Mountain ranges throughout the world are home to towns and villages that may boast their unique local culture, but is there something more to it? Is there an overall connection between these people and places that can be defined as mountain culture and if there is, does it matter to anyone else?
That topic of debate was put to a panel of writers as part of the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival on Saturday (Oct. 13) at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
Pemberton resident and award-winning writer Susan Reifer asserted that mountain culture is indeed real and is defined by a shared set of values.
“I believe mountain culture does exist, very much so,” Reifer said. “And it is based in values more than anything and the community that grows out of that value system”
She said as a result mountain culture is not about geography, but that she doesn’t think it matters to anyone outside of places like Whistler.
The reason the deeper context of mountain culture is ignored by the general public, said Reifer, is that main stream media represents it in only two ways to targeted audiences.
Those audiences include people looking to take a vacation, who are presented with a representation of mountain culture as if it is an idyllic alpine Disneyland. The other audience is the kind that watches “dude porn” said Reifer, or in other words a glorification of mountain sports like skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking, often represented in marketing campaigns for products like Mountain Dew or Red Bull.
Because that representation is driven by an economic reality, she added, it is what most people think mountain culture is.
Stephen Vogler said there isn’t a defined mountain culture, as it is more of a celebration of sporting feats that exists in places like Whistler.
“I think that does kind of narrow the scope and depth of what artists get up to in a place like this,” he said. “We tend to think taking a photo of a skier is art, but it is not, it is part of a subculture of this place.”
An admitted flatlander, Margaret Macpherson remarked that mountain culture to her seems “kinda fake.”
Macpherson questioned the extent to which culture exists in a mountain town like Whistler when a $14 million library for a population of 10,000 people is not open on Sundays.
“Art and culture is what nurtures oneself,” she said. “I think possibly the culture here is one of conquest.”
Irreverent Whistlerite Feet Banks said there is more to culture than books and more to mountains than their summits.
Banks said the local culture could be described as “man versus nature” or “man versus himself.” He said the expression of culture here is very individual and about doing what you love to do, which can be seen up close when somebody in the community dies in the mountains.
“It is a personal thing and you do it for your own reasons,” he said.