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Dispatches : Media

The Amazing Snow Art of Simon Beck

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Since the winter of 2004, visitors to Les Arcs ski resort in the French Alps have woken up to find sprawling snow patterns that have a strange resemblance to crop circles. The prints stretch across otherwise untrammelled hillsides and the depressions left by frozen lakes. They are trippy and exact enough to give the impression that a horde of aliens landed in the powder the night before for a little snow-stomping debauchery. The truth is, all of these designs come from a very focused 54-year-old Brit who heads out for marathon snowshoeing sessions. He carries a clothesline, measuring tape, an orienteering compass, a camera, a change of clothes, a head lamp, and a pretty clear picture of what's to come.

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His name is Simon Beck, and he's an orienteering mapmaker from Southern England who owns an apartment at the resort. He trudged through his first design on Christmas 2004 because, "It just seemed a natural thing to do." Without snowshoes, he stepped out a five-pointed star with circles. After the snow covered that design, he trudged out a larger 10-pointed star. Soon after, he found a  frozen lake where he could make an even bigger design, but the snow was too deep. He went out and bought snowshoes, and found a comfort level that has led him to stamp out bigger and more intricate patterns. 

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The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids

6a00d83453140969e2017616650651970cIf you’re like me, no matter how much you plan, the Wing It factor always comes into play when you go camping with children. Somebody sprouts a new tooth; you forget the salt; nobody sleeps. That's why it's called adventure.

But now there's a book that can help you tame the chaos of smooshing your whole family and a ridiculous mountain of gear into a single tent. You won’t find a more comprehensive how-to on the subject than The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids. Author Helen Olsson leads you through practically every decision you need to make, from where and when to go to what to bring (less than you think) to what to cook (single best compendium of s’mores recipes ever) and how to keep the kids out of your hair (berry paints! photo safaris!).

At times Olsson, a former editor at Skiing magazine who now writes the Mad Dog Mom blog and is raising three outdoor kids of her own, is so thorough and practical with her advice she almost gives you a complex (I'm supposed to know arts and crafts?!). My husband and I take our two young daughters camping quite often, and our method basically entails writing out a list of menus on a piece of scrap paper, trying to remember to bring said list to the grocery story, laying in a lot of beer in cans (we second Olsson’s endorsement of Santa Fe Brewing Company’s Happy Camper as the perfect backcountry beer), throwing our camping gear into a big pile in the middle of the floor, shoving it into the car, and hoping we haven’t forgotten anything. You could say we have a system, but we’re not exactly systematic.

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'DamNation': Trailer and Q&A With the Filmmakers

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If you’ve seen Red Gold, about efforts to stop the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, you know the documentary-making prowess behind Felt Soul Media. The trailer for the team’s next film, DamNation, has just been released.

Conceived by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and biologist Matt Stoecker, who is co-producing the film with Felt Soul Media’s Travis Rummel, DamNation documents the current movement to dismantle outdated and dangerous dams across the United States. It also explores the history of U.S. dam-building and focuses on the environmental and economic impacts they’ve wrought. The film, which won a 2011 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant and is being edited by Ben Knight, is due out early next year.

With the Elwha River running nearly completely free and salmon populations starting to rebound, it’s a good time to be a river. But the drama is just beginning to unfold. Watch the trailer, below, and then check out our Q&A with Travis Rummel and Matt Stoecker on the making of the movie.

What do you want people who watch DamNation to come away with, in terms of understanding the role that major dams and hydropower have played in American history and development?

Travis Rummel: There is absolutely no doubt that dams and hydropower have helped develop our country into what it is today. The industrial revolution happened next to rivers that powered mills and carried away their pollution. Many attribute the Grand Coulee and Bonneville Dams on the Columbia system with helping us to victory in World War II. We will definitely pay tribute to the role that hydropower has played in helping us get where we are today, but look at where we are. The continental United States is quickly losing its salmon and steelhead. A free-flowing river is an anomaly. We are beginning to realize the costs of divorcing rivers from the sea: beaches lacking sand and headwaters lacking salmon. Ecosystems are being stripped of the fuel that drives them. The beauty of dam removal is that it works quickly. This film is about hope and the power to restore what has been lost in the name of progress.

Matt Stoecker: Dams have played a vital role in building America. The people who built them were ambitious and well intentioned. But, like coal-fired power plants, dams have come with a high cost to the health of our shared environment. It's time for a shift to technologies that deliver truly clean energy, maximize water efficiency, and protect people and the environment. Replacing dams with such technologies achieves this vision and as the movie will hopefully show, any motivated citizen can lead an effort to remove a dam; it's how almost all of the successes have been started.

