I am launching Fringe Digital as a consultancy and an advocacy venture because I believe that our precarious future on this planet is going to require us to shift the balance of the use of technology in our lives. We are going to have to start learning how, at the right times, to put down our devices, step away from our computers, and understand how to manage our risk and exposure more effectively in a volatile real world.

The winter disaster (Storm Uri) that struck Texas and the South this month (February 2021) has laid bare the vulnerability and unpreparedness of yet another wide swath of our population and national landscape. Our state and national infrastructures are a far cry from being stable and reliable. When energy grids go down suddenly and in a sustained fashion; when essential services like running water come to a freezing halt; when environmental conditions swing suddenly towards the life-threatening–those of us who are able-bodied and capable should be ready to “brick the digital” and leap into action. Not just to protect ourselves in practical ways, but to be a help and resource to our neighbors and our community.

Image Credit: Matt Schultz

Here at The Fringeologist I talk from time to time about the outdoor trainings that I undertake to break my own habits of over-reliance upon high-technology and the digital to arrive at a more comfortable station in those disconnected situations where I’m faced with direct experiences. We’re reaching the tail-end of a very unique Winter season, both for my local region and for North America more broadly. My partner and I have been traversing the country to put ourselves out there. This season I’ve focused on a few high-level objectives that have some lower-level skills and decision-making lessons to impart. As with any and all adventures that I embark upon, the goal is not instant mastery but incremental step-changes toward a longer-term goal of understanding, growth, development, and transformation.

Everything kicked off this Winter with the culmination of a years-long set of trainings under the AIARE Framework for risk management and decision-making in avalanche terrain. I take these courses every year to not only be smarter, safer, and more confident in my back country snowboarding, but also to be a lifeline for others I am riding with or whom I encounter on the slopes. All of my courses have been taken in and around the Rocky Mountain National Park operating out of Estes Park, CO through the Colorado Mountain School. This year’s AIARE Pro 2 course was heavily focused on reading forecasts, observing and documenting terrain and conditions, and analyzing and understanding the snowpack.

Image Credit: Matt Schultz

Colorado and the Rockies are having one of their more dangerous avalanche seasons on record due to the prevailing seasonal weather conditions. Even in more predictable years, Colorado is vulnerable to one of the usual suspects in many avalanche incidents–the persistent slab. A strong layer of snow over weaker lower layers that can be easily triggered by either natural conditions or human activity. This season was off the charts when it came to the ubiquity and prevalence of persistent slabs. Finding safe zones to tour through and to ride was challenging. My takeaways from the training this year were:

1) the importance of monitoring conditions and risk-assessment;

2) balancing individual skill with group dynamics; and

3) trusting the framework and the heuristic process.

Without going down too many rabbit-holes, I’ll paraphrase a summary to say that after this last set of AIARE training I feel much-better equipped to routinely observe, evaluate, predict and problem-solve in a disconnected situation and to navigate my internal signals in an unpredictable human and environmental direct experience. These are transferable skills for a range of scenarios.

Image Credit: Matt Schultz

My partner and I leapt straight from avalanche training to an ice climbing excursion. The high-level objective here was to get some more exposure to climbing in bigger terrain. All of our previous experience had been on beginner falls at Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We had a great couple of days of targeted skills improvement with our guide. In terms of lower-level lessons and transferable skills, I have to say that I acquired:

1) a newfound appreciation for the power of consistent technique and follow-through;

2) trusting the tools to do their work; and

3) clear communication and signaling.

Each of these lessons can mean the difference between over-exerting yourself unnecessarily and experiencing new heights safely. We learned new stance, new swings, and new gear management and safety.

Last but not nearly least, we have just returned from Augusta, Maine where we spent an entire weekend with the Maine Primitive Skills School. This was the first, in what will be a series, of immersive courses that I’ll be reporting out on over the next few years. Billed as a Winter Skills Weekend, we spent a Saturday and Sunday learning how to build primitive earth shelters, conduct tracking, practice foraging, and carry-out fire-starting in wet, snowy conditions. As I stated it at the outset of the course, my longer-term objective for acquiring these teachings is to enable and support basic survival when outdoor and back country travel confront you with uncertainty. This will be an ongoing journey of traditional knowledge recovery. From this specific weekend, I learned the imperatives of:

1) good time and energy management;

2) following the stages of critical preparation; and

3) maintaining a stable central encampment and home base where resources can be pooled and replenished.

From Maine we ventured back to our home base on the shores of Lake Michigan, staying just South enough on our journey to avoid the Northeastern trajectory of the massive Storm Uri that crippled Texas. The entire drive home, all we could talk about were the many lessons to be applied from all that we had learned this Winter. As we transition into Spring, Fringe Digital has some more great professional development adventures lined up and we can’t wait to issue our field reports. Keep up and stay tuned!

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