By now everyone is probably well aware that the summers are getting longer and the winters are getting shorter. It is getting warmer (March 2012 temperatures reached the eighties!) and while the standup paddleboard community may benefit from a longer warm season and rising sea levels the snowboarding community is not faring so well. The snow-based recreation industry contributes over 67 billion dollars annually to the U.S. economy and supports more than 600,000 jobs. That is an enormous amount of financial and human resource capitol. If this sector of the economy fails it will send awful rippling effects through the rest of the nation’s fiscal landscape. This is where Jones splitboarding comes to the rescue! Well, not so much at this point- but we will tie that in later. First, a little background.
Global warming has been going on throughout Earth’s history but it normally happens over tens and even hundreds of thousands of years before a noticeable shift takes place. Scientists know this by looking at polar ice samples, geological formations, the fossil record, etc. In contrast, the recent increase in rising worldwide temperatures has taken place inside of just a few decades. Many of the big changes in global temperatures taking place in the last 500 million years have been caused by impacts with large meteors, immense volcanic events or the flipping of the planet’s magnet poles. But over the course of the last century there has been a new event taking place that measures up in scale and impact to those massive natural events. It is, of course, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels- mostly oil and coal. The entire human population now depends on the burning of those two resources for almost all of its energy consumption. And when fossil fuels are converted to energy the process releases carbon compounds in the form of carbon dioxide, which over time, accumulates in the planet’s atmosphere and prevents the sun’s radiation from escaping. Trees and other vegetation absorb carbon dioxide. But with 95% of the world’s old growth forests gone due to unrestrained deforestation and over-population, a natural solution to this problem is far gone. The only thing that can be done to slow down climate change to normal levels is to find alternative sources of energy- and do it quickly.
A shorter winter season with less snow and more rain means that ski areas have to make more snow. Pumping out tons and tons of snow places a heavy burden on local water supplies and is extremely expensive. At the same time, more people are leaving the sport due to less than ideal conditions, which cuts into the industry’s revenue and profits exponentially. Here, in New England, the situation is even direr than out west because of the lower elevations and ocean currents carrying warmer air up from the Gulf of Mexico. Nine of the warmest winters on record have occurred in the last ten years and if people do not see snow in their backyard they are a lot less likely to be thinking about heading north to go snowboarding or skiing.
Enter snowboarding legend and splitboarding pioneer, Jeremy Jones. Jones brought attention to the affects climate change was having on mountain ranges all over the world back in 2007 with start up of his environmental organization, POW (Protect Our Winters). Jones understands climate change because he has seen it first-hand while making snowboarding films. He has seen it year after year in the receding glaciers and degrading snowpack from the Alaskan Range, to the Rocky Mountains, to the European Alps, to the Andes in South America, to the Hokkaido Range in Japan, and the Alps of New Zealand. He has seen it happening in Transantarctic Mountains and as far as the inner circle of the North Pole. When shifts in climate happen this fast in the mountains the snowpack become extremely unstable. In just the last year, 26 people have died in avalanches including an ice climber in New Hampshire. That is 25 times the average for years dating from 2001 and back. POW is not just an effort to promote alternative energy- it is also a means to save lives.
As the landscape that Jones grew up riding in rapidly began to change around him, so did his thinking about what he could do to promote alternative (non-fuel burning) ways to travel in the backcountry. That’s when he took up splitboarding, a means to get to the places in the mountains you need to be without burning a ton of snowmobile and helicopter fuel. He started Jones Snowboards in 2010 and packed the line full of high-end, ultra-fuctional splitboards. He made two epic films, Deeperand Further, to promote what he was doing and give his fans some of the most incredible backcountry snowboarding footage ever seen.
But splitboarding, other than being incredibly fun and healthy, is mostly a symbolic gesture when it comes to mitigating the harmful effects of climate change. POW’s mission is to mobilize the snow sports community to fight climate change through education, activism and supporting community-based projects. Also, the real work needs to be done in the minds and hearts of the people. And for that you need to go to Washington DC and talk with administrative leaders and legislators.
This April Jones, and twelve others comprised of citizens and community and business leaders, were honored at the White House by President Obama. The ‘Champions of Change’ ceremony commemorated Jones and his peers for their hard work and sacrifice towards educating and helping communities and lawmakers understand the real-life threats that climate changing is posing. Jones has since testified before Congress on his work and the importance of taking urgent corrective action on climate change.
There is a lot at stake for ski areas New England. Many will not survive the next 30 years and our kids may only have two or three to choose from way up near the Canadian border in the years to come. It is obviously not only winter recreation that hangs in the balance but also, as exposed by Hurricane Irene and Sandy, a year-round crisis which is unfolding. Hopefully soon, people will have the knowledge and will take on the challenge of climate change by looking for new ways to power our daily lives. If not, the consequences will be evident sooner than expected.