Jeremy Jones is famous because he can ride a snowboard really, really well. He’s a big mountain freerider from Truckee, CA, and during the course of his career, started noticing that winter was changing—no Thanksgiving ski days, sometimes no snow by Christmas. Winters were getting shorter, warmer and more random.
So Jones, who rides for a living and loves his mountain climate, founded Protect Our Winters—POW—to unite and mobilize the outdoor sports community to address climate change. With 27 million skiers and boarders, successfully rallying just a fraction would create a movement—a rising tide of people to force change at the highest levels. We at Yakima are psyched to support them and help spread the word.
It’s not just about maximizing powder days. A shorter winter has a four-season effect—look at the California drought. Less snow means less water. Ski resorts get hurt, farmers get hurt and fires get big.
And in mountain towns, the economic impact can be brutal. Think about it—no snow means fewer tourists. It also means seasonal workers bail early. This smacks restaurants and outdoor shops and hotels right in the wallet. And it carries over. No snow, no flow—rivers run low so fishing, rafting and hanging out at the swimming hole all get impacted. And it ripples out from guides and outdoor shops to restaurants and the local grocery.
“Our work has morphed and gone beyond the mountains. We realize that everyone depends on winter—including those
who need water in the spring,” says Chris Steinkamp, POW’s executive director.
This means POW works to block coal mining on public lands, restore Central American rainforests and create an international network. The goal is to reduce the source of the problem—carbon emissions. POW sees this and works to mitigate the big offenders, coal and fossil fuels, on a global level.
But their signature program, Hot Planet/Cool Athletes, happens at the rootsiest place a grass roots movement can go—kids. The program presents in-school climate assemblies led by pro athletes. Kids dig the athlete aspect, so they engage.
“It validates everything that we do when you break through to a student. Kids get climate change—they know what’s going on and that they’re going to be the ones left holding the bag. They just don’t know what to do about it,” says Jones. “We use the pro athletes to communicate to them in an authentic and relevant way and give the next generation the tools to be climate leaders. There’s no fidgeting or waiting for the bell. Kids are hearing what we say and asking how they can get involved. Hot Planet/Cool Athletes is a great program, making a big difference.”
But Steinkamp realizes that more immediate change happens at the government level.
“We have thirty years to figure this out—so the focus is on DC. We leverage corporate voices to push new legislation.”
The outdoor and snowsports industries—Yakima included—are snow farmers. No season means no sales. While there’s a truly genuine gut-level desire to swing the climate pendulum back, and people in the outdoor industry do love to play in the snow, the economic impact is also a stark reality. “We—as an industry—see climate change first hand. An audience with a senator happens because we come in with a powerful voice and unique story. We show the economic impact on a 63-billion-dollar industry, and they pay attention to that. Legislation isn’t sexy, but it makes the difference.”
Yakima is really behind POW and helping them build the movement. We get that government brings change. At the same time, we realize that pulling cars off the road also makes a difference. Piling everyone’s gear into a cargo box frees up the space to add passengers, reduce traffic and cut a couple of cars’
worth of emissions. You can carpool with friends, or look to the web for ride-sharing opportunities. And visit your ski area’s website; some offer resources—even discounts—for carpoolers.
Steinkamp gets the conflict between outdoor as an industry and outdoor as a solution. “All of us, individuals and businesses, need to understand that we are part of the problem—but this means we can be a bigger part of the solution. We travel by car. We ride lifts, even helicopters. We buy products that are made overseas. We just have to find a way to do more good than bad.”