The power of narrative can influence, teach and inspire. And stories told in the Tetons are all the more potent as they address our shared reality of weather, geography and, perhaps most importantly, the human experience.
Teton County Library’s annual Mountain Story festival celebrates the tales, but also engages with writers to discuss craft, subject matter and, naturally, life in the mountains.
“Landscape shapes culture in so many ways — how we interact and use land for shelter, food, economy and recreation, as well as in ways like providing awe, creativity and connection,” said Leah Shlachter, adult program coordinator for Teton County Library. “A series like Mountain Story helps connect the community to the landscape and to each other through storytelling.”
Mountain Story started in 2013 with a lineup featuring Jim Whittaker and the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest. Oona Doherty, adult program coordinator at the time, created the festival as a way to combine literature and adventure.
“We keep an eye out all year for potential Mountain Story presenters,” Shlachter said, “what’s being published, what’s happening in the outdoor recreation and conservation worlds, what new art is out there.”
This year brings David Gonzales, Brigid Mander, Doug Peacock, Rick Ridgeway and Katie Ives to the stage.
“We try to diversify the storytelling mediums from writing, photography, filmmaking and art,” Shlachter said. “And we get a lot of names through recommendations, such as Jimmy Chin suggested we feature his mentor, Rick Ridgeway, who just published his memoir.”
Shlachter learned online that Katie Ives had a new book out, and she knew she used to live in Jackson when The Alpinist was headquartered in town. Every year Mountain Story has a mix of local and national presenters, and sometimes has even repeated presenters such as John Long and local writer Dina Mishev, but Shlachter says she is always actively seeking out new presenters.
This year’s programming selection was also made with COVID in mind and has attempted to be COVID-resistant, but even with all that taken into consideration, Shlachter still had to rearrange this year’s Mountain Story schedule when case numbers kicked up after the holidays. Gonzales’ “Picnic” was initially set to be the first event of the series; now his talk will be the culmination of the series. This month’s Cabin Fever Story Slam had been billed as part of Mountain Story, but it has been cancelled.
The remaining programming will be virtual but very interactive, Shlachter said. Last year the entire series went online, and about 20 to 50 people showed up for each of the three writing workshops hosted on Zoom. No registration is required to attend online or in person. Find links at TCLib.org.
“We anticipated the pandemic affecting programming this winter, so we intentionally designed a hybrid series including in-person events featuring local in-person presenters, and online events for presenters not based in Jackson,” said Shlachter.
So now the first workshop will be Jackson Hole writer Brigid Mander, who will lead an open community writing workshop titled “The Breakdown of a Good Adventure Tale and How to Find Your Own Voice” at 6 p.m. Jan. 20 in the library’s Ordway Auditorium.
“I’ve followed Brigid’s work over the years in various publications,” Shlachter said, “and I think she brings a unique voice and perspective in outdoor narrative writing.”
Mander is a skier, adventurer and writer who turned dedicated ski bumming into a full-time writing career. She contributes regularly to such publications as Backcountry Magazine, Mountain Outlaw and The Wall Street Journal.
Mander knows being a writer can be hard; it has ups and downs, but so does any job.
“It’s also very rewarding,” she said, “both schedule-wise, and what is produced can be very satisfying. You have the opportunity to spotlight topics and people that might not get attention otherwise, which is a nice position. I didn’t really start out planning to be a writer full time, but I did have an ‘ah-ha!’ moment.”
She had been doing the typical ski bum thing — multiple service jobs, low pay, “the whole shebang,” she said — and while she liked the freedom that provided for skiing and travel, it was not very satisfying intellectually or financially.
“I also didn’t feel a career in the service industry was going to be a long-term plan for me,” she said. “My exit strategy was always to leave and go to grad school and end up back in New York City making a lot of money, but I realized perhaps if I could make it as a writer I could skip that whole trajectory.”
She quit all her service jobs, so she didn’t have any “crutch income,” which helped keep her motivated and focused.
“If I didn’t make sure I got assignments and made enough money, I couldn’t pay my bills and grad school it would be,” she said.
In her workshop, she said, she will share her experiences of trying to break into writing, figuring out how to turn it into a career and the various ways that can be done.
“Then I’ll go over the construction of storytelling, how to develop your own voice, avoid the play-by-play, and create something unique and entertaining and/or educating for the reader,” she said. “I’m not really planning to have any formal exercises at this point, but I hope there will be lots of questions from the attendees.”
Mander said she’s looking forward to meeting other writers at the workshop and hearing what they have to say.
Go to TCLib.org/mountain-story-2022 for information. ￼
This version of the article has been updated to reflect the new date for Brigid Mander's talk. — Ed.