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Making Meaning Out of Mountains: Skiing, the Environment and Eco-Politics

Lead Researcher and Department
Mark CJ Stoddart, Department of Sociology, Memorial University

Skiing brings to mind images of steep, snowy mountains, sunshine and athletic men and women having fun. Making Meaning Out of Mountains takes a sociological look at the eco-politics of skiing, with a focus on British Columbia, Canada. Drawing on textual analysis, field observation and interviews with skiers, this research explores an environmental ambiguity within the sport. Ski resort companies position themselves as pro-environmental stewards of mountain landscapes. Skiers also talk about how their sport allows them to go out into nature, experience it and come to care for it. However, environmental groups and First Nations protesters occasionally disrupt this image of skiing at places like Jumbo Pass, Sun Peaks and Melvin Creek. They argue that it infringes on wildlife and unceded First Nations territory. Skiers also offer reflexive accounts of the environmental impacts of their sport.

Making Meaning Out of Mountains describes how the meaning of skiing landscapes is not fixed, but is contested by the ski industry, skiers, the mass media and social movement groups. Drawing on the work of Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour, this work argues that skiing is not only “socially constructed,” but is co-constructed by humans in interaction with technologies and non-human nature. As a recreational form of interaction with mountain environments, skiing is also the site for multiple flows of power, based on gender, ethnicity, class and species. While the research is grounded in Vancouver, Whistler and Nelson, British Columbia – it illustrates how local sporting practices intersect with (partially) globalized flows of tourism and migration, climate change, social movement politics and media representations of nature.

This project is now completed. It has been published as a book:
Stoddart, Mark C.J. (2012)Making Meaning Out of Mountains. UBC Press

In addition, articles based on this research have been published in Nature and Culture, the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, and Human Ecology Review.

Environment and society; Sport, recreation and tourism; Ski industry; Social movements; Mass media

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
St. John's
Avalon Peninsula

Industry Sectors
Other amusement and recreation industries (e.g. Golf, Skiing, etc.) (Arts, entertainment and recreation — Amusement, gambling and recreation industries)
Sociological research and development (Professional, scientific and technical services — Scientific research and development services — Research and development in the social sciences and humanities)

Thematic Categories
Media (Communications)
Environment and Conservation
Climate Change (Environment and Conservation)
Parks and Natural Areas (Environment and Conservation)
Rural Development
Tourism and Recreation

Sociology, Faculty of Arts (STJ)