Arapahoe Basin Ski Area held Earth Day celebration on Saturday benefiting Protect Our Winters | SummitDaily.com

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area held Earth Day celebration on Saturday benefiting Protect Our Winters

Amid slush and snow and the clomp of ski boots, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area had an Earth Day celebration on Saturday to promote carpooling, sustainability and awareness of climate change. The event raised funds for the Protect Our Winters nonprofit, a climate advocacy group that ties efforts to protect the environment with the winter sports industry.

Earth Day is an annual event held on April 22 that began in 1970 to raise awareness and support efforts to protect the global environment. A-Basin's event on Saturday is their third Earth Day celebration, and sustainability manager Mike Nathan said it represents A-Basin's commitment to protecting the environment.

"We've become a leader in the ski industry as far as sustainability and environmental activism and outreach," Nathan said. "Obviously, like any other ski area, we're dependent on snowfall to have a good time, we think the lack of it over the years is an important issue to focus on."

Nathan said that A-Basin has tried to do its part to come up with solutions instead of being a part of the continuing environmental problems.

"We tackled our waste stream and created a diversion system for compost and recycling," he said. "We've enforced basic energy efficiency by doing full-scale lighting and refrigeration retrofits. We have two on-site solar arrays, and they're the second highest arrays in the country. And we really work hard to get the word out about environmental issues, such as with the event today."

The Earth Day event at A-Basin centered around carpooling this year, and Nathan said within an hour of opening, over 400 goody bags were handed out to the first 150 cars that arrived with three or more passengers. Carpooling, he said, aligned well with A-Basin's goals as well as with POW's mission.

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"It is a common goal we both have to promote public transportation and car pooling to reduce emissions from vehicles," Nathan said. "And the reason we work with POW is because they are absolutely working constantly, tirelessly to implement policy that is going to protect our business and our way of life here."

Aside from goodie giveaways, the event also featured an environment-themed scavenger hunt, a raffle and live music. The main event of the day was a "Hot Planet, Cool Athletes" presentation about climate change put on by POW Rider's Alliance, featuring two-time Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, Breckenridge-based pro skier Cody Cirillo and Awesome Planet host and environmental advocate Phillippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

The trio spoke about issues relating to climate change, with a focus on building grassroots political action around environmental issues heading into the 2018 midterm elections.

Bleiler, who won the Olympic silver medal for the women's snowboarding halfpipe at the 2006 Turino Winter Games, said she has been seeing the effects of climate change wherever she's traveled.

"Being a pro snowboarder, I've been fortunate to travel around the world," Bleiler said. "I've seen the effects of climate change first hand no matter where I've been."

Bleiler offered an example with the terrible conditions she witnessed at the Vancouver winter games in 2010.

"In Vancouver, I was just seeing how they were struggling to pull that one off," she said. "The conditions for that Olympic event were not ideal, and it's hard as an athlete who works four years to get to that moment to see how the half-pipe was literally melting and falling apart. They were using helicopters to ship in snow from higher elevations, trucking it in and hiding it under tarps. The same thing happened in Sochi."

Bleiler noted a UC Berkley study which found that by 2085, most cities in the northern hemisphere will be too hot to safely host the summer Olympics. She said those kinds of shocking statistics motivated her to join POW to advocate for action on climate change.

"The snow sports industry alone generates $72 billion a year, 690,000 jobs," she said. "In D.C. that's a lot of power. What we're trying to do with POW is to harness that power, to create a social movement with an industry that has a big economic impact."

Cirillo, who has lived in Breckenridge since he was 3, said that the effects of climate change and warming temperatures are crystal clear to anyone who has lived in the mountains their whole life.

"I have definitely seen the change," Cirillo said. "I see the shorter seasons we've been having, earlier onset of spring, 40 degree days in January and February. It's been crazy, especially the last few years, the difference in the seasons between what I saw growing up and what I see now."

Cirillo acknowledges that he's not an expert in environmental issues, but he wanted to use the platform he gained by being a pro skier to do as much as he could to raise awareness on climate issues, especially among young people. And he said it's been working.

"I've had high school kids reach out to me and be stoked and want to get involved in environmental issues," Cirillo said. "It got them thinking about the decisions they're making, decisions their parents are making and asking themselves why things can't be different, and using their imaginations to try to find solutions."

Cousteau, who was filming segments for Awesome Planet while accompanying the POW athletes during their presentation, said that holding Earth Day events like the one at A-Basin were important to help get the global community's focus on the issues facing our planet.

"I believe in Earth Day as a symbol," Cousteau said, "and a reminder that we have to keep our eye on the ball, and by that ball I mean the Earth — a big round ball that is keeping us alive, and it's suffering."

Cousteau said that he encouraged everyone to think of every day as Earth Day, and to that end he wants partisan bickering to stop standing in the way of dealing with an ongoing global crisis.

"No matter who you are and no matter where you live, no matter whether you agree with it or not, climate change waits for no man," Cousteau said. "It's affecting our economy, our health, our society. It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat, we all need clean air and clear water."

In order to try to help build the road to progress, Cousteau said he runs an environmental nonprofit called EarthEcho specifically to help young people in the next generation find their voice when it comes to environmental issues.

Cirillo added that helping kids find their voice is a big reason why he goes around giving presentations about climate change with POW.

"One of the hardest parts of being a kid is you never know if your voice matters," he said, "and I think by people like us being vocal on issues like climate change, kids realize that their voices also matter. It doesn't matter what you're saying, if you're talking about it, it matters. If you influence someone, it matters."