Sunshine Village
The author preparing for a downhill ride in Sunshine Village near Canmore.

#opxCanmore, #NoFilter: Travel Storytelling in the Age of Social Media

Dispatch by Lena Desmond

Main photo by Sergio David Spadavecchia

I stand in front of the arrivals board, take a deep breath and press the Snapchat button red as a mirror of my face looks back at me. I start talking.

“Hi everyone, my name is Lena Desmond and I’m here with Outpost Magazine; I just landed in Alberta and have collected buggage, I mean my laggage, I mean… blahhhagah…”

The little red circle completes recording. The playback is anything but kind. That pale airplane pallor that results from marinating in recycled air too long has not escaped me.

Airports seem so glamorous in theory—I always look with a mix of envy and wonder at the women who pass through security like fawns through a field in the early morning; their heels, which should click and clack, skip soundlessly across the linoleum floor as they canter through terminals. Somehow the stale air takes on a beach quality as it passes through their hair. The harsh lighting reflects off them like sunshine instead of fluorescents.

So far away from my reality. I pat down my face, find more flattering light and try again.

canmore kananaskis
Day 1 of #opxCanmore, via Snapchat.

There’s been a lot of dialogue recently surrounding exploration in the age of social media. Some have criticized social media for granting unfair popularity onto amateur explorers with keen eyes for viral content, pretty pictures but no sharpened outdoor skills, while less social media–savvy adventurers lose funding for projects because they don’t know how to tweet. Others feel that social media has democratized adventure and travel storytelling; they celebrate social media’s power to inspire people to get outside, take that overdue trip and learn about a place—and maybe discover something in themselves—they didn’t know existed.

I find myself in the latter camp. Travel storytelling in its various forms has gotten me here—in this airport, on this expedition—in the first place. Ten years ago, I’d never left the country, save for a few resort-bound trips to the Caribbean. I’d never seen a mountain. I didn’t know that I had a hunger for Vietnamese pho, Nepalese daal bhaat or Peruvian ceviche. Hell, I didn’t even know I liked Alberta beef. I didn’t know that I had the desire to chase summits or sunrises. I didn’t understand then the perverse joy I get out of being really cold.

outpost magazine snapchat
Lena Desmond and Delano Lavigne in #opxCanmore action.

The gnawing, incessant itch to experience new cultures and nature emerged in my 20s, brought on by storytellers such as Andre Dupuis, Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach from Departures. My interest in mountains came from reading Above All Things and Into Thin Air. I quit my day job to pursue adventure storytelling after hearing countless National Geographic speakers’ talks. I followed the #myanmarclimb while it was happening; I’m following #everestnofilter now. Social media has been responsible for most of the countries on my bucket list. Following adventure storytellers, writers and photographers in all their various forms has influenced not just the kind of stories I want to tell, but how I tell them and the very life I want to lead.

Growing up in mountainless Toronto, I didn’t know I could love scrambling through scree fields or climbing through caves or any of the other incredible things we’re set out to do here in Canmore. Without the stories of adventure I’ve encountered this far, I wouldn’t appreciate this mountain town for its whole offering. I might stand in the centre of it and stare out—because even to stand and stare here is incredible—but now I want to wring it out. I want to tread over it. I want to shake out the Rockies like a bed sheet and smooth all the wrinkles down. For me, social media is another pen and paper, another a form of expression, another way for me to communicate my experience of a place, instantly and without a filter. And if social media storytelling will inspire more people to lace up their shoes and explore Canmore and Kananaskis, then show me to the like button.

But first, let me take a selfie.

If you want to follow our expedition live using #opxCanmore, check us out on social media:

Want to read more? Check out our full expedition to Canmore Kananaskis: 

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