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Tobin Seagel: Protect Our Winters

Sunday, January 8, 2017
Black Diamond Athlete Tobin Seagel has witnessed the damaging effects of a dying winter season, and he wants to do something about it. Seagel has teamed up with POW (Protect Our Winters) and believes we can turn climate change around. Here’s how.

Climate change is the number one issue affecting the world today. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, fisherman, or a couch potato; we all rely on a healthy snowpack for the snow we ski on, the water we drink, or the streams our fish live in.

Words: Tobin Seagel, Images: Ming Poon

On a ski mountaineering expedition to Baffin Island, I met Inuit hunters who told me that shifting ice cover is impacting their ability to hunt. In Europe, some alpine huts located on ridges now require ladders to be reached—glacier retreat has made them otherwise inaccessible.

And at home in Whistler, I’ve watched steep ski lines disappear as the bergschrunds—once spicy to cross—have become impassable. The season seems to be getting shorter, the snowpack seems thinner and the snow line seems to be rising. Because of a lack of snow, I haven’t really been able to ski the lower mountain trees for a few years, which to me is some of the most fun terrain we have.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists are in agreement that climate change is real and human-caused. If we don’t change the way we are doing things, long-term annual snowfall is likely to decrease by the end of this century. Not only is that going to be a bummer for people that like powder, but also it'll terminate thousands of jobs and deliver a big financial blow to the economy. In the US, winter sports generate $66 billion annually and support 965,000 jobs. The outdoor recreation industry as a whole generates $646 billion annually, supporting 6.1 million jobs. A strong economy requires a healthy environment.

So, what do we do about it?

Protect Our Winters was started by Jeremy Jones around ten years ago to mobilize the outdoor sports community against climate change. This winter the POW Riders Alliance and Science Alliance got together in Squaw for the annual POW summit to swap ideas and collaborate on initiatives for the next year. A big crew of pro skiers, snowboarders, and fly fishermen took time out of their schedules to listen to presentations by scientists like Liz Burakowski from the University of New Hampshire, social storytellers like Brendan Leonard, and industry leaders like Kevin Kassekert from Tesla and Lynn Jurich from the solar energy brand SunRun. The lifts at Squaw were spinning, but a huge rainstorm a few days before the summit had washed away most of their early season snow. I can only imagine how deep the conditions would have been if the freezing levels were just a little lower during that storm … the reality of climate change was plain to see.

Climate change is something we all have a hand in creating, which means collectively we’re also the solution. Like a snowball rolling down hill, small things can add up to make a big difference if we all do them. I try to minimize how much I drive, eat a little less red meat and put a sweater on instead of cranking the heat at home. It's simple stuff, but I’m always looking to see how I can do more. There’s a ton of resources online you can check out to see what is easiest for you.

Let’s do this. Let’s be the generation that turns this climate change ship around.

—Tobin Seagel