Self-reliance vs self-promotion:

Cracking open the conversation on social media and mountain safety

 

An apprentice ski guide who plies his trade in the Canadian Rockies wants to have an honest discussion about the preponderance of social media and the potential safety risks associated with overzealous posting.

At 30-years-old, Dave Crerar is just young enough to be called a millennial. The Golden-based guide, who works as a fire fighter when he’s not leading avalanche skills training courses or tail gunning for ski trips in the Purcells, is active on social media. He’s got partnerships with The North Face, K2 Snowboardsand Smith Optics, and in the summer, builds brand awareness for paddling-related companies which support his kayak endeavours.

In an age when likes, retweets and followers are the currency of young professionals, Crerar knows what sells: the raddest, baddest, biggest and boldest photos. However, he and his peers are noticing that viral videos and in-demand images can often carry negative—and potentially hazardous—consequences for the mountain communities they showcase.

“In an attempt to get their share of the backcountry markets comes the industry’s media push,” Crerar said recently in his essay, Is there a correlation between risk and the need to document our daily lives? “Largely driven by social media content, this has led to a revolution in public self-promotion on these formats.”

In most industries—the food industry, for example—the most damaging side effects from an over-proliferation of selfies is the discovery that you can no longer get a table at your favourite restaurant. But in the mountain environment, Crerar says, a burning desire to document your annual expedition for your friends and family can turn disastrous if unfavourable avalanche safety conditions happen to get thrown into the mix.

“I believe this is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “We find more and more that time-starved recreational users of our backcountry areas are getting ever more aggressive in their choice of objectives.”

Attending the funeral of a friend who died in an avalanche in Kootenay Pass recently has brought this issue into focus for him, he said.

“I see it as a drive to capture,” Crerar said. “It’s become more about going to get the picture rather than the turns.”

Crerar knows that the onus is always on the user to educate themselves on the hazards of winter backcountry travel. However, in an industry which preaches self-reliance, there should be an element of self-restraint when it comes to posting about how high you climbed, how steep that chute was and how hard you shred, he thinks. Even more dangerous, he said, are posts which contain enough information about how to find a particular terrain feature, but which subsequently leave out the area’s pertinent hazards. To mitigate the issue, Crerar has taken to omitting from his social media activity any beta at all that could be used to discover exactly where he’s been.

“We preach self-responsibility and decision making,” he said. “We can’t essentially give people the cheat-codes.”

Crerar isn’t calling anyone out. As a brand ambassador in the ski industry, he knows athletes carry certain obligations to their sponsors. In that small community, the conversation is starting to take place. And as far as how he plans his day as a guide, he says he now has to factor in a stronger element of social media-inspired fixation on objectives.

“It’s something I see a lot,” he said. “People see a line they want to ski on Instagram then spend all week figuring out how to get it.”

Crerar knows that social media isn’t going anywhere, but as a safety professional, he wants the conversation to catch up to what he thinks is a potentially dangerous trend. That starts with the mountain community members in places like Golden and Jasper, he said.

“I think it’s on guides, athletes and your average ski-bums to talk about what they’re putting on the internet,” he said. “It’s not necessarily seeking an answer, but to at least have the discussion.”

 

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