As ever, humans ruin the thing they love

When I first got involved in the ‘outdoors’ – in a previous century – it was pretty much a niche world that the general public knew little about.

They saw hill walking and mountaineering as being for beardy types who liked to wear red wool socks and drink real ale; surfing was for long haired, drug-addled drop-outs; skiing was for braying toffs; and mountain biking was for people who thought a broken collar bone the height of fun – that kind of thing.

Now, in 2024, every single one of those activities is mainstream. You’ll see all of them used to sell everything from cars to insurance, outdoor gear is now the cool look on the High Street (even though that may be the only place it’s ever used) and people will happily describe themselves as a skier, surfer or mountain biker even if they only indulge in said activity for one week a year.

Which has resulted in a dilemma for those of us for whom skiing, surfing, mountain biking etc. are integral part of our lives and identity.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

I was skiing over the weekend and couldn’t fail to notice how the off-piste terrain – once the haunt of expert skiers – now gets tracked out within hours of a fresh snowfall. There are some great skiers and boarders ripping it apart, but an awful lot of people who scarcely have a clue what they’re doing, with skiers making long traverses across the slope and boarders edging their way downhill in a straight line on their arse pushing all the snow in front of them; there are no nice tight turns for this bunch, let half a dozen of them loose on a slope and they can ruin it for everyone else in a matter of minutes (and chances are they don’t have any avalanche gear with them either).


Who am I to criticise, for that was once me, learning to ski off-piste (some would say that’s still me, learning to ski off-piste)? Everyone has to learn, and the only way to learn is by doing it.

The same applies to all the other sports I named above, which results in crowded waves and bike trails and worn and eroded mountain paths.

And if people like me didn’t popularise it in the first place with articles, books, videos etc. maybe the great outdoors wouldn’t be quite so busy in the first place.

The problem is that all these activities are so much fun they’re addictive, as the older practitioners who have popularised them are well aware. They’re also now easier to do, with ever better and easier to use equipment, and easier than ever to access with cheap flights and better roads.

As a result, we’re reaching a point where many outdoor activity venues are now so busy that it’s not much fun to participate and it may even be dangerous (e.g. collisions on crowded ski slopes are increasingly common).

And there’s no easy answer to solving the problem. Some ski resorts, such as Jackson Hole and Powder Mountain in the USA now restrict the number of ski passes they sell to ease the crowd problem, but how do you restrict the number of people surfing the waves or hiking on a mountain, and who gets to decide who is allowed and who isn’t?

It’s a problem that is only going to get worse as far as I can see. It may have been harder to access the outdoors when I was a youngster, and the equipment we had may have made learning to ski, surf etc. more difficult, but I’m thankful that we didn’t have vast hordes of people to contend with, which, I’m afraid to say, made it all far more fun than it is today.