U of A hosts mountain researchers 

Inaugural thinking mountains conference looks at wide range of issues facing mountain culture

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER BY ERIC BERGER - HIGHER EDUCATION - Mountain scholars marked International Mountains Day by gathering for a conference in Edmonton Dec. 11 to 15th
  • Photo courtesy of Tourism Whistler by Eric Berger
  • HIGHER EDUCATION - Mountain scholars marked International Mountains Day by gathering for a conference in Edmonton Dec. 11 to 15th

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While the conference presented the obvious opportunity to network with individuals in your specific fields, the common theme of mountains meant that helpful insights often came from unexpected sources. Rollins, for example, is also an avid recreational speleologist, so she had much to offer the aforementioned cave-bound paleontologist. Conversely, she was interested to hear of developments regarding the ongoing Spearhead Huts Project, which pays close attention to waste management concerns.

Reflecting the conference location, but also the current state of Canadian mountain studies, the Rockies and Columbia Mountains were far better represented than our local Coast Mountains. Conference organizer Zac Robinson, a Rockies specialist himself, acknowledged this imbalance, and stated his desire to increase the presence of coastal specialists at the institute (a not-so-subtle hint to any aspiring mountain nerds out there).

One exception was Samuel Johns, a graduate student in the Geography Department at the University of British Columbia. Johns's research examines the "weekend warrior" archetype of ambitious urban professionals who frequently escape the city to play as hard as they work. Johns's presentation centered upon the intriguing question "to what extent are the mountains a resource to be extracted by weekend warriors."

For these folks the mountains are a crucial part of their weekly routine and personal identity, but they form a specific, intensified relationship with mountain spaces that differs greatly from those who actually reside there. Johns is in the early stages of his research, and is still looking for Vancouver-based interviewees. He can be contacted through UBC's Geography Department.

"Interdisciplinarity" has been a buzzword among Canadian universities for some time, with the belief that much novel and fruitful research can be pursued beyond the confines of traditional academic disciplines. It was this line of thinking that led to the CMSI's formation last year.

As biologist Dr. David Hik, a central figure at both the CMSI and the United Nations-sponsored International Mountain Day, states, "Mountains cover about 20 per cent of the earth, they are islands of biological and cultural diversity, and more than half of humanity relies on mountains for fresh water for drinking, to grow food, support industry, or generate electricity." Climate change is bringing mountains and glaciers even greater prominence. Through mountain-centric study, Hik and his CMSI colleagues hope to gain a unique perspective leading to novel solutions for many pressing concerns both within and beyond the Earth's mountain regions.

Mountain-minded institutes exist elsewhere, most notably the Center for Mountain Studies at Perth College in the U.K., and the Bern, Switzerland-based Mountain Research Initiative. However, these two organizations focus heavily on development studies and environmental sciences, respectively. Aside from being North America's primary node for mountain studies, the CMSI features a far higher number of researchers exploring the cultural dimensions of mountains. The arts, humanities, social and natural sciences are all well represented at the CMSI.

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