Responsible recreation: catching up with Laura Ippolito
Updated: Apr 15
One woman's quest for the ethical send in corona times.
Laura Ippolito hails from Bozeman, Montana and is a skier, trail runner, and an undeniable outdoor badass. Over the past year, she's racked up 150+ days of skiing and 150+ days of trail running, an astounding record which is verging on the mathematically impossible. While she's out going full spider monkey on the slopes and trails, Laura tests gear for Backpacker Magazine, individual gear manufacturers, and semi-officially Outdoor GearLab (an AMAZING site, check them out!). Clearly, she is qualified for her job.
Like many other outdoor folks in
these anomalous times, Laura has paid increasing attention to responsible recreation, and has tweaked her decision making in the outdoors accordingly. Although safety and risk-mitigation techniques should always be elements of outdoor sports, we wanted to hear how Laura is thinking about these things now in corona time. Is it possible to reconcile the inherent risks of outdoor sports like skiing with the heightened need for responsible recreation? Sasha Landauer, co-founder of Switchbackr Worldwide, Inc., sat down with Laura to get the inside scoop.
Sasha: What does recreating responsibly mean to you?
Laura: I think a lot about the carbon footprint of gear and how much I drive to get to trailheads. When companies invest in sustainability if they don’t see an increase in customer loyalty or spending they may not associate sustainability with a good business choice--it’s hard to convince them without a tangible increase in revenue. That’s why when I’m buying new gear I try to think about how the company treats their workers, if they have a diverse workforce, and their impact on local and global communities. Like if I’m buying a $800 pair of skis I want to feel really good about where that money is going.
When I recreate I also try to think about my impact on trails. If it rains I avoid the trails until they dry, since I’m using them all year round. The outdoors give so much to me and I want to give as much back to them as I can.
When I recreate in other communities I also try and support their economy by shopping at local gear shops and buying food there.
How has recreating responsibly shifted around COVID-19?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how recreating outside is kind of inherently selfish. I wonder realistically how responsible I can be at a time like this. I obviously can’t support other local economies during covid. Now I gas up at the same gas station in my home town and always bring clorox and gloves.
I probably think about de-risking outdoor activities the most. It’s not ideal, but when I go out now with other people, we all take our own cars so as not to interact and it’s pretty easy to stay six feet apart when [backcountry] skiing. We also leave extra early and go to the most remote trailheads to keep our distance from others.
Normally I might be willing to take on 15% risk but now I’m maybe down to 5%. It’s always possible that something you never planned for could happen--a binding could fail, my boot could crack in half.
The thing I’m struggling with the most is how to scale back my terrain choice. The really low angle meadows near town have been getting tons of people – I’ve never seen them as busy as they are now. So I’m being incredibly cautious about the lines I want to ski while getting into pretty remote terrain. I want to make sure for certain that I know when things are warming and cooling so I go out and observe until I am confident I know what my snowpack is doing. Normally I might be willing to take on 15% risk but now I’m maybe down to 5%. It’s always possible that something you never planned for could happen--a binding could fail, my boot could crack in half. There are always more ways to minimize risk.
Has responsible recreation been a contentious topic in your community?
This has been a big debate in my community because a lot of people gave up skiing entirely since they don’t want to risk hurting themselves and ending up in a hospital. But I think it is possible to recreate responsibly in these times.
With skiing it’s really easy to stay six feet apart, but running on trails that’s practically impossible. If someone is running in front of you their sweat and saliva can hang in the air and then you’re running through that. So running, you need to maintain more like 15-20ft distance. I’ve been running on construction roads without a lot of cars 10ft apart (side by side) when I want to train with other people.
I also know this has been a big conversation with climbing because germs can stay on the rock for a while. Some of my friends have given up climbing or are only bolting new routes to avoid others.
Do you think your new behaviors will carry over after covid?
I really hope it sticks. In the outdoors, particularly in skiing, it’s really easy to get complacent. Every time you make a decision to ski something, if it doesn't slide you view that as a good choice. Every time you don’t ski something you also see that as a good decision, so you’re getting really biased feedback. I’m hoping I can use the skills and critical thought I’ve developed and carry that over after covid.
Published April 21, 2020 (one day after the prophetic day).