op-ed vol1:3

The Outdoor Party

When speaking in terms of money, the outdoor industry is bigger than pharmaceuticals. The outdoor industry is also bigger by some measures than oil and gas, which runs Washington, D.C. And if we’re calling it how we see it, it’s a lot cooler than those two industries as well. I believe it is high time we, the outdoor industry, started acting like we own the place because we do.


With over $887 billion in consumer spending, the outdoor recreation sector of the United States needs to get organized. If the industry lobbied as carefully as they curated an Instagram feed or packed a backpack, we’d be running the United States as a modern day Bull Moose Party amongst the donkeys and elephants. The outdoor party wouldn’t be a third-party, we could be a major party—The Outdoor Party. Everyone loves an outdoor party, but alas that dream will not happen overnight.


On a sunny autumn day, as leaves change color and the Truckee River runs at a low, steady pace, snowboarder Jeremy Jones walks-in to Dark Horse Coffee. The shop, originally founded in San Diego, is a quiet alternative to the more popular establishments in the cozy mountain town. Jer, as friends and family call him, lives nearby with wife Tiffany and two kids.


For the last two decades, Jones carved out a name as the single greatest big mountain rider in snowboarding history, awing viewers with gnarly lines and gigantic pursuits. His latest film, Ode To Muir, is due to be released in fall 2018. Jones is known for a calm, steady presence, not unlike the river this time of year.


In addition to his professional riding career, Jones is the founder of Jones Snowboards, a backcountry snowboarding brand specializing in split boards. And he is the founder of Protect Our Winters, which is why we’re meeting today at Dark Horse.


I’ve been a quiet critic of Protect Our Winters. Until now I’d never publicly spoken or written about my qualms. Mostly, I am irked by a lack of knowledge in what they’re actually doing with the money donated to them. Are they representing me? Are they pushing politicians to be climate champions? It wasn’t until a recent Instagram post by an anonymous critic of professional skier Caroline Gleich set me in the direction of learning some truth.


The account, @socialmediaskier, called out Gleich for what they saw in their eyes as a moral contradiction. Gleich, an accomplished ski mountaineer, travels the world via plane and is also a vocal advocate for Protect Our Winters. The account, often a tongue-and-cheek joke poking fun of the social media habits of professional skiers, raised a valid criticism.


How does POW expect to be credible when the very athletes promoting a reduction of carbon footprints have a much larger carbon footprint than the average snowboarder or skier? What’s with all the selfies in front of the Capital Building in Washington, D.C.? Do they actually meet with politicians? And what does the non-profit actually do?


Since 2007, Protect Our Winters, or POW (not to be confused with the military designation P.O.W. or prisoners of war), strove to raise awareness and encourage activism for the issue of climate change. With a global community stretching several millions of impressions via social media and outdoor partners in Burton, The North Face, Cliff Bar, REI, and Patagonia, to name a few, POW has positioned itself as the de facto leader in an industry in desperate need of one.


[blockquote3]“Last year, 146.1 million Americans participated in an outdoor activity at least once. Many of these are passionate outdoors people, who know how to set goals and have the stamina to take on big challenges,” – Mario Molina, POW Action Fund Executive Director[/blockquote3]


There’s an old saying in the outdoor industry that it is three miles wide, yet only three inches deep. In other words, there has never been a collective voice representing all of outdoor in terms of lobbying or getting the stance of outdoor recreation into the country’s zeitgeist. Protect Our Winters might be the industry’s best chance at breaking through the noise. Perhaps when the Outdoor Party eventually forms, the founders will look back on POW as the founding fathers and mothers of the movement. Or maybe it’s all a sham.


Jones isn’t afraid of the criticism, he says over a coffee. Since the election of a climate change-denying president, Jones says the organization has seen more support.


“On our end, in terms of dollars and in terms of engagement, we’re seeing deniers are truly in the minority,” says Jones. “Seventy-percent of Americans want to see more renewable energy. The deniers are a much smaller group that the news would have you believe.”


Jones has heard the critics before. He’s taken to not checking his Instagram comments. He doesn’t find them constructive, but his climate post following the election was his single most-liked post of the year, a small metric, Jones admits, but uses it to show the needle is moving in the right direction in terms of public sentiment.


“We all have a carbon footprint, and of course we all want to try to keep reducing that every year, and we have all these opportunities to do that, which is great,” says Jones. “We need to always go on that path. But it is the fossil fuel industry, the propping up of the fossil fuel industry that has gotten us to where we are today. It is not because of a bunch of people riding a chairlift, or going and hopping on an airplane that are melting our polar ice caps…it is our reliance on fossil fuels.”


In September, POW created the Protect Our Winters Action Fund, a sister organization. POW Action Fund will train supporters on how to talk about climate change on the chairlift or with family members still unsure of the science. They register people to vote for the November 2018 midterms and beyond. Most importantly, says Jones, the group aims to elect climate champions. Their first endorsements were incumbent Montana Senator Jon Tester and California Fourth Congressional District Candidate Jessica Morse.


“Last year, 146.1 million Americans participated in an outdoor activity at least once. Many of these are passionate outdoors people, who know how to set goals and have the stamina to take on big challenges,” said Mario Molina, Executive Director of the POW Action Fund, in a press release. “That’s a powerful voting bloc. At the POW Action Fund, we will be supporting their efforts by providing practical ways to get involved and advance climate action.”


For Jones, he believes the critics within outdoor need to get past their, in his words, tiny gripes.


“Don’t let perfect get in the way of good,” says Jones. “We need to stop making villains out of someone like [professional skiers] Caroline Gleich or Brody Levin. They are not what is ruining the world. We really need to get out of this little bubble, and that line of thinking, and start coming together and collectively. If we do that, it’s like we’re hummingbirds fighting this dragon. We need a lot of hummingbirds. We can’t be picking apart the hummingbirds if they fly the wrong way or do what they do.”


As the river hums by, Jones says he finds time each day to get outside, to find clarity in the outdoors. With his company, his career, and POW and POW Action Fund, Jones is running at a slow, steady pace, in hopes of making a giant impact on the future of climate politics. Critics be damned.


Is Jer the perfect champion lobbyist who we’d all choose to represent the Outdoor Party? Perhaps not. Maybe, ideally, we’d combine his charisma with the deep knowledge of an Auden Schendler and the data gathering energy of the Outdoor Industry Association. But, for now, Jer’s who we’ve got. Maybe in 20 years, when Outdoor Party members sit in the President’s cabinet and hold high office, we’ll look back on this early era as the foundation of a movment.