Over the last year, as we updated our organization’s mission, we’ve held considerable conversation about our vision and our values. NWAC is a community-powered organization that serves many different user groups who access the backcountry in the Pacific Northwest. At times over our history, those groups, or cross-sections of them have sometimes been on opposite sides of policy debates, user conflict issues, and other contentious issues surrounding winter recreation. Last year we began the work to clarify our exact values as an organization to help navigate challenging situations:
- …Collaborative: We are a public/private partnership between the US Forest Service Northwest Avalanche Center and the non-profit Northwest Avalanche Center that functions as a cohesive team to achieve our shared mission and vision. We nurture our professional partnerships, respect their expertise, and constantly seek out new ideas, technologies and opportunities for growth.
- …Community-Powered: We are a community-supported organization; we exist because of the community of backcountry users and a coalition of partners, and we serve them with pride and gratitude.
- …Inclusive: We encourage and support all participants who recreate in the winter mountains. We aspire to be an inclusive and diverse organization, to serve and reflect the needs of an ever-changing community across our five core user groups.
- …Credible and Approachable: We strive for expertise and accuracy in our products, portraying the winter environment and risk realistically. We create opportunities to learn from and engage with professionals, to share the factors that lead to avalanche incidents. We advise, forecast, and report on avalanche information, risk, and incidents without judgement or shame.
- …Transparent: We serve the community with free and open access to weather and forecast data for safe decision-making. As a learning organization, we seek and value feedback on our products and processes. We strive to add a personal element to bring our organization to life for the community.
These guideposts have helped us navigate the uncertainty of the current pandemic. It has also helped guide us in understanding our role in upholding systemic racism and what meaningful action we can take as an organization whose mission is to support people going into the winter backcountry. We believe fostering inclusivity is paramount. As an organization that provides messaging and outreach for all who recreate in the backcountry, it is through inclusivity that we can support systemic change. That belief is at the core of NWAC’s statement below, in line with our organizational values:
To Our Community:
We have always strived to create resources available to everyone, however, we acknowledge that we too participated in upholding systemic racism through our belief that we could not impact it and should stay in our lane. We recognize this ability to not see and to remain silent is a privilege. As part of our larger conversation around our organizational values we are examining our structure and looking for ways we can make concrete steps towards a more anti-racist and inclusive world.
At NWAC we use voice and messaging guidelines to filter all our communications ensuring that our content, be it the forecast or social media post, is clear, expert, and helpful. When we reexamined these guidelines, we understood one of the key elements we have been missing is inclusivity. For too long the outdoor industry, especially backcountry recreation, has been a predominantly white space, with largely white voices amplified. We know that as an organization we have contributed to the systems in place that limit the vastness of the outdoors to one voice. The backcountry is for all and it is time the voices representing the outdoor industry better reflect that sentiment.
We will contribute to anti racist work in the outdoor community by focusing on specific areas within our own organization. We approach this with humility, acknowledging our own complicity and with the understanding that we will make mistakes. We will not let that deter us from continuing this work. We have begun with the following areas:
- Reevaluate our brand partnerships
– Moving forward we are committing to only partnering with brands who share our organizational values
- Formalize our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee to a standing committee
– We will vote during our August board meeting to move our DEI Committee to a permanent committee on the board
– The committee will have members from the board, nonprofit and Forest Service staff, and we will be seeking out DEI professionals to guide us
- Diversify our Board of Directors
– We will integrate the work of our DEI and Recruiting Committees to expand the reach of our postings and reevaluate systems and processes that may have limited applicants in the past
- Hire and support a diverse workforce
– Evaluate our hiring practices to ensure both language and process do not exclude certain groups, as well as creating a process that ensures we have the widest reach for potential applicants.
- Amplify diverse voices on our platforms
– Focus on partnering with a wider range of athletes, influencers, and brands to lend our platform to the Black, Indigenous and People of Color voices in the backcountry
- Work to support and partner with other organizations that facilitate access and education of the outdoors to underrepresented communities
– Dedicating paid staff time to volunteer with organizations that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion
– Expand organizational support for programs and non-profits that reduce barriers to the backcountry for underrepresented communities
- In the evaluation of all programming we are including a lens of equity and inclusivity moving forward:
– Reevaluating our curriculum’s use of language and imagery
– Weighting additional programming towards underserved communities
We are making a commitment to enduring change. We recognize this is just a start and there are many challenging conversations ahead. We believe this must be a community effort and we look forward to working on this together. Please reach out to us with any questions, comments, or concerns.
NWAC Staff and Board