Findlay – @afindlayjournalist

BLBCA – A Brief History

Association of Problem Solvers

The people who own and run BC’s backcountry lodges are, by necessity, tinkerers. Far from town, operating at the whims of Mother Nature, and with infinite variables at play, they get good at coming up with creative solutions.

But even after nearly 20 years of helping with the problem solving at Golden Alpine Holidays (GAH), a trio of backcountry lodges north of Golden, B.C., Brad Harrison wasn’t ready for the doozy that landed on the industry’s plate in 2003. Following a challenging avalanche season, the insurance industry decided either not to renew, or to charge exorbitant rates, for affected insurance policies. A commercial general liability policy is a BC Government requirement needed to operate on crown(public) land. As a result, GAH and every other commercial backcountry lodge were all left wondering how they move forward.

But as is often the case, a crisis created a chance to improve.

At the time the 25 odd commercial lodges in B.C. often looked at each other as competitors. In the insurance issue Tannis Dakin, then owner/operator of Sorcerer Lodge saw an opportunity. She believed in old adages like “a rising tide lifts all boats” and “don’t waste a good crisis”.

Dakin teamed up with two Calgary insurance agents, Bill Dunlop and Angela Dunlop McKenzie, to sort out a way to recapture the much-needed liability insurance policies. Standard operating protocols were researched, created and readied to be implemented or recommended. Protocols included waiver administration, human resource procedures, risk mitigation, information sharing processes and other business practices. Insurance underwriters agreed to make liability insurance available if an association was created and members of the association agreed to follow the aforementioned and other standard operating procedures. Hence the Backcountry Lodges of B.C. Association was created in 2004. Margie Jamieson, owner/operator of Ptarmigan Tours was the association’s first president.

Six years later, Harrison and his partners sold Golden Alpine Holidays and he became the Executive Director of the BLBCA, a position he still holds. His past experience helped, given the trials and tribulations of operating GAH. And by not owning a lodge anymore, he was in an impartial position, both in actuality and perceptively.

“I was well situated to help operators use the backcountry in an appropriate and responsible way,” he says. It’s a mission he continues to pursue.

The BLBCA gradually matured, members saw more value in working together. At annual meetings they would share their experiences and learn from each other. Learnings like effective solar panels, the best composting toilet, preferred water treatment systems were routinely shared. We realized if we help each other, everybody gains, says Harrison. 

Soon, the BLBCA started working with the BC Provincial Government in earnest and introduced an association-wide marketing program, with the integral help of Destination BC. Although themes of the marketing program have varied over the years, the overarching tenets to Regenerate, Reconnect and Recreate Responsibly have remained.

Harrison and the BLBCA are very focused on informing listeners on the value of wild places. The Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. estimates the economic impact of B.C.’s adventure tourism industry at $2-billion, Value of Adventure Tourism. Although difficult to quantify, the socio-economic value to Rural BC is significant. Health benefits of time spent in nature are well-documented, Canadian doctors can even prescribe it, Announcing a New Collaboration between PaRx and Parks Canada.

Now with outdoor recreation booming and government budgets stretched thin, Harrison thinks the BLBCA can play a role in enhancing and expanding a culture of stewardship. The lodges are perfectly positioned to support the BC Gov’t with citizen science data on species-at-risk, like Whitebark Pine, Wolverine, amongst others. And they hope to help new outdoor users learn the art of treading lightly, Backcountry Trail use is Booming.

The BLBCA hopes to help inform backcountry users with blog posts like these, Whitebark Pine – Save the Ents, The Ultimate Winter Specialist and Responsible Recreation in the Backcountry.

“A lot of new backcountry users aren’t yet sure how to treat Mother Nature with respect,” he says. “Lodge owners interact with a lot of backcountry users. It’s a perfect interface and opportunity for them to inform and influence backcountry users.”

And solve one more problem.

Written by Ryan Stuart

Our Complete Monashee Traverse

A group of three skiers are attempting to traverse the entire distance of the Monashee Mountains on skis. Over 500km; up to 42 days.

Douglas Noblet, Stephen Senecal and Isobel Phoebus set out from Grand Forks, BC and aim to end their journey over a month later near Valemount, BC. The epic adventure includes planned stops at BLBCA member lodges—Sol Mountain Lodge and Blanket Glacier Chalet.

>>Follow Trip Here<<

Trip Update: Our Complete Monashee Traverse started in Grand Forks on April 1st. We travelled through the Midway Range over 5 days with unsettled spring weather and a healthy dose of forest cutblocks and roads. Caching up on food at Highway 6, two friends Mark and Emily are joining us until Highway 1.
Our highlight thus far, after waiting out rain, was through the Pinnacles and beyond to Sol Mountain Lodge. Cool conditions are lining up for great travel through the Gold Range. Thank you Aaron and Sol Lodge crew for the food cache, showers, sauna, beds, and delicious fresh food! We also appreciate the expedition support and funding from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. 

~Stephen, Isobel, Doug

Sol Mountain Lodge: The crew arrived in good time and good spirits on the sunny afternoon of April 11th. Showered, apresed, G&T’s, saunaed, ate more, drank, slept.

They left the the lodge the morning of April 12 with full bellies and full packs under clear skies at -12 with perfect travel conditions for traversing north through the Gold Range. Our son Seth, staff Jette, and friend Max joined them for the part of the day to Ledge Creek. They seem to be a good team all getting along well. 

~Aaron

Blanket Glacier Chalet – Stay tuned for updates as they make their way!

