Champion of Change

Courtesy Protect Our Winters

Since founding Protect Our Winters, Jones has become a frequent Capitol Hill visitor.

Protect Our Winters (POW) founder Jeremy Jones was named one of President Barack Obama's "Champions of Change" this spring in a White House ceremony honoring 12 Community Resilience Leaders.

Jones -- 2013 National Geographic "Adventurer of the Year" nominee and Snowboarder Magazine's 10-time "Best Big Mountain Rider of the Year" -- started POW to address the effects of climate change he was witnessing and experiencing firsthand during the filming of his "Deeper," "Further," "Higher" backcountry snowboarding movie trilogy. His last trip to Washington, D.C. was to present a study commissioned by POW and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) detailing the potential economic and job loss in the winter-sports industry and the many towns that industry supports, as snowfall gets increasingly sporadic and unpredictable.

Jones left for a three-week splitboarding adventure in the Eastern Alaska Range shortly after his trip to the White House, but we managed to track him down just as he was prepping for his next mission to Alaska's Denali National Park. We haven't caught up with you since you were honored at the White House. You've already made several trips to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. At this rate you're going to need to find a suit and tie sponsor for all your trips to Washington.
Jeremy Jones:
I still don't know how to tie a tie, but maybe a couple more trips and I'll have that down! The White House Champions of Change recognition was a huge honor, even though we didn't actually get to meet Obama.

I've been to Capitol Hill a handful of times now, and it definitely feels like the conversation about climate change in Washington has changed a bit in that time. Eight years ago this would have been a harder Champions of Change group to pull together, and now there are hundreds of good people out there working on these issues.

I was honored to be among the 12 highlighted this year, but it also makes it all the more frustrating that we really haven't had any big victories yet. There's a lot of work ahead of us on every front.

Less than one percent of all skiers and snowboarders have gotten involved with our efforts, and less than one percent of all companies in the snow or outdoor adventure industry are part of POW.
Jeremy Jones

Are you surprised by how quickly opportunities like this have come up since starting POW?
In certain matters, yes. Going to the White House? I definitely never anticipated that.

But then again less than one percent of all skiers and snowboarders have gotten involved with our efforts, and less than one percent of all companies in the snow or outdoor adventure industry are part of POW.

We have an annual board meeting at SIA and the reality is that there are still only about five companies who meaningfully support what we're trying to do.

So this whole thing is really in its infancy with a whole lot of untapped potential and whole lot still to be done, and you try not to let walking into the White House go to your head.

What are you optimistic about?
We have a couple different efforts that we're doing on the political front and we continue to get better at that, but what I'm most excited about is our Hot Planet/Cool Athletes school program, where we go in with an athlete and a climate specialist and do an interactive presentation to school kids.

The message is, "Hey this is the world you're coming into and here are some people doing some great things to solve some of the problems, and we need you to step up and face this challenge."

You can really knock your head against the wall in Washington, but seeing how enthusiastic the kids are and how ready they are is where it gets uplifting and gives you some hope for what's next.

"Higher," the third installment of your movie trilogy, is now under way. What's different about your approach to this project compared to the first two films?
I've learned so much over the last five years about going into the mountains on foot, finding really special lines, and documenting them. We're just getting started on this two-year project, and already it's been incredible for us.

I was able to ride off the Grand Teton in knee-deep powder on a line I'd been trying to put together for five years now. And the other trip we did this year was in the Eastern Alaska Range.

We thought we'd go in there for 7-10 days and it ended up being 20 days. I rode the biggest and most challenging line I've ever ridden in Alaska. I feel like we're really hitting our stride, and the attitude and vibe of these trips has been really special.

While you were in Alaska in April you got word that your Jones Snowboards sales rep Joe Timlin and some other friends and colleagues were among the dead in the avalanche on Loveland Pass in Colorado. How did getting that news affect that trip?

Courtesy Protect Our Winters

A "Champion of Change" is an honor given by the White House to 12 citizens, businesses, and community leaders who are working to prepare their communities for the consequences of climate change.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the first time I've gotten a call like that. But that doesn't make it any easier. I was literally driving to the airstrip and got the call an hour before I was going into the mountains for three weeks.

The last thing I wanted to do at that point was go into the mountains, and I pretty much crawled into them that day. I would say "timid" is an understatement.

But as sad and horrific as it was for us, and the mood of the camp at the start of that trip -- which was at an all-time low -- crawling into the mountains is actually the attitude you want to have. You don't want to come into serious terrain full of testosterone, over-amped and overconfident.

But being out there was also a good place for us to work out those thoughts in our head and begin the healing process. I went and rode the biggest line of my life, and did it thinking of Joe and those guys.

It was very emotional, and we ended up naming the mountain Mt. Timlin out of respect. All five of those guys were in our thoughts that whole trip.

Is there any one message you really hope comes across in your films?
The bottom line is I've made thousands of good calls in the mountains and they don't mean anything tomorrow when I go into the mountains. We're all one bad call away from not coming home.

The dangers are real, and rule No. 1 is: Come home. The words "ride to live another day" probably go through my head a hundred times every day when I'm making decisions in the mountains.

Related Content