The FOMO will fade if we all stay home 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY VINCE SHULEY - STAY PUT The fewer people that head out into the backcountry now, the sooner we can resume our normal outdoor recreation lifestyles.
  • Photo by Vince Shuley
  • STAY PUT The fewer people that head out into the backcountry now, the sooner we can resume our normal outdoor recreation lifestyles.

As a lot of you probably know, I like being outside. I like being outside in the mountains even more. Like many of you, it's the reason I moved here, the reason I stayed here and the reason I'm still trying my darndest to build a nest here, one twig at a time.

There's nothing that kills me as softly in Whistler as not being able to play outside. All that is compounded by receiving the social media update about how sick the pow day was or how that couloir descent changed someone's life. Like most Whistlerites, I chalk up missing those best days to three things: incapacitation (sickness or injuries); work (when the flexible schedule just won't flex); and mandatory life admin (essential appointments you waited weeks or months for). I'd never have thought my solitude in outdoor recreation was going to be threatened by a global pandemic, especially when the best solution we have is to not spend time around others.

I'm one of those people that feel being outside is important for not just my physical fitness, but for my mental health. It doesn't matter if it rained 10 millimetres during the bike ride or I climbed the skin track for four hours to ski down on wind crust. Being in the mountains and/or on the trails just makes it all feel centred, if only for a while. I'm one of those people who thinks they'll go crazy if they're stuck inside for too long without some real mountain activity. My name is Vince and I'm an outdoor addict.

This is (arguably) the best kind of addiction. It keeps you healthy, you develop an elevated appreciation for your natural surroundings, and it has limited impact on your fellow humans.

Think about that last one for a second. Limited impact on your fellow humans. As skiers, mountain bikers, sledders, etc., we've all been looking to the road less travelled to achieve our admirable double whammy of fun recreation and social distancing at the same time (author guilty as charged). We've placed ourselves on a pedestal above the ignorant masses climbing The Chief in droves and drunkenly congregating on frozen lakes, thinking that our small groups of recreationists (who definitely know what's up) deserve some sort of special hall pass for getting into the mountains.

That may have been the case 15 years ago, when ski touring was still niche with taller barriers to entry. But when your regional user group balloons into tens of thousands in just a few short years and many of those users are sharing their experiences on social media, it becomes much less clear who's acting responsibly and who thinks they're acting responsibly.

I'll admit I took a week or so to start taking the COVID-19 issue as seriously as I should have. I went biking in Pemberton on a sunny Saturday and tried my best to keep distance from dozens of other bikers climbing up Happy Trail. I rode in a truck and went backcountry skiing with a friend who's not from my household. Despite taking it easy with respect to trail difficulty and terrain choice, I couldn't shake a sinking feeling that my selfish need to get after it was potentially putting more people at risk. That sinking feeling came pretty close to outweighing the euphoria of a fun day in the mountains and allowing me to forget about the global pandemic for a few hours. The discussion came up multiple times with my trip partners on those days, and I've read similar thoughts from outdoor writers both here in the Sea to Sky and other small, outdoor-centric communities in the Colorado Rockies, which are experiencing their own can't-stop-won't-stop onslaught of commuting ski tourers.

I get the frustration of being told to stay inside when all I want to do is go ski touring outside. I get the reasoning that if I go out solely with members of my household, ski and travel conservatively and keep two metres apart from other parties that I'm limiting the impact on my fellow humans the best that I can. But I also get the fact that every day since COVID-19 got real for Canadians, things haven't gotten any better. The light is so far down that long dark tunnel that skiing, biking, sledding or whatever outdoor recreation that cures what ails you does not need to be at the top of your to-do list right now. Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that going outside to exercise in small household groups is OK, but I'm certain that mingling in crowded parking lots at trailheads wasn't what she had in mind. We can justify ski touring and mountain biking as an essential activity in the name of staying healthy all we want. But until we collectively lay down our backcountry arms and call a truce on getting after it, we're a part of the problem, not the solution. The sooner we all get that into our outdoor-addicted heads, the sooner we can get back to getting after it.

Vince Shuley is tempering his FOMO by reducing his social media consumption. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email vince@vinceshuley.com or Instagram @whis_vince.

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