That’s a Wrap on Wild Weekend
Now that we’ve recovered from four days of nonstop events—including panels, speakers, shin digs, music, ski movies, inspiration, learning, and a board meeting—we can look back at Wild Weekend and say with honesty: That was a really good time!
Winter Wildlands Alliance just wrapped up its Wild Weekend: the world premiere of the 15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival, the Snowball fundraiser for SnowSchool, and the three-day Grassroots Advocacy Conference.
In Boise, Idaho, the “Wild Weekend” was a chance to showcase all that happens in the Winter Wildlands Alliance office. But it was also an opportunity to connect people with each other, to share knowledge and experience, and to inspire. Conference attendees traveled from all over the country—bringing with them on-the-ground experience from New Hampshire to California, New Mexico to Montana. A huge thank you to the many panelists who shared their experiences and knowledge at the Grassroots Conference, as well to artist Gianna Andrews, who spent the weekend painting a the Sawtooth mountain horizon on a chairlift to benefit Winter Wildlands Alliance.
“This year’s world premiere of the Backcountry Film Festival was yet again a wonderful way to bring our hometown and national communities together during a wild weekend centered around our 8th biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference,” said Backcountry Film Festival Director Melinda Quick. “The conference theme of “Growing Equity in Public Lands” held true to all of the extracurricular activities this past weekend and our premiere served as a way for our conference attendees and friends to cap off a day full of important and deep conversations in a cozy theatre hooting and hollering at a screen full of inspiring powder tales.”
We chose the theme “Growing Equity in Public Lands” not because we have the answers, but because we want to ask questions and do the work to be better.
“Throughout the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, we all had opportunities to converse, engage and work together around our theme and openly and honestly talk about it’s importance,” said Winter Wildlands Alliance Executive Director Todd Walton. “Not only to us as groups, organizations and stewards, but as individuals and people working to unpack the importance of being honest and transparent. We don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to being part of solutions and being engaged.”
Keynote speaker James Edward Mills launched the weekend with a personal narrative that led him to the snowy flanks of Denali. Mills has written extensively about the outdoor industry, recreation, the environment, and what he calls the “adventure gap.” He recognizes that not all Americans use public lands equally, and the discrepancy often falls along racial lines. His work has been driven by a desire to understand the forces that divide so we can all do the work to bring more people and more diversity to the outdoors.
“It begins and ends with the natural environment, and it only works if everyone is involved,” said Mills.
The next morning, the Grassroots Advocacy Conference opened with a land acknowledgement by Darren Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. Winter Wildlands ambassador Vasu Sojitra moderated the first panel: “There Is Room for Everyone—How to Embrace Diversity,” with Jolie Varela of Indigenous Women Hike, Justin Forrest Parks of Diversify Outdoors and NOLS, and Theresa Simsiman, California stewardship director of American Whitewater.
“Ally is not a noun,” said Sojitra. “It’s a verb. Put it into action.”
Simsiman described how she is often the only person of color when she attends policy meetings or industry events. “It’s not something I focus on, because I have work to do in conserving rivers. But it is something I question,” she said. “Where is the opportunity to bring people of color to these places?”
Simsiman’s question continued to resurface throughout the conference. A panel about the sacredness of nature revealed the many different ways people find spiritual fulfillment in the environment. Talking about planning on public lands yielded insight on the ever-great challenge land managers face to find the best solutions possible that work for a growing, dynamic population. Following a conversation about the budget- and resource-strapped government agencies, a panel of tourism and outdoor industry stakeholders sat down to discuss the responsibilities of the $427 billion outdoor economy to bring diversity to mountain communities and their surrounding environments. At the end of the day, Salome Mwangi, who works with refugees in Idaho, shared how children’s experiences with SnowSchool help them adapt to a new life in Idaho, and local Boise REI outdoor instructor Julie Juarez presented her approach to introductory snowshoeing courses for women.
Equipped with knowledge, better questions, and motivation, the conference attendees dispersed to Boise’s golden afternoons, and then to the Backcountry Film Festival on Friday and Snowball on Saturday. Both events were a chance to engage with locals in our community and to share our stoke for winter with kids and adults, alike.
“As the Festival moves forward in its 15th season, we boast a strong dedication to presenting and supporting diverse, human-powered stories across wild winter landscapes to bring together backcountry communities on our national tour,” said Quick. “We look forward to continuing these conversations that go hand-in-hand with a Sierra Nevada brew, a warm theater seat next to your favorite mountain goats, and stirring up the stoke for a season of human-powered winter adventures for all.”