I don’t feel comfortable reminding you of these things. In fact, it goes against everything that we, as a magazine, are here to promote.
Sometimes there’s a single strip of snow running down the Pleney, we call it a piste and we say it’s open, but there’s no snow anywhere else. Sometimes I hop on the Avoriaz webcam to check conditions, it’s raining at 1800m. Sometimes Mont Chery is only open for a few weeks each winter due to insufficient snow. I don’t share these images with you, of course. Instead I’ll tell you about the spa, a lovely new restaurant, something wonderful for you to do with your children.
The truth is, I should feel very uncomfortable. And you should too. Our mountain air may be fresh and clean, the views are always stunning. But the uncomfortable truth is, our snowline is retreating. It’s had enough of our constant carbon production, our development at all costs, and it’s heading back up the mountain. Who can blame it?
But still, I really struggle with the message when it comes to climate change in the mountains and I’m often baffled by the science. I give a shit, I really do, but how do we merge the necessity to do more – to be greener – with the obvious footprint of tourism. And tourism is the lifeblood of our villages, supporting families, often generations. The conundrum is overwhelming to say the least. I need someone to help me figure this out. In 2007, professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones (of Deeper, Further and Higher fame) noticed that resorts he’d usually count on for good riding were closed due to insufficient snow. At the time there were no organisations advocating for the planet – no one mobilising the snow sports community on the threat of climate change. Protect Our Winters was born in this moment, giving a voice to those who love the mountains and want to preserve them for the future.
As a magazine, we’ve supported and highlighted the work of POW over the years. Their messaging is clear; right now, we have the luxury of worrying about how environmental change will impact snow levels. Right now, we have the luxury of being able to direct change, rather than react to a foregone conclusion. But if we sit on our hands, in 20 years time, we’ll be worrying about our jobs, our economy and our planet, wondering when the next powder day will arrive. Yet never did I ever imagine that POW founder Jeremy Jones would make himself available to explain this unconformable yet urgent conundrum to me. He calls from his home in Truckee, California.
Jeremy, when you founded Protect our Winters in 2007, did you foresee how the organisation might grow globally?
There’s a lot to be proud of in the sense that we’re global now, we’re doing great work and we’ve got really hard working people to help us focus on what matters. But the frustration is the lack of global progress. It’s almost like a missed decade that we’ve had. That’s the harsh reality of it.
But you must be proud of the progress you’ve made so far?
We surround ourselves with experts on climate change and it became really clear that to get large CO2 reduction, that would require policy change. So we focus on law makers that are serious on climate issues. The election cycles in the US specifically and in Canada, they often come down to like less than 1000 votes in a key state and that makes a huge difference on climate policy. I know that POW has definitely brought a bunch of new voters to support the climate, especially in Canada. We’ve played an important role in changing the course in certain states and I’m proud of that.
And while I’ve focused on the US and Canada, the POW chapters around the world are also very active politically. I mean, here in the US we elected a climate change denier as President, that became an all hands on deck situation and motivated everyone globally to push back.
How does this problem look to you in 10 years time? What’s our best case scenario?
Science is really clear on this. We’re dealing with a warming planet, experiencing more dramatic and erratic weather events. We’re going to look back at what’s happened in this past year and think ‘you know, that wasn’t so bad’ compared to what’s coming. The reality that we’re fighting for is for the next generations. There’s a tonne of CO2 up in the atmosphere, we’re continuing to pump more up there and if we stop tomorrow, we’d still have too much up there. It’ll take up to 30 years for that CO2 to go away. Our hope is that we can get on the right path but we’re turning a massive barge around and it’s gonna take time but we do need urgency on that right now.
How do you find the world of politics?
Climate change is basically a political issue and that’s where we’ve struggled. Politics is a brutal place, it’s only getting more polarising and I hate that this is a political issue. I wish that we could say ‘car pool to the mountains, use reusable water bottles, change to more efficient light bulbs and we’ll get there’ but the reality is that this won’t get us the large scale CO2 reductions. I’m not saying these things don’t matter, but we need more action which can only come from political intervention.
How much time are you able to devote to POW?
I’m very involved in the overall direction of Protect Our Winters, but I’m not there on a day to day, micromanaging everything. But then, when we get to the periods leading up to elections, these are where we really can make a diff erence and this is when it becomes a huge part of my time. Everything else disappears and I really dig in.
How do we balance people’s love for the mountains with the damage travel does to the environment?
If you want to get hyper-critical on your personal footprint, air travel has the largest impact. Hopping on a transfer bus with other people going in the same direction, these vehicles will move quickly to clean energy. For me personally, I try to do less trips, make them longer so I lessen my time on planes. Thinking about our diets, off setting your travel, but if you are doing all these other things to help us get on the right path for climate, you’re probably doing that because you have a connection to the mountains. You want to protect them. That’s a really important part, I think these chairlifts have created more environmentalists than anything else. Get involved with POW UK and France too, that would really help.
The other thing is that a lot of people who have the ability to go on these vacations can have a huge impact too. They’re typically successful people, working at companies that wield industrial or political power and so they can kick ass on climate in so many ways then feel good about their infl uence on the planet.
It’s an Olympic winter, the IOC have a huge platform. Do they do enough to share the environmental message?
The Olympic committee aren’t remotely doing enough. The reality is, if you look at all the locations for the games in the last 50 years… they should do much more. They carry a tonne of weight, if they’re really serious about it they could have huge impact. We’re way past doing an awareness campaign, not that they’ve necessarily done that, but I wish they did significantly more than they do.