The argument for removing the outdated Elwha River dams (Elwha Dam and Glines Canyon) was such a no-brainer. What dams, in your opinion, are not such an easy call? Are there any major dams that you don't think should be deconstructed despite petitions to do so?

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What Happens to Olympic Host Cities After the Games?

-8Athens Olympic Sports Complex (OAKA), Athens. Photo: Courtesy of The Olympic City

As London prepares to host the 2012 Olympics, there's been no shortage of stories on the condition of the buildings erected for the 2004 Games in Athens. The Olympic sports complex is rotting and rusting, the man-made lake set up to provide water to the slalom course is dry, and the stadiums built for table tennis and gymnastics are empty. The situation is easy to amplify in a negative way given the economic situation in Greece. Many blame the country's debt, or at least part of it, on a rush to build extravagant facilities for the Olympics. While some have pointed out that Greece's travel infrastructure was significantly upgraded because of the 2004 Games, Athens has mostly been cast in a negative light. Is that fair? How have other former Olympic stadiums fared? What exactly happens to host cities after the Olympics?

-6Faliro Olympic Complex, Athens. Photo: Courtesy of The Olympic City

Photographers Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit have set out to answer that last question. So far they have picked seven former host cities to visit so they can interview people and photograph anything and everything related to the Olympics. Their answer will take the form of a 200-page photo book, The Olympic City, due out in March 2013. The duo started a Kickstarter project so they can raise money to travel to seven more cities and finish the project. Those people that donate will get to help pick the last two cities that Pack and Hustwit visit. We emailed Pack to see what they've discovered so far.

-1Art Devlin's Olympic Motor Inn, Lake Placid, New York. Photo: Courtesy of The Olympic City

In the Kickstarter video, you mention that seeing the money spent on the Beijing Olympics in 2008 inquired you to wonder what happens to these cities. Why did you decide to turn that question into a huge project?
 Well, I wasn’t sure at first if it would turn into a project at all. To be honest, I never had much interest in the Olympics. My wife, on the other hand, is a big fan and has been since she was little. She has really happy memories of writing to invite Brian Boitano to dinner in a fan letter when she was 11. (He never responded.) So leading up to the 2008 Olympics, I found myself paying more attention than I had to Games in the past. I was intrigued that so much of the coverage was about the money being spent and the venues being constructed for an event that would only last a few weeks. I kept wondering what would become of these buildings after the Games, so I went on a bit of a fact-finding mission and did some research. Then I rented a car and kept it local, mostly because of money and time constraints, and drove up to Lake Placid and Montreal.

In Lake Placid, I stayed at Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn, a hotel opened by a former Olympic ski jumper. The hotel lobby was jam-packed with his trophies and awards. A handful of dusty shops on the village’s main street are filled with all sorts of memorabilia from the 1980 Games—the shops appear to be closed most of the time, but handwritten signs let interested folks know how to get ahold of the owners. The former Olympic Village where the athletes were housed is now a prison—well, it was a prison first, then a place to house the athletes, and then a prison again.  Not only that, but the prisoners helped build the ski jumps used in the Games. So that trip really invigorated me, and definitely made me feel like this could be a project worth exploring.

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Environmentalists Are Literally Dying to Protect Land and Resources

Deforestation_flickr_maraPhoto: Mara/Flickr

One of our top 10 environmental news stories of 2011 was the troubling violence that environmental activists face in many parts of the world, particularly in Brazil, where three high-profile activists were slain last May. While researching that story, I'd found reports of nine murdered environmentalists last year around the world. I had only just scratched the surface.

A story last week in German newspaper Der Spiegel about the ongoing violence says that there were 29 deaths in Brazil alone. Much worse, a report from the NGO Global Witness shows a very troubling trend, with 106 activists killed worldwide in 2011—a death toll that is nearly double the number killed in 2009.

Brazil has begun offering some protection for small farmers and others who have spoken against the logging and cattle industries as they continue to push into the Amazon. But bounty hunters, reportedly hired by a logging industry mafia, continue to threaten them. Der Spiegel interviewed 45-year-old Nilcilene Miguel de Lima, who is part of a government-backed effort to increase sustainable farming and has a $10,080 bounty on her head because she filed a complaint over illegal logging activities.

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