Gretchen Bleiler on climate change: Do sweat the small stuff

by Dorothy Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

For snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, being environmentally conscious is about doing the small things in her daily life to prevent climate change.

If everyone decided to drink out of reusable water bottles or chose to recycle, it could be enough to deter the long-term impacts of global warming, the Olympic medalist said Wednesday before an audience of about 300 students at Roaring Fork High School.

Bleiler spoke about the importance of being environmentally conscious in light of climate change as a part of a program presented by the nonprofit Protect Our Winters (POW). The program pairs Olympic and X Games medalists with climate experts from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) in a multimedia assembly on climate change and real-world solutions.

Fiona Lard, a 14-year-old freshman and member of the school’s renewable energy club, contacted POW when she heard about the program. This year, the Roaring Fork School District adopted a goal to improve its energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020.

Lard heard of Bleiler’s environmental activism and asked POW representatives if the renowned athlete could speak at her high school. A few weeks later, her dream was a reality, Lard said.

Bleiler told the students that the impacts of climate change are personal. She said she’s witnessed the different weather firsthand during her globe-trotting career as a snowboarder. A lack of snow and unseasonably warm temperatures delaying or canceling competitions are now common occurrences, Bleiler said.

She does what she can to offset the carbon footprint of her own traveling through different, everyday measures like recycling, she said. She also started her own reusable water bottle company, the ALEX Bottle, in an effort to encourage drinking tap water.

And in 2011, Bleiler lobbied Congress alongside skier Chris Davenport to allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon pollution.

Bleiler acknowledged that her career in events like the Winter X Games have often involved aspects harmful to the environment, like gas-guzzling snowmobiles and snow guns.

Still, she doesn’t see the need to sacrifice her passion in order to do the right thing.

“It’s not about being superhuman,” said Bleiler, who withdrew from this year’s X Games as she continues to recover from a training wreck in June. “I don’t think being environmentally conscious means that you can’t go out and do what you love.”

Instead it’s about choosing to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle and do the small things, she said.

There is also a movement in the ski and snowboard community in which professionals opt to climb steep peaks, instead of flying or snowmobiling to a remote location, for fresh powder in an effort to raise awareness. That’s what snowboarder Jeremy Jones did in his Teton Gravity-produced movie trilogy “Deeper, Further and Higher,” she said.

More athletes are seeing their sport as an opportunity to inspire people to find solutions to climate change, Bleiler said. And they have a responsibility to effect change because their livelihoods depend on it, she added.

 Four other professional athletes spoke at area high schools last week in conjunction with POW: two-time X Games medalist Kaitlyn Farrington, snowboard X Games competitor Benji Farrow, pro freeskier Nick Martini and X Games silver medalist Devin Logan.

Since POW launched in 2011, the program has reached more than 13,000 students at high schools around the country, according to a press release on the event.