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Continue to check this post for more updates from this exciting adventure!

Probably Not – A Reflection

Thoughts From a Concerned Backcountry Enthusiast

Are we exhausted, have we had enough?
Without exception the last two years have been tough.
Is it over?
Probably not.

There is no new normal, not like we thought.
Climate change scientists are telling us loud and clear,
Just as they have for years.
Are we listening?
Probably not.

In the Western world – we like our stuff
Giving anything up would just be too tough.
Inequities are there, but our words are like thin air.
Do we get it?
Probably not.

Will we change our ways, will we hear nature’s call?
Or continue to dismiss the warnings, thinking all will be well?
Technology will save us, look what we’ve done,
For the next generation, their future has just begun.
Will electric cars and space travel save us?
Probably not.

Do we think about what’s ahead?
We live on a finite planet, that’s been said.
There are too many of us, we want too much,
We are not willing to give anything up without a fuss.
The natural commons are paying a price,
While we purchase things, we think are nice.
Do we know the difference between wants and needs?
Probably not.

Governments and corporations keep the system going,
And the public maintains a comfortable position of uncaring and unknowing.
As decisions are made that compromise our existence,
There is little resistance.
Will we see what’s happening in time to make a change?
Probably not.

Is there time to make a difference?
To save the forests, the oceans, the rivers and glaciers, the air we breathe?
Natures gifts for life and all that we need.

It takes courage to make a change,
To care about the planet outside of our personal gain.
To care about others who are paying the price,
For the consequences of not thinking twice.

Will I stop hoping for change or voicing my concerns?
Probably not.
I love our beautiful planet too much.

By R. E. Reid

Mind Over Mountain

New Patagonia Film Explores the Classic Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Ski Traverse with a Team of Three Women


For ski mountaineers, the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass is a North American classic, a bucket list traverse for aspiring guides and recreational skiers alike. The route has a poetic beauty to it cutting north-south in the Columbia Mountains and bookended by two mountain playgrounds, Bugaboo Provincial Park and Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park. This epic was pioneered in 1958 by Americans Bill Briggs, Bob French, Sterling Neale and Barry Corbett. They made a tough, stoic quartet. For the era, it was a monumental nine-day tour de force that involved more than 11,000 metres of ascending and 135 km of weaving through the Purcell and Selkirk mountains. They did it before Canadian Mountain Holidays had built Bugaboo Lodge and could provide helicopter food drop support. And considering the heavy gear of the day and intricate route-finding required, it remains an impressive achievement still hard to match for the average backcountry skier.


Last winter, two Patagonia athletes, skier Leah Evans and snowboarder Marie-France Roy, teamed up with Nelson-born ski guide Madeleine Martin-Preney to tackle this iconic ski traverse. Evans and Roy are front and slack country shredders to the core. The latter of the two had never rappelled on a climbing rope or slept in a tent in winter while on a ski traverse. Conversely, Martin-Preney is a veteran of many long traverses and slogs and is a skilled ski mountaineer. Their adventure is captured in the recently released Patagonia film Mind Over Mountain. This candid and often humorous documentary explores the mental and physical struggles of the ski traverse, from the euphoric highs of skiing down the endless Conrad Glacier to the downright drudgery and toil of ascending toward Malachite Spire, one of many long climbs along the route. The film is also a window into group dynamics and how the mountains can bind or divide. In this case, the challenge strengthened the bonds among this trio of women.


Though they started as three friends embarking on an adventure, it soon became clear that Martin-Preney’s skill and experience would change this dynamic and place her by default in a leadership, sort of unpaid guide roll. In other words, the lion’s share of decision-making would fall on her shoulders. Rather than getting defensive, Roy and Evans unpack this realization with a candor and levity that would likely be absent from a group of men. I know because I am one.
At one point, an exhausted Roy collapses on her backpack at the end of another long day and watches incredulously as Martin-Preney, the energizer, digs out a tent platform and kitchen area. I’m sure there was tension at times; after all they’re only human. But the joy and sense of fulfillment the women feel when they finally reach Glacier Circle Hut, their last night before skiing up, over and down the Illecillewaet Neve to Rogers Pass, literally shines from their faces.


Inside the hut, Roy, Evans and Martin-Preney find the spot on the wall where one of the pioneering Americans scrawled a matter of fact record of their passage more than 50 years ago: “10 June 1958—Ski Traverse from Bugaboo Creek to Glacier. Started June 2. -Alpine Ski Club of America.”

A Labor of Love

Canadian Adventure Company’s story is captured in this video by Backpacker Magazine of a trip to Mallard Mountain Lodge with editors, photographers, and skiers for an annual gear testing trip.

Step Outside – Lessons

LESSONS – G3’S STEP OUTSIDE SHORT FILM SERIES – EP. 3.

Lifetime backcountry guides Evan Stevens (IFMGA) and Jasmin Caton (ACMG) have learned a lot about what makes or breaks a good backcountry ski experience at Valhalla Mountain Touring. They each enjoy the daily lessons they get from a day in the mountains and enjoy sharing it with skiers who join them along the way.

The History of Assiniboine

Assiniboine is a place of soaring glacier clad peaks, alpine meadows, powder snow, turquoise lakes and remote wilderness. For generations the area was the center of trade routes and often battles among indigenous peoples.

A Bit of Winter in July

Boulder Hut Adventures on Facebook
~July 29~

Check out this quick video teaser from the Bomb Snow TV episodes by Bridger Brigade Productions and start dreaming of your winter lines at Boulder Hut Adventures.