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It’s no wonder why: At the beginning of the pandemic, with ski resorts closed, skiers flocked to the backcountry to get their powder fix.
As we all know by now, we’ve seen a major uptick in backcountry users throughout this pandemic. According to the New York Times, over a million people in the U.S. used backcountry ski gear last year, with sales of ski touring equipment increasing 260 percent between 2019 and 2020.
It’s no wonder why: At the beginning of the pandemic, with ski resorts closed, skiers flocked to the backcountry to get their powder fix. Throughout the past two years, with more remote and flexible work and a strong desire to recreate outdoors, people discovered the beauty of winter wilderness, whether on snowshoes, splitboards, or AT gear.
But at what cost? Does more people in the backcountry also mean more traffic, more waste, and more rescues? “The pandemic hit, and the world changed,” says Todd Walton, executive director of the Winter Wildlands Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving winter wildlands and human-powered snowsports on public lands. “We started talking conceptually about what this rise in users means and what the impact could be on public lands. Being a leave no trace nerd myself, I instantly thought about what we could do to mitigate impact, keeping an eye on what’s going to happen to these outdoor spaces we know and love.”
To help be part of a proactive solution, Winter Wildlands Alliance joined the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, a collection of over 1,700 businesses and organizations that got together at the onset of the pandemic to share information about getting outside responsibly and fostering an equitable outdoor community. But Walton says his organization wanted to do something specifically for skiers, a campaign focused on educating winter backcountry users.
Tyler Ray, founder of New Hampshire’s Granite Backcountry Alliance came up with a slogan: “Ski Kind.” “When the name hit, it was like, ‘Yeah, that embodies everything we need it to,’” Walton says. “It takes that winter piece of it doesn’t matter if you’re on a snowboard or sled or backcountry skiing or on snowshoes, we’re all in this together, let’s be responsible for one another.”
As for what Ski Kind means exactly, Walton says it’s pretty simple: “It’s an inclusive and fun way to say, ‘Rule #1, don’t be a jackass. Rule #2, see rule #1,” he says. “The idea distills everything from Leave No Trace and backcountry ethics of protecting the resource over the recreation.”
Ski Kind means leaving nature as you found it—picking up your trash, or your dog’s poop. It also means being self-reliant, like knowing how use your gear and making smart and safe decisions. It means being inclusive and aware, respectful and smart. It means everything from reading the avalanche forecast to not peeing in the skintrack to helping out your fellow backcountry travelers if they’re in a bind. It’s all the things you already know you should do but sometimes forget to make a priority.
To help support the Ski Kind campaign, you can buy stickers or a hat—the hat was made by Flylow and donated to the Winter Wildlands Alliance as part of our Good Lab projects. Proceeds from the hat and the Ski Kind virtual film festival—available to rent online for $10—go to benefit local backcountry alliances with their stewardship projects, ranging from trail signage to outdoor education. You can also take the Ski Kind pledge or join the Winter Wildlands Alliance.
“In the grander scheme of things, we’re all getting into the outdoors—via whatever method you take to get there—to seek solace and do better for ourselves and our community and Ski Kind really embodies that,” Walton says. “This reminds us to be good stewards for the land and ourselves.”