How can ski resorts stay fi nancially viable whilst lessening their impact of the natural environment?
We’re seeing a lot of resorts reduce their plastic and their waste, and that’s really important. But when you focus on CO2 reduction, that gets us excited. These resorts consume a lot of power, which makes them the biggest customer at the power company. They have an enormous power to say ‘we want our electricity to come from renewable energy’. My home resort of Palisades Tahoe has done that. Our power company provided a nine-acre solar energy plant that provides enough energy to the grid, the equivalent of running the whole resort. Other resorts have done the same, these are really positive things. Pushing on the utility companies to develop more renewable energy for ski resorts can have a huge impact.
Here’s another way to inspire change. My region has nine resorts, they’re the biggest employers in the region and they bring in the most revenue in the region. I would love to see them come together to say they’ll vote against policy makers who are against climate action. My district is run by one of the biggest climate change deniers in Congress and the fact that industry has allowed that to happen – and in some cases made contributions to his campaign – it’s crazy to think, this guy is voting against the long term sustainability of our industry every chance he gets.
How do you stay motivated in the face of political obstacles?
Failure is not an option. We’re in a no fall zone as a society. Don’t get me wrong, we’re seeing shift. But the reality is, if we were doing all these things that we’ve got going on right now, back in 1980, we could have had tonnes of optimism. We’re definitely seeing a shift, ramping up the focus on the climate. In Canada for example, they just had an election, it was the first election where they didn’t debate if climate change is real or not, they debated on solutions, That should have been the case 10 years ago, but this progress is still a big deal. The younger generation is demanding action on climate. They understand that we’ve screwed them by ignoring science and they really care about it. They’re putting enormous pressure on companies, politicians and the world is changing on climate. We’ve got to really try and accelerate that.
Do your children do things differently to you at their age?
They definitely understand their personal impact, they embrace a plant based diet, they use reusable containers every day, so that side of things is good. They’ve been to multiple climate marches, but I don’t cram this stuff down their throat. Let kids be kids. I don’t sit around talking doom and gloom to them. We all need to accept that the mountains are changing, the planet is changing, but it’s still really fun. We’ve had really low snow years but we still go out and have fun, we celebrate the snow, I don’t sit and talk to them about how it was 15 years ago. I talk to them about a 27 metre base and it’s a lot of fun. The classes they take, they have options for environmental studies and they’re great.
How has Jones Snowboards stepped up to the plate on an environmental level?
I’ve had a microscope on all facets of Jones. This is the first year when all our boards are manufactured using 100% solar energies. We’ve always embraced materials that are more environmentally friendly and we’ll bring it into one or two boards to get comfortable with it in production, a year later we’ll bring it into the whole line. There’s no virgin textiles in our clothing and back packs, they’re all recycled. We’ve embraced this in all aspects of the footprint of our manufacturing. We contribute 1% for the planet too, we’re obviously heavily involved in POW as a brand and we have the Jones Rainforest in Cotsa Rica, which gets bigger every year.
Most recently, on our website, we’ve done a lifetime product assessment. We’ve broken down every piece of material, shipment, manufacturing, to see what the carbon footprint of every phase of production looks like. We did that really for us to understand our carbon impact and to know where we should concentrate to lessen that. But we share it with the public for full transparency, you can compare your boards, etc.
Where is your favourite place to ride and who are your favourite people to ride with?
For sure, my family. I can see that we’re about to lose my kids to the world as they get older, so if they’re like ‘I want to go snowboarding tomorrow’, then we’re all going snowboarding tomorrow. Thankfully I get to ride with them a lot. My favourite place to ride is here in the Sierra mountains, it’s a 400 mile long range and the majority of that, the only way into them is hiking. I love it when our high peaks are in good shape and I can hop in my car and drive to a trail head and walk in the mountains, my extended back yard and find trails I’ve never ridden. There’s such grand adventure out there. Here in the Western US we have a tonne of protected land which means that for someone who likes to split board and camp, the options are endless. Under normal circumstances I’ll come to Europe each year and stay for a month. Europe is the best place in the world, if I were to move anywhere, it would be to the Alps. The lift infrastructure, the culture, I love the small resorts, you have it all. The Alps are a skiing and snowboarding paradise. My European friends are like ‘we wanna come visit you,’ I’m like no. We’re good at making it look really awesome, but the Alps are very special. They blow me away.
What were your impressions of Avoriaz when you visited?
I loved it. It’s so intense, you take a lift or two and you can keep going, it’s a really easy place to ride lift serviced powder which is always the dream!
What projects do you have planned for the near future?
With TGR (Teton Gravity Research) we’re about to release a new film which I’m really excited about called Mountain Revelations, which is about diversity in the mountains. It’s a really exciting topic to take on. I’ve another secret film which you’ll hear about in the near future. My film Purple Mountain from 2020, it’s still as relevant as ever and I hope to continue to build around these themes. We need to continue to have civil conversations around topics that are divisive, maybe you have different opinions, but we do agree on a lot of things when it comes to the mountains. Passion for the outdoors, for example. Online, some of my biggest critics, when I talk to them in person, it’s different; the written word is so bold! I stay out of comments sections. That whole world incentivises toxic conversation. In the real world, that’s where change can happen, it’s totally different to what you see online.
What do you encourage people to do on a personal level to support POW?
We have chapters around the world, but the reality is, they are small. We need more people to get paid to fight the climate crisis, so supporting these groups financially means we can get more people onto the day to day fight and this would make a huge impact. If you love the mountains, if you want your children to enjoy them in the future, if you want to help us turn the tide, please become a member of Protect Our Winters. Turn your passion into action.