The Future of Protecting Our Winters
It’s more than fair to say a lot’s on the line since the election of President Elect Trump.
Are you still reading? One wouldn’t blame you for skimming that sentence then saying “no thanks.” Who, actually, gives a shit what a ski writer feels about politics? If I were looking for a political opinion I’d check out a respected publication that closely follows widely-accepted ethics. But if I wanted an opinion, about, say, the best all-mountain ski suited for a reasonable East Coast season? Well, the ski journalist is your guy, or gal.
At some point, or perhaps forever, ski writers entered the political realm tackling issues like climate change, most notably. I suspect very little thought went into the complications and effects that angle on a geo-political topic might have on their readership. Issue-based issues of magazines and quick-to-publish books were put out, and, hey, I’m guilty as charged. It was partly my idea to put out this then controversial cover of Powder.
I write all this in an effort to frame the following interview with Gretchen Bleiler. I ran into the professional snowboarder and Protect Our Winters advocate in the Wildflour Bakery at Squaw Valley yesterday. We struck up a conversation, I asked if I could record an interview to which she agreed. It’s true POW has come under a level of scrutiny for their associations and business partnerships with suspect players in the climate game. That’s another story for another day, but with the election of a maybe climate change denying President of the United States (he’s been all over the issue over the years, so this statement feels fair), Ms. Bleiler and I both agreed on one fact — POW has never had the chips so stacked against them in the history of the non-profit. — Mike
What are you doing here at Squaw?
Gretchen Bleiler: We are here for the second annual POW Rider’s Alliance Summit. It’s a group of the Rider’s Alliance members made up of skiers, snowboarders, mountaineers…we even have a fly fisherman, a woman, who is badass.
The Rider’s Alliance is growing beyond skiing and snowboarding. It’s exciting. It’s bringing together a more diverse group. We have board members here as well. Clif Bar is represented, The North Face…it’s a group of people who are really passionate about using their platforms and voices to talk about climate change and mobilize the outdoor sports community…especially now with our political climate.
How long have you been involved?
I got involved in 2009.
So shortly after the beginning of the first Obama term?
So your involvement in POW has always had a more, let’s say, friendly political environment to work within?
What seems to be the mood of everyone today? Is it positive? Doom and gloom? A little bit of holy shit mixed in?
The overall vibe is we have to roll our sleeves up. The doom and gloom happened. That happened for a lot of people. I felt shocked and sad and confused. It seems like the election didn’t just divide us as a country more than ever before, but it trickled down into our local communities and families. Within my own family that divisiveness was disturbing.
A little time has passed. What we do is mobilize. What this organization has done is after the initial shock and sadness, comes: OK…it’s time to come up with a strategy and we need our voices to be heard more than ever before.
A lot of the talk yesterday was around this idea of political battles versus cultural battles. For four years we’re in a political battle that can’t really…it’s like speaking different languages. So we’ll go to the cultural battle. Let’s create a social movement and engage local communities and focus on local in an effort to engage people more than ever so when the next election cycle comes around we’re standing out more than ever before.
POW gets criticized for…you know, TGR is a huge supporter because of their brother, but there are all of the helicopters being used to film and fossil fuels being burned with sleds and plane rides to faciliate a professional skier or rider’s lifestyle. POW gets criticized for being preachy.
It’s an awesome question and we talked about it yesterday. Every person in the room yesterday gets that thing. My response is at the end of the day it’s not about going backwards in time. That’s sort of what we’re doing with the Trump Administration. It’s never been good for business to say, “Hey! I think it’s important to go back to this old technology.”
Coal is a good example. It’s an old technology. We have more knowledge about it. It’s not about stopping coal, or what we’re passionate about. The heli gets you up into places that gives you an experience that you don’t get at a resort. It’s not about robbing people of that experience. It’s about: How can we make this better? How can we innovate on this technology so it’s not something that’s harming our environment?
We don’t go back. We bring what we love about being in a heli, apply technology so that it works together to give you an amazing experience and be less harmful for the environment.
That being said, no one is perfect. We all have a carbon footprint. We, I, have to realize what our weaknesses are to improve on them. If we spend time cutting each other down, that’s taking us in a direction that’s not helpful. I believe a rising tide brings up all ships.
I found post-election a lot of people felt forgotten about. I tried to put myself in their shoes. If someone came out on the Democratic side and said, “We need to end skiing and snowboarding in order to…XYZ” I’d feel threatened, because I’m a skier. That’s all I’ve ever known. I like my life as a skier, my job in skiing, That can’t be that much different of a feeling than someone who might be satisifed in their job in an industry causing climate change, especially when it provides a comfortable life for their family. How do you talk to that person?
It’s about engaging everyone. We need everyone. We need the coal miners. We need the people flying in helis and fly fishing…we need everyone. We can’t burn bridges. We can’t say, “you’re doing a bad thing.” We need to ask, “How can we all transition?”
In order to transition to clean energy, it won’t be about stopping what we’re doing. This will be an art in walking a fine line. We can’t say [a certain type of energy] is a terrible thing — this is how our society works and operated forever and made America into a super power.
As horrible as the election rhetoric was, I am trying to get better at empathy with someone my age on the opposite political spectrum as me. I mean, in that respect, Obama must have been a nightmare for them. Perhaps they can see now their life hasn’t changed all that drastically in the last eight years, but as a society we have made some progress. Civil liberties certainly were improved. The LGBTQ community has it a little better off than when Obama first came to term, people who didn’t have health insurance…You guys have your work cut out for you trying to talk climate change on the other side, don’t you?
We do, but we have a common message of standing up for a way of life that is invaluable and helps us feel more connected to nature, ourselves and one another.
Jeremy [Jones, POW Founder and legendary professional snowboarder] wrote after the election it wasn’t about chatting with like-minded people anymore and POW’s mission has to be going across the aisle and connecting with people on any level.
That’s the message. That’s been my experience, too. I have to understand that people who voted for Trump are not bad people. We’re so polarized and swinging to the left or swinging to the right. What this conversation needs to be is listening to one another, not trying to convert one another and take the best of all of our opinions and bring it together. That’s when we’ll be the country we can be instead of this divided nation.
Both sides have valuable insights. When we bring them together, we’ll have power. We can have meaningful conversations, without raising our voices, that will inevitably help the greater good.
To learn more about Protect Our Winters, please visit ProtectOurWinters.org. To learn more about climate change denying scientists, click here. To avoid this topic for another day, which I don’t advise you do, but totally get with it being the holidays and all, check out the Evolution of Hip Hop docu-series on Netflix.