Words count. They connote, they suggest, they color the world and prejudice the user. And in so doing, they can kill — if not directly, then by leading to improper decision making that can result in death. And the specific word that I’m thinking about is “sidecountry,” the out of bounds terrain adjacent to ski areas.
In the last five years, sidecountry has become the most-used new word in the sport, both by skiers and snowboarders and by an industry eager to capitalize on a growing category. Conceptually, it’s flawless — it perfectly captures the ethos of using chairlifts to access nearby O.B. and the strips of terrain that abut area boundaries.
The problem is that “sidecountry” is erroneously suggestive of something else, too — safety. Proximity to a ski area leads many to believe, whether consciously or absorbed subconsciously through cultural currents, that sidecountry terrain is somehow less risky than true backcountry, that because the patrol’s just on the other side of the rope, avalanches are less likely and tree wells less deep.
In fact, sidecountry doesn’t exist. If it’s not in a ski area, it’s backcountry. If it’s not patrolled and not controlled, it’s backcountry. Even if it’s just one foot on the other side of the rope, it’s backcountry, where the hazards are every bit as real and objective as those farther afield. And, in my opinion, the continuing use and marketing of the word sidecountry spreads a dangerous and inappropriate message that suckers adventurous but ignorant skiers and experienced backcountry travelers alike.
That’s why it’s Adventure Journal’s policy not to use the word. But that’s just us. The question today is whether we the people of the ski world should proactively work to eliminate the word sidecountry from the lexicon. Should we stop using it ourselves and, more impactfully, discourage companies from using it to sell gear? What’s your take?
This week, one poll participant will receive a Smith Optics Outlier sunglasses. We’ll pick the winner via random number generator (and announce it here) — all you have to do to enter is vote and leave a comment so we have your email to contact you. Must have a U.S. or Canadian address. Contest ends Sunday, January 20, at midnight PST.
Congrats to Kaitlyn Gary of Livermore, California, winner of the Outlier shades!
Photo by Steve Casimiro