Rain in January or February saddens Christian Beckwith.
It’s not just because he’ll lose a day of skiing. He knows it’s symptomatic of larger climate issues.
After living in Jackson for more than 20 years, Beckwith wants to protect the mountains that have given him so much.
“As somebody who loves this place with every molecule of his being,” he said, “the fact that I’m watching its degradation before my eyes, it breaks my heart. My daughter is not going to have the Jackson Hole I had.”
Beckwith believes there is still hope if innovators and people who love wild places come together to share ideas and inspiration.
The third annual Shift Festival is meant to be that forum, the intersection of conservation, nature, culture and adventure.
“I want to get people who love to climb and surf and ski to take the next step and become stewards,” said Beckwith, the event’s executive director. “These people should become the champions of these places.”
The Shift Festival started three years ago when the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board decided to create an event centered around conservation to bring people and events to town in October, when visitation normally slows.
Last year the focus was on communities similar to Jackson. Their leaders came together to discuss their challenges and how they address them.
This year, after help from a consulting firm, the festival will focus on the intersection between conservation and outdoor recreation.
“The beautiful thing about it, it has allowed us to go tremendously deep into one of the topics,” Beckwith said. “The really cool part about it is we’ve hit a nerve.”
The topic, along with what Beckwith calls an incredible lineup of speakers from the “nexus of outdoor recreation and conservation,” has created unprecedented buzz for this year’s festival.
“It’s an organic extension of who we are as part of this community,” Beckwith said. “There is no better place to have these conversations than here in Jackson Hole.”
The festival will address topics of national importance such as youth engagement in the outdoors, particularly young people in urban areas. Studies show that interaction with nature is important not only to mental health and well-being but also to the future of conservation. If kids aren’t interested in the outdoors they won’t be invested in protecting it, Beckwith said:
“If you don’t have the next generation plugged in you aren’t going to have anyone there to defend our public lands and water and our natural resources on which we all depend.”
Another challenge is attracting people unaccustomed to the outdoors to explore it. It is often upper- and middle-class white Americans who are taking advantage of public land, and a big segment of the population is being left out, Beckwith said. Speakers will tackle topics on diversity in adventure sports and conservation.
“A Latino family does not recreate the same way a Caucasian family recreates, and that’s a critical piece of the puzzle moving forward,” Beckwith said.
The festival features well-known speakers, such as Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia; David Quammen, a journalist who wrote the entire Yellowstone issue for National Geographic, which is scheduled to publish next summer to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary; and Mark Bittman, a food journalist and columnist at The New York Times.
There will be keynote addresses, panel discussions and satellite sessions, and, new this year, a bloggers summit for online outdoor writers. Discussions will range from skiing and climate change to the economic power of outdoor recreation and the movement to sell off public land.
Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, will talk about the North American model for hunting and fishing and how it can be used for recreation and conservation.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is a group representing sportsmen groups focused on hunting and fishing issues.
“I think it’s really important that we link arms with the outdoor rec community,” Fosburgh said. “We’re natural allies.”
Festival staff made a concerted effort to bring in a diverse group of stakeholders, said Serese Kudar, spokeswoman with the festival.
“Our goal is a cross-pollination of groups that care about recreation and the outdoors,” she said.
For Beckwith the goal is more personal. Mentorship in the mountains has been a time-honored tradition in adventure sports. He wants to see his fellow climbers and skiers embrace conservation in a similar way.
“Why are we not the world’s first line of defense against the degradation and destruction of the places we love and play?” he asked.
“I would like to a start a conversation among my peers about how we as climbers, skiers and surfers can take that next step and advance the work of people like Yvon [Chouinard] and Peter Metcalf and Jeremy Jones, and see that as part of our tradition just as much as mentorship and apprenticeship,” he said. “The reefs are dying and the forests are dying. It’s up to us. It’s all hands on deck.”