How do mountains matter?


Western’s Center for Mountain Transitions announces winners of prose, photo competitions

  • Jeanea Blair
    Jeanea Blair
  • Jake Burchmore
    Jake Burchmore
  • Barbara Zennaro
    Barbara Zennaro

Western Colorado University’s Center for Mountain Transitions held an Instagram contest on the occasion of International Mountain Day in December. The contest called for submissions of writing and photography that reflected personal connections to mountains.

“The competition was steep with so many inspiring submissions displaying picturesque scenes of what we all love so much about mountains,” said Lizzy Bauer, a Mountain Resilience Corps Member in Western’s Masters in Environmental Management program.

After much deliberation, a group of judges settled on the winning entries below.


My son, mountains matter. You see the snow up there? It will give us water to drink.

You see how many people enjoy it? Hikers, climbers, hunters? The family managing this mountain hut served the cheese made by the shepherds that own those cows down there, you see?

There are sheep,too. When your grandpa was here, there was a little boy looking after them. As the large carnivores disappeared, they were able to roam free to eat the grass. But now they need to be protected again, as wolves and bears are returning in our forests.

You see, everything changes with time. Down there, there was once a forest, then the people cut down the trees and made a pasture. Then the people left to go to the cities, and the forest came back. And with that, the animal population changed again.

We have to adapt with changes, the mountains teach us there at every step.

See that butterfly? It is bigger and darker than the ones that live in our garden. She adapted to the mountain-thin air and colder temperature.

And these trees? They are small and have a conic shape so that the snow and wind won’t break them down. Look


International Mountain Day comes at a time when my academic focus is shifting from small agriculture to mountain resilience as a whole. I’ve always loved the mountains and have imagined myself living in a mountain town when it’s time to settle, but I had never much considered the implications of mountain life.

Mountain ecosystems have 30% of our biodiversity and supply up to 90% of our freshwater. And again, mountain communities are disproportionately hungry. I am eternally grateful to Western Colorado University School of Environment and Sustainability and the United Nations for allowing me to do the work that needs to be done.

The mountains have shown me more grace and patience than I could ever muster for myself.

The sagebrush and the magpies and the at their roots ... so long over the rocks ... they are holding up some smaller rocks too, you see...

Mountains matter in so many ways.

For my son and me, it is a roofless school where he can learn about changes, adaptation and where he can nourish his love for nature.

Backpacking Moms

Trentino, Italy Ponderosa pines tell me that all things take time. The mountains have called to me for twenty-five years now — sometimes as a whisper like wind through the peaks, other times as a roar when I’m too distracted to listen.

The mountains have shown me forgiveness. When I choose the valley, when I come and don’t stay, when I hike with my head hanging low—the mountains forgive.

More importantly, they protect. When I lose my footing, I’m caught again.

When I feel a loneliness so profound, quivering like a golden aspen crown; the mountains whisper, roar, shout to the Heavens and me, “How can you be lonely? You’re a mountain!”

The mountains have shown me family. Kinship. Grace and patience.

Jeanea Blair

Crested Butte


There have always been mountains in my life, but they were especially a lot during the pandemic. Children always like going to the mountains while they are small, while they are interested in every little thing in nature. I still remember that feeling, the night before a hike for a “kislitchka.” You get nervous preparing everything in the evening, asking your parents what time to wake up, and then you can’t sleep ‘di morning.

International Mountain Day has been celebrated since 2003. 17 years and 17 different themes have been dedicated over the years. In 2020, the theme is the preservation of mountain biodiversity.

Walk in the mountains. On foot, in winter and summer, with kids and family. They are magical. Happy International Mountain Day!

Baikonur Adventures


Trentino, Italy by Barbara Zennaro

Second place photography

Pitkin, Colo. by Jeanea Blair

Third place photography

Bozeman, Mont. by Jake Burchmore