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New Sea to Sky group supports those who’ve loved and lost in the mountains

Mountain Muskox offers free monthly meetings hosted by trained professionals for people impacted by loss or trauma
n-mountain-muskox-circle-3037-photo-submitted
Mountain Muskox was launched in Bow Valley, Alta. to support those who have experienced loss in the mountains, and is getting set to launch its second chapter in the Sea to Sky this month. Pictured is one of the non-profit’s two-day intensives in Bow Valley from November 2022.

When a muskox is injured, the herd will come together to surround the vulnerable member of the group, forming a tight circle around them, a phalanx of heads and horns facing outward, steeled against any approaching threat.

That’s why the hoofed mammal is the namesake of Mountain Muskox, a mental health support group that first started in the Bow Valley, Alta. that is getting set to launch a new chapter in the Sea to Sky this month.

“It’s not just about having themselves supported, but also knowing they can be there for other people, too. That’s why they used the name muskox,” explained Sydney Badger, one of two registered clinical counsellors helping lead the Sea to Sky chapter.
Co-founded several years ago by mountaineering guide and author Barry Blanchard as an informal monthly meet-up for those who have suffered loss and trauma in the mountains, Mountain Muskox has since evolved into a thriving non-profit that offers monthly sessions and immersive retreats.

“It was initiated by some folks who had connected about their traumatic experiences in the mountains and it evolved somewhat naturally with the support of a therapist and a facilitator,” Badger explained.
Now, the group is expanding into the corridor, a part of the world that, like many mountainous regions, is no stranger to tragedy and loss. Given there are few organizations like it around specifically dedicated to processing grief in alpine environments, Badger said Mountain Muskox has garnered interest from across the globe.

“We have had inquiries from people all over the world and, absolutely, on the coast when they find out that Mountain Muskox exists,” she added. “Just knowing there was a demand sparked us to put together a team to actually start this thing.”

Circles meet once a month for three-hour group sessions, with at least one trained clinician present to support participants.   

“For the Sea to Sky meetings specifically, we’re actually going to have one to two therapists present as facilitators, so trained clinicians who are really creating space to connect and create a community to not be alone around these instances and to also offer tools for people to support them as they process their connection to the mountains,” Badger said.

Most people are likely to think of sudden, accidental death related to mountaineering and alpine sports when considering the notion of trauma in the mountains, but as Badger noted, the group is open to those who have suffered any form of loss here.

“It’s not so much just trauma in mountain communities, but events that have happened in the mountains,” she said. “It could be loss of life, loss of innocence, a loss of connection to your special place, a loss of your community. It’s really the fact that someone has been impacted by loss in the mountains.”

That loss, however it takes shape, also does not necessarily need to have impacted the individual directly.

“It doesn’t have to be an acute incident that someone was directly involved with; it could be someone impacted by the incident,” Badger continued.
Despite the progress that has been made, fuelled largely by the pandemic, to advance the conversation locally around mental health, there can still be a reluctance among some to open up about their struggles in mountain resorts that are marketed as a thrill-seeker’s paradise.

“I think generally in a fast-moving place like the Sea to Sky, it is very easy to operate under the drive of just keep going, just keep living. So, when something happens, it stops us in our tracks,” Badger said. “I think the more we’re able to speak about that as a community and to recognize that, through this interruption to our what might be adventure coping, we might actually be able to recognize some deeper pieces going on.”

The first Sea to Sky meeting is set for Sept. 13 in Squamish. The exact time and location will be revealed to participants after they register for the free session. Email mountainmuskox@gmail.com to sign up.

Mountain Muskox also hosts free two-day intensives open to anyone, no matter their place of residence. The next one is scheduled for Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 in Bow Valley. Learn more at mountainmuskox.com.