Connecting to Protect Wilderness

The O’Shaughnessy Center will host the Backcountry Film Festival on Tuesday, Feb. 4 at 6 p.m.

By Maggie Dresser
“Can’t Ski Vegas” Photo by Joey Schusler, Ben Page, andThomas Woodson

As more and more recreationists head into the mountains and wilderness areas, outdoor education plays a vital role in connecting to and preserving wild lands.

To promote this education, the Flathead-Kootenai Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association is hosting its annual Backcountry Film Festival, which benefits a scholarship fund for students pursuing outdoor careers.

“It’s a way to support prosperity in local youth and bright futures,” Northwest Montana Field Director Allie Maloney said.

Last year, the film festival raised $5,000 for the scholarship program, which was awarded to 14 students in Sanders, Lincoln, Lake and Flathead counties who are passionate about the outdoors. A grant was also awarded to Flathead Valley Community College.

Around 70 students applied last year for the scholarship and wrote an essay in which they responded to a Bob Marshall quote about solitude and wilderness, and Flathead-Kootenai Chapter Board Volunteer President Amy Pearson says they are once again looking for students who love wilderness.

Scholarship winners use the funds for further education, but the money is not limited to conservation or outdoor careers and can be used for trade school as well.

The Backcountry Film Festival is composed of 10 films that showcase the human-powered winter experience through activities like backcountry skiing, mountaineering and rafting.

“This year highlights relationships,” Pearson said.

In one film included in the festival, “Can’t Ski Vegas,” 10 friends celebrate a bachelor party by rafting the Tatshenshini River in search of ski lines in British Columbia and Alaska. In “Climb for Equality,” a female mountaineer documents her climbing journey while emphasizing the gender inequalities she must overcome in her sport.

As part of the Winter Wildlands Alliance, the film festival is now on its 15th annual nationwide tour, with the goal of raising funds for local communities and spreading awareness to preserve winter landscapes.

“We get to host that to fundraise, and all of the proceeds go to our local initiatives,” Pearson said.

Maloney says their main goal is to engage the youth in outdoor awareness and inspire them to get involved in protecting lands.

“We’ve noticed that at a lot of wilderness events around the valley, a lot of the folks who attend those events are older,” Pearson said. “The people who are getting involved in public lands and initiatives to conserve are an older generation, and we want to support those who have a connection, who want to think about public lands.”

As a part of the Montana Wilderness Association’s mission to “protect Montana’s wilderness heritage,” the organization works to act as a wilderness advocate, which it does through collaboration with groups like loggers or recreationists, Maloney said.

“That connection piece is what drives us to protect,” Maloney said.

The O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish will host the Backcountry Film Festival on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the films start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are expected to sell out.

Tickets can only be purchased online at

Raffle prizes include a cat skiing trip with Great Northern Powder Guides, valued at $420. Other prizes include a $500 voucher with Wildland Trekking, a raft trip and merchandise from REI and Rocky Mountain Outfitter.

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