We inhabitants of this planet are in the midst of re-imagining our lives and how we lead them. Every single industry that existed in the middle of the last century has or is being asked to re-conceive itself and grow into this new millennium. Changes in technology have sparked great shifts in music, entertainment, communications, and now the energy and the automobile sectors are under massive overhauls through this movement. With the movement has come innovation, collaboration, human growth and greater sustainability. Great leaders are emerging to show us the way. People like Elon Musk who are not only innovating the auto industry, but sharing their technical breakthroughs so that the goal of filling the roads with electric cars is realized. It is not only about making money, it is about, becoming our best selves. These leaders have identified that we need to share the spoils so we can achieve larger goals for humanity. Certainly this was the statement when Musk released his electric car innovations for the world to use. It is as if "beating the other guy" is out of fashion and that is one of the most beautiful things to happen in over a century because what is being communicated is the notion that we are in it together. Happiness through human (as opposed to industrial) growth is emerging and many of us are choosing to be on the boat.
A recent study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the USA positioned Outdoor Recreation ahead of pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, and fossil fuels. Annual consumer spending for this sector is posted at 887 Billion. Outdoor recreation is huge in the USA and, by cultural sibling-hood, we can assume for Canada. At long last there is an identifiable new work force, wool collar workers or people who work outdoors. And we wool clad set can be taken seriously because it is about money, right? As we step into this new knowledge of the power of the outdoor sector's contribution to the economic engine it is important that we take a good look at ourselves to understand who we are and where we are going. We are now under the spotting scope and can no longer hide in the back woods. How do we fit into this new global "Us" paradigm?
Some of the assumptions we wool collar set make about ourselves is that we connect people to nature, are stewards of wild places and that things we do are sustainable. These mantras are not entirely true. The most obvious target is our sacred cow, the helicopter ski industry. The fuel consumption alone for a bell 212 helicopter is, on average, 425 litres per hour. For a six hour day, an operation burns 2,550 litres of fuel simply for the enjoyment of three or four groups of 11 guests. One of the larger operations has 12 lodges. They burn 30,600 litres of fossil per ski day. How can we possibly defend this in a world where climate change is bearing down on all of us? Like many industries the defense is money. Lots of families put bread on the table through this work. But this is what industries around the globe are facing, the need to change. The Polly Anna view of heli skiing is that we are connecting people to nature so the fuel consumption has purpose. But are we? The report to me from many guides is that their guests don't even look at the view or care about where they are. For many, it is about how much vertical terrain is consumed, ever deepening the reach of gross consumption into wild places in order to prop up our underdeveloped selves. I am as guilty as anyone and perhaps that is why I see it, because I have lived it.
Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company leads the way in activism, sustainability and fair trade. Their mission statement starts with:
" Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. These are all silent sports. None require a motor; none deliver the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature."
Outdoor organizations all need to be more like Patagonia. Their used clothing initiative shows that they see beyond the next sale and are doing what is best for all of us.
But what about outdoor experiences? Bill Plotkin's Animas Valley Institute helps people connect to nature and themselves. Their programs are outdoors but are not adventure sport based. They help their participants develop "ecocentrically" that Plotkin knows leads to psychological maturity, true adulthood and elderhood. Their aim is; "a model that ultimately yields a strategy for cultural transformation." If any organization in the outdoors is connecting others to themselves and nature it is Animas Valley Institute, chiefly because they take the requisite time to slow down enough to facilitate a bond. Unlike the high speed "stone skipping" approach of much of the outdoor industry, where the aim is to go as fast as possible so that nothing deep is experienced.
Like the colleague of mine Butch Greer, I would maintain that the world does not need more rock climbers, mountaineers, skiers, and paddle sport enthusiasts. I perceive that our participation in them may in fact have little value for humanity. Except for one thing. If we reflect on these powerful events we have, we have greater potential to develop as humans, moving humanity forward to a place where we are our best selves. Many may scoff thinking that achievement should be pursued at all cost. But the two are not mutually exclusive. Reflection aids in the development of our minds and our capabilities. Alex Honnold this week showed that climbing is much more than a physical pursuit with his free solo ascent of El Capitan. Clearly there was a spiritual transcendence for him. I call his ascent as being a climbing equivalent to "walking on water."
Very few guiding companies offer powerful human development process work coupled with real adventure. The once towering Outward Bound is a mere echo of what it was on the human development landscape. Though their programs are good, the organization is on the fringe of the outdoor community where it was once the hub of everything outdoors in the 1970's. The best in the industry were employed at Outward Bound and this is not the case any longer. Today the organization employs primarily entry-level practitioners and so experiences are softer than in the past. The reasons for this are varied and can be debated. But human powered, educational, adventure experiences could develop into the highest reaches of our outdoor community, given the right support and leadership.
Human values need to develop beyond the notion of the self to include the greater community. The mountains and wild places in general are a powerful mentor for this purpose. Our journeys on this one wild earth are meant to have a lasting impact for the greater good. The call to action is for highly skilled people and organizations to unleash the human development potential from this incredible crucible of learning. What if we walked our talk? What if we faced our fears? What if we actually connected to nature? What if we listened to what nature is asking us to do every time we see a reflection in a lake, to be still, and to listen to the innate wisdom of life? The future of adventure, if it is going to survive at all is to see our journeys as sacred.
One of my students once asked me, "Ken why do we have to do this reflection shit?" My answer was, "So we are more than our gear. You see, the gear goes on the journey, up the mountain, down the mountain, sees everything we see and does everything we do, and the only thing that can happen to the gear is that it wears out, gets old and is thrown away. Through reflection we invite the opportunity to grow and develop. We are much more than the objects we use. " In maturing into our full potential we bring best self to the world and the challenges we face. This is my call to action.
As a practitioner I am well on my way with Mountains for Growth. My larger commitment is the development of a private college that nurtures outdoor practitioners to turn the tide in their careers by helping them foster regenerative adventure education. This project needs a band like minded passionate supporters.