The first three things you notice about Stacy Bare are the booming voice, thick beard, and they way he towers above the crowd. When he invited everyone in attendance at a work party to head next door for some dancing, I noticed one more thing that I had to ask him about: his “Ski Iraq” T-shirt.
At first, I thought it was an odd joke. The truth was far from that: Bare went skiing in Iraq over two weeks in 2017—his first time returning there since serving in the war—and made a documentary about it.
“Lots of people that I know deployed have come back and said ‘I looked up at those mountains and hoped that I could return and ski, hoped that I could backpack,’ said ‘Man, what a great area to climb,’ and then they dropped their head back into the up-armored Humvee,” Bare says.
Eventually, he and his team at Adventure Not War did return. Nearly ten years after he finished his tour as an Army captain, Bare traveled with a few veteran friends to see the land—and more importantly, the people—in a different light. To reclaim a bit of their feeling about the space, to ski the mountains the adventurers had dreamed of.
The documentary, embedded above, invites us to rethink the places Americans fight, the people we fight, the warriors we send to wage these wars, and their, as well as our own, traumas. “This is one of those projects that I can’t not do,” Bare says. “There are stories that need to be told and there are feelings. That’s why I have to tell the story.”
After the first three minutes of the film, this is a guy you want to meet. And the film hits all the right notes for a great ski film: sweeping unfamiliar landscapes, badass descents, and the chummy laughing that makes these things fun. It pulls you in like a good book, where you sit down to read part of a page and float through four chapters. Much of that is due to Bare’s openness, honesty, and engaging storytelling.
On display is not only the thoughtfulness of Bare and his colleagues, but the ability of wild places to help us connect with others, and reconnect with ourselves.
“In Baghdad, people wanted access to parks, people wanted access to playgrounds. That was a high priority for folks and I think it makes sense. People want access to adventure, people want access to big landscapes and big water,” says Bare.
In challenging himself in these spaces, Bare found some peace, “What’s so healing about that is recognizing how many other people were on top of the mountain with us. Thousands of people were on that mountain with me. People that I have been to war with, people killed at war, my wife, my daughter.”
That healing continued in the making of the movie: “Doing the movie, it makes you go to the story creation process. It’s a nice capsule to help process a lot of those emotions and a lot of what you did. It helps to rewrite the narrative, and maybe not the total narrative; I don’t want to forget some of the pain necessarily, but it adds to that narrative.”
You don’t have to be a veteran to appreciate this film, but it might help you better understand their experiences. It helped Bare, who says: “A lot of times when you come back from war you wonder if the best most badass experiences are behind you and this was living proof that it was in front of me, and I think I was able to come home and be more fully at home.”
Take thirty minutes and watch the film. If you’re inspired to contribute, do so here for Round River, an organization working to protect wild lands the world over. Just mark “Adventure Not War” in the memo. Alternatively, the adventurers worked with the not-for-profit Tented to help provide housing and education for families in Iraq, and they could use your help as well.
Bare plans to continue these adventures in places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, the country Georgia, and South Dakota.