But instead of basking in the pure stoke of it all, Jones was restless. He’d been in the mountains long enough to witness a changing world. Winter was growing shorter and less predictable. Steep lines in the Sierra weren’t “in” as much anymore. The science he read about global warming rocked him at an existential level. He thought about future generations of mountain people. He felt helpless just as we all have felt helpless in the throes of climate anxiety. What’s one individual compared to an entire planet? Atlas wouldn’t shrug—he’d be crushed.
As time passed, I became hyper aware of my carbon footprint and also the exclusivity of the snowboarding that I was highlighting. That started to not feel that great.
Jones, though, was compelled to act. He called a friend at the Surfrider Foundation and asked which nonprofit he should cut a check to. It’s human nature: Jones wanted to help save winter with part of his income, but decidedly not his time. Like all of us, Jones was looking for the easy way forward—writing a check. The gliding traverse is less of a pain than the bootpack. But his buddy came back with what for Jones was grim news. There’s nobody working on this that’s making any progress, he said. You’ll have to do it yourself.
“I did not like his answer,” says Jones now. “I chewed on it for two years. Who am I to tell the world what to do? I’d barely graduated high school. I was doing a ton of heli-boarding. But as time passed, I became hyper aware of my carbon footprint and also the exclusivity of the snowboarding that I was highlighting. That started to not feel that great.… Whatever I did had to be bigger than changing light bulbs and ditching plastic water bottles. We had to drive policy changes. Eventually, I called Auden Schendler (Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company) and asked him if he would support my efforts to found the nonprofit that would become Protect Our Winters (POW). It took four years to get it off the ground.”
Today, POW is the strongest voice for climate action in the mountain space. By all metrics other than a planet that continues to warm, POW has been a success. But it hasn’t been easy. The crew works to exhaustion getting out the youth vote.