Requiem for the Raptors


Matt and I threaded pieces of cord through holes we had drilled in makeshift footbridges and tied the bridges to the backs of a couple of old snowmobiles we had purchased for Baker Mountain Guides. The goal for the day was to drag the bridges up to the trailhead for North Twin Sister and place them over numerous creeks that cut across a decommissioned logging road and made skinning up and skiing down nearly impossible. I had attempted to ski guide the range for the first time a few weeks prior and quickly discovered that we would need to radically improve the access if it was to be a viable endeavor.

What about the wolverine who requires vast, remote expanses of wintry alpine?

This was back in early February of 2020, and to our knowledge, nobody had yet made a habit of skiing the Twin Sisters during the heart of winter. We burned a lot of gasoline and calories that day, but what I remember the most was coming around the first corner on the sleds and flushing hundreds of eagles out of the forest. Dozens exploded upwards into the sky, and many others swooped down into the road cut and flew in front, behind, and alongside us. I had never seen so many in all my life.

I’ve always thought long and hard about the impact of my presence in the mountains. It’s easy to tell ourselves that it would be impossible to spoil a place like the Twin Sisters with activities like skiing. I’m sure some folks felt the same about Bagley Basin in the 1950s. Outdoor recreation has become a consumable product that requires resources; the resources are the landscapes and the more-than-human communities of life that live upon them. As the popularity of sports like backcountry skiing explodes, we are finding ourselves competing for landscapes, much like surfers competing for waves.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

But that’s just a human-centric perspective of the problem. What about the wolverine who requires vast, remote expanses of wintry alpine, or the hibernating bear that can be prematurely disturbed out of its slumber, or any other number of critters who lives depend on the piercing solitude and deafening silence that only intact, human-less ecosystems can offer? Who speaks for them, and how do we balance their needs with our insatiable and innate desire for “re-creation” via connection with nature?

I don’t have the answers. I tell myself that my actions are more sustainable than, say, logging, but the fact is that my financial security depends on taking more people on adventures in more places. I try to find the balance and feel like I do a pretty good job. But in the years since we first wandered into the Twin Sisters, I’ve never seen the eagles again.

John Minier is the owner and lead guide at Baker Mountain Guides. Originally from Alaska, he has a deep appreciation for wild and mountainous places. Since 2004, he has worked across the western U.S. as a rock guide, alpine guide, ski guide, and avalanche instructor.

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