Conflicting values in the mountains 

UBC researcher examines ski resort/environmental balance

By Vivian Moreau

As a skier and an environmentally-aware individual Mark Stoddart feels conflicted about his two interests, knowing that ski development can have adverse environmental impacts. In order to explore his own dilemma and that of many other snow enthusiasts Stoddart is interviewing 40 B.C. skiers and snowboarders for his Ph.D. thesis.

Stoddart, 32, a University of British Columbia sociology doctoral candidate placed an ad in Pique Newsmagazine last week looking for 20 Whistler-area people willing to be interviewed on their thoughts about mountain sports and mountain preservation. He’s already interviewed 23 Nelson-area skiers and snowboarders and will compare results from the two resort regions in his study.

Stoddart said through examining snow sports media coverage and through interviews his research looks at dichotomies between how skiers interpret their own interactions with nature and how that plays out in terms of environmental values and politics.

He sees the research as a natural extension of his master’s degree research that examined media coverage of B.C. forest policies and ensuing conflicts. He found a lack of information about environmental and sociological effects of nature tourism and outdoor recreation and decided to do further research for his Ph.D. dissertation.

“I thought that would be an interesting thing to look at especially with a lot of talk in the public sphere about the importance of the tourism economy and sustainable alternatives to older resource-based economies in B.C.,” Stoddart said in an interview from his UBC office. Stoddart intends to have a draft of his research completed by February 2008.

“It (the research) needs to be done not just in terms of skiing but in outdoor recreation and nature tourism in general if we are talking about this as part of our new economy in the province.”

A tension between his own love of skiing and environmental values is driving his research.

“I have personal preferences for tree skiing and places that are quieter… and think there are definitely problems with the ski industry and expansion in skiing.”

Stoddart cites the proposed Jumbo Pass resort near Invermere as an example of a big development that even die-hard skiers think is too much. “It’s basically going to create a town high up in the mountains and create quite a few problems,” he said, “and most of the skiers I interviewed in that area talk about it as something they don’t like and don’t really want to see.”

Stoddart said although many snow enthusiasts he interviewed don’t describe themselves as environmentalists they do have a sense of environmental values.

“This ambiguity of being aware of some of the impacts of skiing around things like energy use and connections with automobile transportation — that has to do with climate change and global warming and a real desire to see meaningful change happen to make skiing more sustainable — that’s something that’s come out of my interviews so far.”

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