The Summit Series Summer Jam 2019

The Summit Series Summer Jam 2019

The best parts of a long weekend I spent indulged in the privilege of good friends. When I invited my colleagues José Gonzalez and Carolyn Finney to join me as panelists in a discussion on diversity equity and inclusion at the Summit Series Summer Jam in Eden, Utah I knew we were in for a good time. Twice already in the summer of 2019 we had met to share our expertise before an audience on the importance of creating space in the natural world that is open and accessible for all people. So this conference about an hour north of Salt Lake City, was much like the many conversations I’ve been honored to moderate in recent years. Perhaps what made this particular occasion special was the day we arrived was Jose’s birthday.

“I’ll see you at Powder Mountain,” I wrote to him in an email from the airport. “Let me buy you a birthday tequila shot or a margarita…your choice.”

At this posh ski resort that was once the home of the Shoshone, Goshute, Ute, Paiute, and Navajo in the land now called Utah, I had no doubt there would be a bar. The Mormon prohibitions against alcohol notwithstanding there was plenty to drink including several bottles of mezcal, a smoky agave alternative that Jose and I both particularly enjoy. On this occasion it was served up over ice with grapefruit juice, a splash of ginger beer, a twist of blood orange and a slice of jalapeño. But as guests of the event this delicious cocktail was on the house along with our plane tickets, a rental car, luxurious accommodations, gourmet meals prepared by a celebrity chef and a modest honorarium. 

“Cheers!” I said as we clinked our glasses in a toast. “Happy birthday my friend. It’s good to see you.”

This was hardly the first time after 30 years in the outdoor industry that I’ve sipped a top shelf beverage on mountain plateau dressed for a meal on a white linen tablecloth. Though a person born of privilege I lead a humble lifestyle while writing about the various pathways that people take to experience the natural world. I’ve always believed that the outdoors is the great social equalizer where those on the margins of society can find common ground with the elite and opulent few whose wealth means little when confronted by the objective realities of weather, temperature, altitude and gravity.  Even with the advantages of the most technical clothing, equipment and shelter those with the money to afford the finest things in life are no better able to enjoy or appreciate the glow of an alpine sky in the fading light of the setting sun.

Those who attend the Summit Series Summer Jam seem to recognize that despite their wealth and privilege money can’t buy happiness. A 2018 article in the Guardian describes the event as “a mecca for altruistically minded members of the global elite.” Founded with partners by Elliott Bisnow, Summit creates a space where the millennial generation can define their sense of purpose in an increasingly complicated culture where economic success and prosperity are not goals in themselves but rather a means to an end. “The goal will always remain the same,” said Bisnow in the article. “To be a beacon of inspiration and a light in the world.”

Summit draws hundreds of aspiring social entrepreneurs from across the globe. I had the chance to meet some truly remarkable people who made themselves rich through the development of groundbreaking technology or timely investments in real estate. Some are talented artists or musicians, while others just had the dumb luck of being born into the right family. Everyone however seemed at least interested in exploring not only the purpose their lives, but how they might better serve the needs of others, those less fortunate and no less worthy of respect and admiration.

Highlights of the weekend included a poetry workshop by the hip hop songwriter IN-Q, a lecture on neurobiology by UCLA Professor Matthew Lieberman and a presentation on transforming the most polluted places on Earth through art, food and gin by Zina Saro-Wiwa. Fortified by incredible vegan and protein enriched meals served family-style by Chef Haru Kishi we enjoyed day hikes and mountain biking. The schedule also included yoga classes lead by New York-based instructor Sinikiwe Dhliwayo and two sessions of ecstatic breathing from breath coach Emily Brennan with music by DJ and experiential designer Casea Rose. I especially enjoyed the amazing Noodle Soup Dance Party hosted by culinary connector Leiti Hsu that celebrated her mother’s Taiwanese recipe with music curated by the record producer Matt FX.

Click Image for complete slideshow on Flickr

Closing out the programming on the second day, our presentation called How to Create Equity in The Outdoors I think helped to round out the event by perhaps drawing attention to those were not there. Though Jose, Carolyn and I were certainly not the only people of color in attendance we pointed out the recurring disparities of participation among those without the disposable income and leisure time necessary to indulge the luxury of a mountain resort in the Wasatch Range or even a more accessible national park. It is my hope that we were able to impress upon those who attended our talk at Summit the importance of not only sharing their love of the outdoors but encouraging others to find their path into nature as well.

At the core of our work in environmental justice is understanding that human life our planet can only continue sustainably through the equitable availability of our natural resources. That includes spending time in the outdoors for the shear pleasure of recreation. I believe that the best way to correct the imbalance of equity in our communities is to first realize that they exist. While we might aspire to the lofty ambitions of a net worth in the high seven figures, true wealth is perhaps better realized through the cultivation of lasting friendships and the preservation of the landscapes where were we live work and play.