At the outset of winter quarter, I chose to conduct an ethnography of Husky football stadium; I then switched to Stevens Pass. I have been skiing since I was five years old; it has shaped part of my identity. The mountain is a second home to me. I wasn’t exactly sure how my perception of the mountain would change through this process. There is a unique culture that is created at Stevens Pass, and documenting my experiences revealed certain themes that reinforced characteristics about any ski resort. I have gained a new appreciation for not only the people that make up the space, but for the mountain itself.
I have skied at Stevens in previous years but never did I go in with the mindset of both an active participant and observer. Lifts open at 9:30, skiers and snowboarders of all ages put on their gear and apparel (media), and take to the slopes. No ski resort is constricted by walls and a ceiling. The vast open space allows for its users to explore the mountain. I wasn’t sure if I should focus on one area of the mountain or try to include all aspects of it. I wanted to try and include a number of different aspects, all over the mountain, in my spatial analysis.
“Spatial practices in fact secretly structure the determining conditions of social life. (DeCerteau_WalkingintheCity) There is a different kind of ‘social life’ that can be found on the slopes and in the lodges.
“The guarantee of the liberty of each and of all is in the value of the game, of life freely constructed.” (Situationist_Manifesto_except) While on the mountain, we are virtually free to go where we want and do what we want. In Crack The Surface – Episode 1, the first individual to talk said, “Urban exploring, in my opinion, is exploring unseen spaces which are not regularly visited by people.” Similarly, people are always exploring the mountain for ‘new’ runs or areas in the backcountry. There is risk involved in both explorations of spaces. No ones life is ‘freely’ constructed but for the time while on the mountain, we are virtually free to create the perfect line or the perfect photo. The film, London’s Olympic Waterscape, was very interesting. Nick Bateman said, as archaeologists, they were trying to trace the story of the waterways. All spaces are ever changing; they all have a different story about their evolution. Stevens Pass “is…always in the process of becoming; it is always being made. It is never finished; never closed.” (Massey)
Before this ski season, a buddy and I were planning on taking an avalanche course at Stevens. We never got around to doing it, at least for now, but the theme of boundaries was in play from the beginning. This theme took on new meaning after the Tunnel Creek incident, in which three very experienced skiers were tragically killed in an avalanche. I had conducted an interview with a ski patroller in the terrain park hut the thursday before the avalanche happened. It was very weird to see and hear about this accident after talking to “Guy” about Cowboy Ridge and avalanche safety. Life is truly fragile.
Identity, community, and culture were other major themes of mine. Everyone brings a different identity to the mountain to create a unique Cascadia mountain culture.
As I continued to interview people on the mountain, some were very reluctant to talk about the Tunnel Creek incident, especially the ski patrollers. Their community lost some amazing people, and I could tell that it had affected them a great deal. People at Stevens Pass care about the well-being of others. They try to maintain safety on the mountain, but self-policing is always in effect. Painful memories slowly heal with time. I was exposed to the community that Stevens has to offer by participating in Hope on the Slopes, an American Cancer Society fundraiser. Skiers and snowboarders, of all ages, were present at this event. The rainy and windy weather conditions were definitely not the best, but for the most part, I got the sense that everyone had a great time.
Robert Smithsonian’s use of still pictures plus commentary is similar yet different to the slideshow I made about Hope on the Slopes. Here it is: http://vimeo.com/38348333
Jeremy Beaudry’s website, http://meaning.boxwith.com/projects, contains a number of unique projects that focus on a wide range of topics. His project, “Place in Place of: Alexandria,” really stood out to me as being a unique collaboration of ideas. I think it would be very interesting to create mini-documentaries or stories about different ski resorts around the U.S. and abroad with the themes of identity, community, culture, and boundaries being the intended focuses.
My time at Stevens Pass has both changed and reinforced my perception of the mountain. The people at Stevens are very friendly as compared to some mountains I have been to. The location of any space greatly affects the actions and characteristics of the people. Being away from the city, up in the tree-filled Cascades, you will find similar, like-minded, yet different individuals at the Pass. There is a community of Ski Patrollers who are looking out for the well-being of all on the mountain. Boundaries are put in place but people will inevitably want to explore the backcountry. Self-policing is always at play. I am very glad that I chose Stevens Pass for my ethnographic study. I will continue to make the drive up highway 2 with friends to ski this winter season, and I will continue to document my experiences both at Stevens and at other mountains I visit.