Protect Our Winters was founded to be the winter sports voice against climate change. Knowing that the only way to success is getting skiers, riders and winter sports enthusiasts on board, POW has hooked up with pro athletes to tell their own climate change stories and put a (sometimes gold medal winning) face to the movement. With the launch of Ben & Jerry’s and New Belgium Brewing’s flavor collaboration supporting Protect Our Winters, we thought it would be a perfect time to meet five members of the POW’s Riders Alliance.
Left to Right: Caroline Gleich, Kelly Clark, Julian Carr, Brody Leven, Gretchen Bleiler. Front: Elena Hight
Gretchen Bleiler was just ten when her family moved to Aspen, Colorado— it’s hard to imagine they could have predicted she’d go on to take silver in Olympic Superpipe snowboarding, or top the podium four times at the X Games. But one thing’s for certain, Bleiler’s love for the wild outdoors of Colorado has lead to her career as a pro athlete, and now her role as a leading environmental spokesperson and climate change activist.
Whether it's shorter, warmer, winters with less snow pack, longer forest fire seasons, longer and more drastic drought (like in CA), or drastic weather like we've seen all over the US, we all only have to look out our own windows or turn on the news now to see and hear the effects of climate change these days. In my own back yard in Colorado, winter is just now very different than from when I was a little girl. There is no consistency in winter anymore, it's more sporadic, and typically just shorter and warmer with generally less snow.
I believe that when we each decide to respond as individuals and then come together as a collective (and for me that's winter), we're able to really start making an impact. This can feel like a really big and overwhelming task at hand, but when we come together around our common passions, I believe that anything is really possible. Last year was my third year in a row going to Capitol Hill, and for the first time I started recognizing the people we were talking with and I could tell that they also knew and recognized us. I could tell there was a new way they were looking at us— they were seeing that we keep showing up and we are paying attention and we are holding them accountable, and that we're not going to stop! POW is now known on the Hill, and that was one of the most proud and impactful moments that I've experienced so far in working with the organization.
When it comes to pushing the envelope of Superpipe snowboarding, Elena Hight is at the forefront. From becoming the first female rider to land a 900 during competition at just 13 years old, Hight has gone on to become a two-time Olympian and four-time X Games medalist. Inspired by the outdoors, Hight has become outspoken about the need for riders and skiers to take a stand on climate change.
All winter sports rely primarily on Mother Earth to provide their playground. It truly is like us waiting for a new stadium to be built, or a new field to be finished every winter so that we can participate in the sports that we love. This makes all of these sports incredibly vulnerable to climate change— when the weather changes, our playground changes and is diminished or has a shorter lifespan than it should or has in the past.
Being in the mountains gives you a sense of freedom that I have yet to find anywhere else, and if it were taken away I would truly miss that. I believe that the best thing that each individual can do is start making small personal changes to the way they live, and be vocal about why they are making these changes. Personal change inspires others and often brings communities together: the more people that get involved the bigger the voice to be heard.
Caroline Gleich’s assent to being featured on the cover of magazines and in Warren Miller films is proof of the Salt Lake City, Utah resident’s two plank skills. But mountaineering and descending towering mountains aside, Gleich’s involvement as an environmental ambassador and POW spokesperson put this pro skier front and center for the winter sports climate movement.
My favorite days as a kid where snow days! I would always put on my snowsuit and play outside! I love how snow brings us together. Snow is what fuels my industry, but it's more than just my business. It fuels my passion and way of life. Snow causes people to act and make decisions in new, creative ways. For instance, I've heard so many people describe how they decided to change their lives after their first time skiing in Utah. Few elements have that transformative effect. To be so passionate about something that you decide to change your whole life course— that is the essence of a life well lived. It makes me sad to think that future generations might miss that opportunity.
This fall I’ll be going to DC to continue our work on climate with a group of athletes and industry leaders from the Riders Alliance! I’ll be working with outdoor brands that have the environment in mind, voting with the environment as a priority, and planting trees. I’ll be an active citizen, talking to local and state leaders about the environmental issues that I'm passionate about. The number one message I tell people that love the outdoors and winter is that together, we can change the world.
Successfully parlaying a childhood in pancake-flat Ohio to a career summiting and skiing some of the world’s biggest and most remote peaks might seem unlikely, but that’s Brody Leven’s MO. Leven is prolific, whether it’s stacking first descents or producing his own writing and video content— making him the perfect candidate for inspiring the kids that will become tomorrow’s climate leaders.
Most experts believe that the most powerful change any of us can make is through sharing our knowledge with our elected representatives. Some of the congress people we talk to each year are very hospitable and in full support of our message and actions, presenting their own climate change information, resources, and plans to fight it. But whether or not their legislative actions consistently match their attitudes that day is a much more objective judgment to be made.
Even if students are too young to vote, if they can be taught the power of elected officials, they can influence them. I tend to focus on the few students who are likely to truly care and want make an impact on the world of climate change. The students that approach me, ask for internships or volunteer opportunities, and who seek grant money for recycling programs, education opportunities, and further resources. I love those kids. In college, I became one of them.
If action sports are fueled by superlatives, Julian Carr one serious flame— know for his record-breaking cliff jumps, Carr’s highflying stunts make Warren Miller audiences drop their popcorn. Now a CEO of his own headwear company, Carr is adding citizen climate activism to his list of accomplishments.
Snow makes the impossible possible. Try to conceive of snow if it didn't exist: it's a gift. And it's quite beautiful.
As a skier who is fortunate to travel around the world in snow-based adventures, I've had the chance to chat with locals from all over the world, it's unanimous, something is up, less snow, an increase in bizarre extreme weather. I’m a Utah resident, and I wrote an opinion piece that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune urging the governor to accept the EPA power plan. I’m super proud to have participated.
Left to Right: Brody Leven, Caroline Gleich, Julian Carr, Kelly Clark, Elena Hight
POW’s Riders Alliance is a group of seriously committed athletes. Committed to their passions, and to the efforts of reaching and engaging the winter sports public, and students around the country. Whether it’s speaking at schools, writing op-eds, or creating inspiring content, bagging another powder day takes a back seat to ensuring we have a future where there’s powder at all.