4 professional snowboarders who double as environmentalists
Global warming is a real problem for athletes who depend on the snow.
Fri, Feb 03, 2012 at 09:14 AM
OLYMPIC-WORTHY: Gretchen Bleiler competes in the women's halfpipe in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Professional snowboarders have awesome jobs: They spend their days on mountains riding chairlifts and ripping runs down snow-covered hills. Depending on their focus, they might find themselves spending the day in a halfpipe nailing down highly technical tricks or up in the backcountry dropping huge lines for video cameras filming from nearby helicopters. While the smart ones also put in time in the gym lifting weights and doing yoga, the bulk of a snowboarders' training time is spent in the mountains, outside on the snow collecting wintry vertical gain and drop.
Given the huge amount of time that they spend in the great outdoors, it's easy to find professional snowboarders who double as environmentalists. Climate change could bring some serious disruption to winters in places like the U.S. and Canadian Rockies and the French Alps, disruptions that could shorten seasons and drastically cut snowfall totals. In the face of the damage that climate change could bring to snowboarding, it might be harder to find a snowboarder who isn't an environmentalist. But the world needs every advocate it can get, and the following four snowboarders have heard Mother Nature's call and stepped up to help spread the message that we need to do something before it's too late.
Bleiler was born in Ohio and lived there for the first 10 years of her life. When she was 11, her family moved to Aspen, Colo., and she started snowboarding. Four years after she started, she turned pro and has since become one of the strongest riders in the world. She's a three-time X Games gold medalist, Olympic silver medalist, and was the first female rider to land a Crippler 540, a difficult inverted trick that had been the sole domain of the male riders and which helped spur more female riders to pursue more challenging inverted tricks.
She has her own signature clothing line produced by Oakley and was the first action sports female to score the cover of ESPN Magazine.
Not content with being just one of the world's best riders as well as a fashion designer, Bleiler has become a vocal and passionate advocate for the planet. She's given talks about climate change at schools and universities, has worked closely with StopGlobalWarming.org to promote their campaigns, and sits on the board of directors for Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit advocacy group started by fellow list member Jeremy Jones to unite the snow sports world in the fight against climate change. And if that isn’t enough, she started a company with her husband, Chris, to sell the ALEX Bottle, a cool concept in water bottles that makes it easy to customize size and colored designs.
Jones grew up snowboarding in New England and attended Carrabassett Valley Academy, a small private school at the base of Maine ski resort Sugarloaf that allowed students serious of on-mountain training the freedom to pursue their sport. A typical school day for a student includes three or fours hours of time on the slopes in addition to the regular high school work load. Jones was initially a racer but transitioned into big mountain free riding (ripping runs on crazy steep high mountain peaks) where he excelled.
In 2007, Jones started Protect Our Winters (POW), the nonprofit mentioned above. POW's mission statement stresses that its focus is on "educational initiatives, activism, and the support of community-based projects."
Its "Hot Planet/Cool Athletes" series brings professional snowboarders and skiers into schools to talk to kids about how important it is to care about the environment. POW also pulls no punches when it comes to the dangers of coal, saying, "Coal is killing snow … that’s a fact. Mining and burning coal is the dirtiest and most environmentally destructive process to generate power — the resulting CO2 has a direct negative effect on climate change." Amen. In September 2011, Jones traveled to Washington, D.C., (along with fellow listee Gretchen Bleiler) to deliver a letter to Congress signed by more than 500 professional snowboarders, urging politicians to protect the EPA and the Clean Air Act.
As a sign of his deep commitment to his cause, Jones swore off the use of helicopters and Sno-Cats in getting to the start of his runs high up on mountains (both are staples for top big-mountain riders) and he now hikes up to whatever he's set to ride. In 2009, he dropped his long-term board sponsor, Rossignol, and started up his own snowboard company, Jones Snowboards, so he could have more control over the sustainability of the boards he rides.
Shearer grew up in California, picked up snowboarding back in the winter of 2001, and hasn't looked back since. The now-professional rider spends most of his riding time on big mountains ripping down steep slopes and is deeply involved in environmental advocacy work though Jeremy Jones' Protect Our Winters, where he regularly speaks to kids in schools about how important sustainability is to the world. When he's not hiking some peak in the French Alps or throwing himself down a steep Alaskan slope, Shearer can be found making tracks in the mountains near his home in Salt Lake City, Utah. Check out this great video profiling Shearer and his environmentalism over at TransWorld Snowboarding.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott was born in North Carolina but grew up in the mountains. He went to school at the Carrabassett Valley Academy, an elite private school for kids focusing on skiing or snowboarding that fellow list member Jeremy Jones attended, and specializes in the boardercross, an intense race event that pits four riders against one another on a crazy course packed with jumps, speed rollers and other obstacles that each rider must navigate in a mad dash to the finish line. He took home the gold medal in the event at the 2006 Olympics and repeated the feat four years later in Vancouver.
Wescott got his start as an environmental activist and advocate through the friendship with Jones that had developed during their shared time at Carrabassett. He's participated in Hot Planet/Cool Athletes program and spoken to thousands of kids about the need to do something about man-made climate change. Wescott still lives in Maine (he built his home at the base of Sugarloaf using green materials and practices) and is on the board of directors for Maine Huts and Trails, a nonprofit organization that works to protect and preserve the Maine wilderness.
Click for photo credits
Jones: Protect Our Winters
Shearer: Forrest Shearer
Wescott: Getty Images
MNN homepage photo of Gretchen Bleiler: ZUMA Press