What Will We Do With Our Privilege?

By David Page, Winter Wildlands Alliance Executive Director

Photo by Elise Sterck (@elisesterckphotography)

This letter was originally featured in our Spring 2023 Trail Break issue.

THE OTHER DAY I went for a pleasant low-angle ski tour on the Inyo National Forest with Dani Reyes-Acosta. Dani is an athlete, filmmaker, splitboarder and climate activist. She’d spent the previous day in a couloir, leaning into a fierce wind, kicking points up several thousand feet of vertical crust.

On this day the sun was warm. There were more cars at the trailhead than parking spaces. All manner of people were out and about—on Nordic skis, on snowshoes, on backcountry setups, on their own two feet. Chatting, breathing, listening to the sound the universe makes. Clark’s nutcrackers sailed overhead from tree to tree, squawking at the humans.

We talked about wind, its place in our respective languages and cultures. We talked about the abiding segregation in mountain communities between those who do the essential work—cleaning rooms, shoveling roofs, cooking food—and those who benefit from that work. We talked about paths to leadership, how obscured they are for the quiet majority, and the outsized influence of those few who can spare the time and energy to show up in just the right way. Everyone else—the newcomers, the old-timers on skinny skis whom no one listens to, the passers-through, the amateurs, the outsiders, the workers, the birds, the trees—they get what somebody else decides for them.

All across the West it had been a winter to remember. After years of searing drought and insatiable wildfire there was suddenly more snow than we knew what to do with. We were burning fossil fuel to truck the stuff out of town. Meanwhile, back East and in the Alps, people were skiing on grass. Or burning fossil fuel to make snow. Or dying in wars and earthquakes.

We couldn’t help but feel gratitude for our extraordinary good fortune. There was soft, natural, wind-sifted snow in the northerly shadows. We were here and now and getting it while we could.

Back at the trailhead there were a dozen cars parked down along the roadway. A cop walked car by car leaving a parking ticket on each windshield. All these people had traveled great distances to park where they could and spend a precious Saturday walking on public land, gazing at snow-covered mountains.

It was hard not to think we ought to find a way to let them do it.