Having spent the last couple of decades exploring the backcountry, pioneering freerider Jeremy Jones has seen the effects of climate change has had on snowboarding. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when he was hiking in Northern Canada, listening to the locals’ stories about how their home mountain had closed due to lack of snow. It inspired him to found Protect Our Winters, a non-profit organization that aims “to unite and actively engage the global snow sports community to lead the fight against climate change."
The idea behind POW began in 2005, but I never thought I’d start a foundation. Having seen significant chance to the mountains first-hand I thought I should do something about that, so I decided to donate a percentage of my endorsement deals to the climate change cause. I would speak to friends who worked in the environmental field, but it was only to ask them where I should send my cheque. They were just like, “you guys really need to step up as an industry." I wasn’t prepared for that answer but I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I decided to make a go of it and we officially launched in 2007.
Today POW has three full-time staff, ten board members and a lot of volunteers. It was important that this wouldn’t just be ‘the Jeremy Jones foundation.’ I was able to get this thing off the ground, but now I’m just a cog in the wheel; and I could get voted out tomorrow. This needs to be ‘our’ voice, not my voice.
The people who have spent the most time out in the mountains are the ones most likely to be on board with us. You’re not going to get into arguments with a Chamonix guide who’s been in the mountains for fifteen years. There’s boatloads of science telling us that climate change is happening, and 97% of scientists say it’s real, but the people who are in the mountains every day don’t need to read the reports – it’s right there in our faces.
There’s boatloads of science telling us that climate change is happening, and 97% of scientists say it’s real, but the people who are in the mountains every day don’t need to read the reports – it’s right there in our faces
One of the major problems is that climate change has become a political issue. It’s become tied in with all sorts of other things. As we learned more, it became clear that significant legislative change needed to happen, so we’ve put resources into that. In the past we’ve had to speak behind closed doors with politicians, and even the ones that wanted to help us couldn’t publicly talk about it because it would be political suicide. But today it’s become much more positive; it’s become extremely hard for a lot of them to not to put some of their energy into climate change.
My struggle with my own impact is one of the reasons I sat on the idea for so long. I’m not an environmental saint; at the time I started POW I had a significant carbon footprint. But at the end of the day I realised that I could use my connections in the industry to do something positive – even if it made me an easy target. On a personal level I continue to reduce my footprint in every part of my life. But it’s unrealistic to expect too much. We all need to get better, but we can’t just turn the lights off. It’s gonna take time.
Tackling this issue is a huge undertaking, but we need to start somewhere. Climate change is this big massive barge and we’re slowly trying to turn it around. The work that we’re doing isn’t for next year, or for five years’ time; we need to be doing this for future generations.
We’ve made some great headway, but it’s becoming clear that we need more support from the industry. Right now, less than 1% of snowboarders and skiers are part of Protect Our Winters, along with less than 1% of the companies in the industry. We’ve been very effective, but until those numbers change then we can only do so much. If you join POW you become part of this collective voice, and the bigger that voice is the more powerful it is. You can get more informed on the climate change issue too.