Dr. TA Loeffer visited the birthplace of modern alpinism recently.
By Michelle Osmond
An international audience heard from one of Newfoundland's best known mountaineers on our province's sense of place and our intense connection between culture and landscape recently.
Dr. TA Loeffler presented Between a Rock and A Hard Place: Outdoor Education in Newfoundland at the Fifth International Outdoor Education Research Conference recently.
The theme of the Denmark conference was Research in "friluftsliv" and outdoor education: Different places, critical perspectives, new possibilities. "Friluftsliv is a Norwegian word that loosely translates as "open air life" and tries, in a word, to capture the Nordic love of nature and recreating in the outdoors," Dr. Loeffler explained.
"I think, traditionally, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have had friluftsliv and my paper explored the similarities and differences in how culture supports and disconnects that way of living/thinking. In my presentation, I also explored the way in which tourism commercials depict that sense of place in promoting our land and culture to potential visitors."
In her presentation, she talked about how the cultures and landscapes of Newfoundland and Labrador have been woven together in education and tourism. She also talked about the barriers and challenges in fostering a connection between culture and landscape in today's youth. Barriers such as our increased reliance on technology (and our reluctance to go where there's no "coverage"), decreased skills and physical literacy because today's children spend less time exploring their surroundings, and our increased desire for comfort.
Dr. Loeffler also talked to the group about how university outdoor education provides a bridge to the past while nurturing future generations, most of whom are dislocated from traditional ways of life and who live in more urban areas. "It was an amazing opportunity to share a few days with my international colleagues and hear state of the art research reports coming out of a multitude of disciplines. I suspect more than a few international research and programmatic collaborations will result from the conference."
In keeping with the theme of her presentation, Dr. Loeffler took the opportunity while there to travel to France to climb on Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest peak at 4,808 metres with a team of climbers. "As a climb it is challenging but it didn't require nearly the commitment as some of my longer expeditions," she noted. "It was incredible to visit the birth place of modern alpinism and observe how both France and Switzerland manage their outdoor recreation resources and risk management/search and rescue. As so many people recreate in the Alps, I was interested to learn how they approached such things in light of huge participation rates."
Dr. Loeffler also climbed Denmark's highest point, where her only companions were of the bovine variety. That peak was a little easier at just 170.86 (Dr. Loeffler pointed out that the decimal remainder is critical here) metres above sea level.
The biannual conference was attended by 150 researchers from 16 different countries.