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Climate change: POW gets youth involved

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
A promotional poster from Protect Our Winters. The organization uses winter athletes to reach out to youth about the effects of climate change on winter sports.
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If climate change is as dire as many experts say, our skiing culture – and everything attached to it – is in danger.

That’s one of the messages of Protect Our Winters, a two-year-old climate change advocacy group founded by snowboarding icon Jeremy Jones. The group had a booth at the Snowsports Industries of America Snow Show last weekend.

The organization’s latest goal is to mobilize the winter sports youth community with an initiative known as Hot Planet/Cool Athletes – getting athletes into schools to share personal accounts of how they see climate change affecting their favorite places in the world.

“They’re seeing the glaciers recede year after year,” director Chris Steinkamp said, adding that other athletes are seeing rain at Christmas in Aspen and spring coming two weeks earlier in recent years. Sometimes a person’s tale is more impactful than the information taught in science class, he said.

“When you look (at today’s ski generation) from afar, you see disaffected youth, but 70 to 90 percent care deeply about climate change,” said Auden Schendler, who’s new to the organization’s board and who also serves as Aspen Ski Co’s vice president of sustainability.

In an industry that touches more than 12 million people, the reach of professional athletes can be monumental.

“It’s the perfect industry to care,” Schendler said, explaining that Protect Our Winters is akin to Surfrider Foundation in the surf industry.

Chris Steinkamp, the organization’s director, said it’s a “perfect storm” to create impact – athletes as icons who are looking for meaning behind their work and impressionable youth who are seeking information and a cause to grab onto.

“(The kids) may not care about the climate, but if Gretchen Bleiler cares about climate change, they do,” Schendler said.

A climate change curriculum is on the horizon for Keystone Science School, school programs director Dave Miller said, and Steinkamp sees an opportunity for Hot Planet/Cool Athletes to have a presence there.

But Miller isn’t sure how the advocacy aspect of Protect Our Winters could fit into his school’s mission of educating students on environmental subjects from multiple perspectives.

“We’re very protective of our non-biased image,” he said. “I honestly don’t know what it would look like” to bring Hot Planet/Cool Athletes into the school, because he’s unsure how to balance it with another perspective.

“Just because they’re an advocacy-based organization doesn’t mean we can’t work together,” Miller added. “It just means we need to approach it differently.”

He recently approached the organization to form a partnership, seeking grant money to move the climate change curriculum forward.

Unfortunately, Protect Our Winters’ community grants program was recently scaled back by the board so money can go into the organization’s new programs like Hot Planet/Cool Athletes and Coal Kills Snow. But Steinkamp offered to put Miller in touch with other organizations who might be able to lend a hand.


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