Protect Our Winters Kicks Off Climate Crisis Initiative "The Outdoor State"
By Michelle Bruton, Forbes
Photo by Valeria Ushakova from Pexels
In 2018, 151.8 million people participated in at least one outdoor activity, according to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). But as March turned into April and April approaches May, most of the United States remains under some form of shelter-in-place order as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread.
Ski resorts closed down their mountains, despite the fact that, after December, March is the industry’s busiest month. Hiking trails are chained off. Running and cycling paths lie empty, sometimes behind barricades.
But as the short-term threat of the novel coronavirus holds the entire outdoors industry in its grasp, nonprofit Protect Our Winters (POW), founded by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, is urging voters to come together against the industry’s greatest long-term threat: the climate crisis.
“We believe climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the health of the outdoors, to our communities and even to individual health,” says Marc Berejka, director of community and government affairs at REI, a POW partner.
POW, which since 2007 has connected outdoor enthusiasts to work together to achieve climate protection, has launched a new initiative called The Outdoor State, which will mobilize the more than 50 million people 18 or older, per OIA figures, who regularly play outdoors to vote together as one massive swing state in November. That population would comprise the largest state in the U.S., dwarfing California’s 39.5 million residents.
"In 2018, Protect Our Winters moved the cultural conversation around voting within the outdoor sports community, reaching more than 15 million people in key outdoor communities with a get out the vote message,” says Mario Molina, executive director of POW. “In 2020...50 million people coming together to make the protection of our playgrounds and outdoor lifestyles as well as the re-starting of the economy with clean energy and outdoor jobs a priority, would make us the largest voting block in the country.”
These skiers, snowboarders, climbers, bikers, trail runners, anglers and hikers are their respective state’s greatest hope of enacting legislation to protect the industry that provides many of them their livelihoods and all of them their leisure.
“The issue of our climate should be bipartisan, but as even this pandemic has proven, it seems to come down to economy versus health,” says pro skier Michelle Parker. “Longterm economic stability most certainly depends on the health of our planet.”
But climate change is far from a niche issue affecting only outdoor enthusiasts. According to the OIA, nationally the outdoor recreation economy generates $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million direct national jobs.
And with drought, heat waves, snow scarcity, hurricanes, wildfires and more endangering a robust sector of the economy, every state must come together to advocate for these policies—as one, as The Outdoor State.
“In a time of growing polarization, there is one thing a majority of Americans still share and agree on: our 640 million acres of public lands should be protected,” says Lisa Pike Sheehy, head of environmental activism at Patagonia, a POW partner.
“Outdoor recreation represents $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue that depend on wild places being protected,” Sheehy continues. “We need everyone’s voice to remind our elected representatives that public lands belong to everyone and Americans want them protected.”
Going hand-in-hand with The Outdoor State, POW today launches an event series called “Outdoor State of Mind,” featuring top athletes speaking with scientists, economists and business leaders on climate’s intersection with sports.
Kicking off today, Earth Day, there will be 14 bi-weekly events, with the next one on Thursday, April 23, and continuing every Tuesday and Thursday through June 4.
The first episode, airing at 7 p.m. EST (4 p.m. PST) today, will be hosted by Jones and rock climber Tommy Caldwell. Hosts change with every episode, and will include snowboarders Chloe Kim and Danny Davis; skiers Chris Davenport, Amie Engerbretsen and Parker; ski mountaineers Caroline Gleich, Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison, and more. After each event airs it will be available on the POW website.
People can pledge to vote by texting OUTDOOR STATE to 65351 or signing up here. Doing so will prompt a link to watch all 14 “Outdoor State of Mind” events by text and email, where they can participate in the live, social-distancing style digital events and ask questions.
“What excites me the most is how collective the effort is,” says Jones. “We are seeing our way of life threatened, so naturally we will fight for it.”
Over the last two years, David Perry, EVP of sustainability and special projects at ski resort conglomerate Alterra Mountain Company, has participated with POW in advocacy missions in Washington, D.C. Alterra, Patagonia and REI are Protect Our Winters partners and sponsoring Outdoor State of Mind events.
Most recently, more than 200 people showed up to a pre-COVID-19 Saturday night POW event in Sugarbush, Vermont, featuring Perry, a POW athlete, a representative from The Nature Conservancy and a climate scientist from the University of New Hampshire.
“It’s a testament not only to how POW is making a difference, but how passionate people are about this topic,” Perry says.