Working To Protect Our Winters

Photo: Andrew Miller/POW

Catching up with Protect Our Winters founder Jeremy Jones on how to unite different outdoor groups around one common, critical goal.

What do trout anglers, backcountry snowboarders, day-hikers, kayakers, elk hunters, and resort skiers have in common? They all rely on a healthy planet to follow their passions. But while outdoor adventurers of all stripes share this fundamental interest, they don’t always come together on behalf of the places they love—and that’s where Protect Our Winters (POW) comes in.

POW aims to unite outdoor lovers, along with pro athletes, scientists, and outdoor businesses, to fight climate change. The bipartisan nonprofit mobilizes voters to support climate champions and regularly sends representatives to Washington, D.C., to lobby for climate-smart policy. Big-mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones founded POW in 2007, and it’s grown from a small group pushing energy-efficient lightbulbs to an international powerhouse of policy experts, volunteers, and other supporters that orchestrates a variety of campaigns to promote clean energy, electric vehicles, carbon pricing, and the protection of public lands from fossil fuel extraction.

We caught up with Jones, an active father who’s also the founder of Jones Snowboards, to talk climate policy, why the outdoor industry needs to step up, and how today’s polarized political culture is a great opportunity for POW.

PUBLIC LANDS: So how did a snowboarder become the head of the outdoor industry’s most influential climate organization?

JEREMY JONES: Basically, I was seeing changes to the mountains that coincided with what scientists were telling us. That was through glaciers, closed resorts that no longer had natural snow, rain at the top of peaks where that had never happened before…It was clear that climate change was real and our status quo was leading us down the wrong path.

Originally I was like, where do I write my check for climate change? I just couldn’t find an organization that remotely felt right. There were so few, and definitely nothing tied to the outdoor industry. I tried to talk myself out of [starting POW] for two years. But I just kept seeing the issue and I’m like, we need to do something.

How has POW changed since its founding in 2007?

The very first spot we put in front of a Teton Gravity Research film was about reusable water bottles and changing light bulbs. As I surrounded myself with scientists and experts on the issue, [they said] ‘Look, we’re not going to see reduction by just light bulbs and water bottles. We need policy change.’ At that time [around 2008], the Waxman-Markey climate bill had a real chance of getting passed. It’s hands-down the closest we’ve ever come [to passing a meaningful climate bill]. That was the first time we went to Capitol Hill. 

Jeremy Jones smiles for the camera hiking up a mountain with skis Photo: Ming T. Poon/POW

What are POW’s biggest successes so far?

I think we’ve done some good work in Colorado and Montana. Specifically for Montana Senator Jon Tester in a super-tight election. I’m not saying POW got all those votes, but we definitely got a bunch of new voters. 

Frankly, just zooming out, the amount of times I’ll run into a 23-year-old kid who’s fired up on climate, part of POW, on our voters’ guide and voting for the first time—there’s a ton of that. I started noticing POW stickers on all these young kids. Their climate IQ has risen by being plugged into the POW ecosystem. If there was no POW in this space, there’d be a lot fewer people who understand the ins and outs of climate. 

What is POW’s focus these days?

The broad approach is that we need to motivate, rally, and inspire what we call the outdoor state. These 50 million outdoor enthusiasts [for whom] clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet is a central part of their life. We need to turn them into a powerful voting bloc that says, ‘I am not going to support climate deniers. I’m supporting climate champions.’

The reality is, the outdoor state is quite politically divided. It’s split almost in thirds [among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents]. Sixty percent of the outdoor state potentially votes against climate action. What I hear when I’m out in the mountains is, ‘I love POW, you guys are awesome, I support it—but there’s no way in hell I would ever vote for Biden.’ So they’re voting for Trump, the worst climate president we’ve ever had. There’s a disconnect, and that disconnect is an opportunity.

Is the outdoor industry doing enough to address climate change?

If you look at the whole industry, there are some that are doing great work. But to put it in context, the outdoor industry is larger than the extraction industry and the pharmaceutical industry. That’s by overall dollars and by jobs. But there’s not a politician in Washington who’s afraid of crossing the outdoor industry. 

At the last trade show I remember walking the halls, and it was like, recycled this, sustainable that—which is awesome. I’m hyper-focused on that stuff at Jones Snowboards. But all those boots, all those companies, when it comes time to be like, ‘Hey, let’s come together and send a clear message that we need climate action,’ those brands all go really quiet. And that’s super-frustrating for me.

Does being a father affect how you view climate change?

I’ve always framed the climate crisis and the work we’re doing as for the youth and future generations. We’re throwing this huge carbon party and leaving it a mess, and being like, ‘Good luck, guys. Sorry we trashed the planet.’ That’s just so sad. Everything to me is framed around kids. We pass climate policy today, it’s not like next winter, we’ll be like, ‘Look, it’s snowing!’ We’re fighting for 20, 30, 40 years down the line. I want to be able to look my potential grandkids in the eye and go, ‘Yeah, we knew there was an issue, and I rolled up my sleeves on that issue and I put everything I had into it.’

— Want to do more to help protect the places you live and lifestyles you love? Join Team POW.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.