Just a Thought: Annie Gilbert

Author: Peterson, Alina

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Annie Gilbert, associate professor of American studies and concurrent associate professor of history, has a passion for sports studies and the intersection between nature and culture in the American West. Her last book “Ski Style: Sport and Culture in the Rockies,” explores the cultural history of skiing and how ski resorts and towns have changed over time in Colorado. She is currently working on a new book: “Making American Wilderness: A History of Outdoor Guides,” which examines the importance of outdoor guides to natural environments and local economies. 

What are your main areas of research?? 

I am interested in how Americans consume nature. I got interested in studying the history of the American West in graduate school. It was a moment when historians were starting to wrestle with the significance of tourism and no one had been talking about outdoor sports and recreation. I grew up skiing in New Hampshire and was in Colorado doing my dissertation, and I thought: ‘Oh, what if I could write a history of Colorado skiing for my dissertation?’ And that worked out really well. That book was really fun and helped me think about why destination resorts like Vale became so big and so centered on celebrity wealth and whiteness in a region that is really characterized by cultural and ethnic diversity. 

You are currently writing “Making American Wilderness: A History of Outdoor Guides and Their Labor;” what gave you the inspiration for the book? 

I got really interested in ski instructors and ski patrols in the role of mediators. They love to be outdoors in the mountains, and that’s great to work outdoors if you do, but your job is to help other people go into those environments, and in doing that you are ruining them for yourself. I think that broker position is really interesting, which is why I am writing a book about professional outdoor guides such as hunting, fishing, river running and climbing guides and how they interpret outdoor spaces for their clients. I think one of the important things they do is create the idea of American wilderness through their labor. And politically, guides have become really active in conservation issues and public land management. 

Why do you think these topics should be studied? 

I think that outdoor guides’ labor is largely invisible to us. That is the point of their work, to make it feel like you're out there all by yourself in the wilderness. But guides have become important in so many aspects of life that it is morally and ethically important to recognize the work that service people do