The Mountain Commuter
Updated: May 16, 2022
Oftentimes when we think of mountain athletes we default to those who work, live, and play in the mountains full-time. We imagine a life where we wake up to watch the sunrise over the peaks, check the weather by stepping out our door and have the luxury of choosing the day's adventure on a whim. But this is not the reality for most of us who have located our everyday lives a bit further from our preferred locations of recreation. Here are a few tips for being a "mountain commuter".
1) You CAN still be a mountain athlete
Let's get this one out of the way- loving the mountains doesn't mean you have to work as a guide and live 10 minutes from the trailhead. Being an athlete doesn't mean you have to have sponsorships, win races, or have climbed the highest peaks. The title of "mountain athlete" is not reserved for locals, pros, or those who have committed 24/7 to their athletic pursuits. If you love being in the mountains, and you commit time to outdoor activities, you ARE a mountain athlete.
2) Research is required
You cannot rely on the weather outside at home to tell you much about the conditions in the mountains. If you want the best chance of "timing it right" for your objectives you are going to want to stalk the weather, avalanche forecasts, and social media trail pages religiously. When you are out on your favorite peaks, note down what the conditions felt like after certain weather trends. Over time you will start to build a feel for patterns and decrease the chance that you'll miss a great day in the hills or, more importantly, avoid getting caught in the middle of a storm.
3) Your car is your launchpad
You are probably going to spend a lot of time in your vehicle. Try to find ways to use your drive time to catch up on your favorite outdoor podcast or call your friends and family for a catch-up. When you can, try to be savvy to avoid traffic or take alternative routes to your favorite destinations. Driving tired is never a good idea and after adventuring all day your eyelids might start getting heavy- find some good side-of-the-road napping spots and stash a blanket and sleeping pad in your car. It also doesn't hurt to keep a bag of extra snacks, water, and a change of clothes in addition to the gear you need for your adventures.
It is inevitable that in peak season your car will become your second home.
4) Be a good visitor
Sure, a lot of mountain towns rely on recreation and tourism dollars, but that does not exclude you (a visitor) from protecting these places like you would your own backyard. Make sure you follow any local guidance on parking, trail use, and safety, and encourage others to do so as well. Be careful about falling into the "pseudo-local" trap of thinking because you frequent an area you are exempt from following the rules or signage. A good rule of thumb: if you don't own the land or aren't on the crew of people who created the sign, you aren't exempt from what it says (the locals are likely following it too anyhow).
5) Flexibility is your friend
No matter the amount of weather watching, logistics, and preparation you do, there are going to be days where things just don't go your way- this reality is a bit rougher when you drove 2 hours to get to these roadblocks. Get in the habit of making backup plans for your backup plans and take stock of other options you may have in the area. For example, maybe your climbing partner bailed- could you go bouldering instead? Could you go drop off that pair of climbing shoes to get re-soled? Could you throw on your sneakers and go on a trail run? Creativity (and keeping extra gear in your car) can make even the most unplanned days productive.
6) You can still be part of the community
Sure, you might not get to know the postman or be able to attend the weeknight bike club, but not living in your favorite mountain town doesn't prohibit you from being part of the community. Find races and events that are being held and offer to volunteer. Be friendly with that guy you seem to always run into on the trails, and thank the rangers and rescuers when you see them. If you need a cup of coffee for the drive home after your adventures, stop in at your local coffee shop and spend your dollar supporting small business instead of the interstate Starbucks. The culmination of these small positive impacts is often what will grant you a place in a mountain community, not how hard you ski, climb, run, or bike.
Some of us only get to enjoy these beautiful places part-time, but that makes them no less special to us. So let's continue to enjoy the mountains and work to protect them and their communities. Mountain athletes come in all shapes, forms, and backgrounds and we can all take solace in sharing these beautiful places no matter our zip code.