How Protect Our Winters (POW) works to empower trail runners.
As a sport, trail running is intimately connected to landscapes. Runners all over the world trace the unique topography of the places they run, scrambling over scraggy ridges, gliding along smooth single track, and outlining the profiles of peaks. The time spent in mountains adds up, and as trail runners continue to return to their favorite haunts, they are bearing witness to changes in the landscape.
Last year, Montana-based trail runner Mike Foote visited most of the remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park.
“What were once massive sheets of ice were now reduced to small alpine glaciers tucked into the park’s far reaches,” Foote explains. “In the time since I began visiting Glacier twenty years ago, several glaciers have become so small they no longer meet the requirements to be considered a glacier. Visiting these places and moving across the bare rock where the ice was 10, 25, 50 years ago was a powerful experience.”
Foote works on various conservation projects in his home state to try and protect the landscapes he loves. He’s also a member of the Protect Our Winters (POW) trail alliance. Founded in 2007 by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones, POW is a climate advocacy nonprofit whose mission is to protect the places we live and experiences we love from climate change. Though it started with a focus on winter sports, POW has since expanded to other disciplines, including trail running.
“I’ve learned most of what I know about climate advocacy from Protect Our Winters,” Jones says. “I started with them in 2017 basically because Donald Trump got elected and I was like, ‘I can’t not do anything, this is insane.’ So I started working with them and they’ve worked with me.”
Since Jones first started with POW, he has observed the organization’s growth in the trail running scene. “When I first started [at POW] I think I was one of the first non-snowsport athletes,” he explains. “Now there are a lot of trail runners working with POW and there’s a lot more messaging around climate action in general and POW in particular and I think they’ve done a good job of integrating into the trail running sphere.”
The POW Alliance now comprises more than 200 athletes, scientists, and creatives across sport categories. Many of these Alliance members are bearing witness to environmental changes in their own lives and sports. POW harnesses the passion of their Alliance by empowering members to be stronger climate advocates.
“The mission of POW is to help people who are passionate about the outdoors protect the places that we all live and the lifestyles that we like to have in the outdoors that are being affected by climate change,” explains Mel Briggs, captain of POW’s Trail Team.
For the 28 trail runners who are members of POW’s Alliance, this means sharing stories of change from the trails they run and mountains they climb and using their platforms to share these stories. But POW does more than just document change, it also mobilizes its Alliance members to help advocate for solutions and increase engagement with climate issues across the outdoor community.
Focused on systemic change, POW works at federal, state, and local levels to identify opportunities for more effective climate solutions. POW’s current campaigns are targeting the need for a clean energy transition.
The landmark 2022 Inflation Reduction Act allocates more than $370 billion to transform how the United States generates, transmits, and consumes electricity. To use this money effectively requires a large-scale shift in how we think about clean energy and appropriate permitting. Throughout this year, POW has worked to help their Alliance members advocate for clean energy development and more effective permitting of locally and regionally important clean energy projects in target states. As a component of this clean energy work, POW is also working to support Rural Electric Cooperatives (RECs) via digital campaigns in support of certain candidates and member education.
While POW advocates for broader, systemic change, they rely on individual Alliance members like runners Dakota Jones and Mel Briggs to help them enact that change. POW works with Alliance members to provide up-to-date information on climate policy, climate science, and opportunities for action. The Alliance members can then share this information for POW-specific events and campaigns but also within their own sports, communities, and networks.
“I use my platform as a professional athlete to try and promote POW’s political agenda for the climate,” explains Jones.
Alliance members are also called on to participate in lobbying events. For example, in 2019 the state of Colorado was considering whether or not to incentivize electric vehicles. Jones, along with several other athletes, went to Colorado to testify. Ultimately, the measure was passed.
More recently, POW sent a group of athlete, scientist, and brand Alliance members to Washington, D.C. in mid-June 2023 to discuss opportunities for enhancing clean energy infrastructure, reforming energy permitting, and addressing clean energy issues that directly impact the outdoor community.
POW brings together athletes in support of the climate but it also empowers athletes to be better climate advocates in their own spaces. POW arms the trail team with the tools they need to be stronger climate advocates and these athletes can then take that knowledge to the broader trail community in their own, unique way.
“[POW has] given me a ton of advice, support, mentorship and all kinds of projects over the years,” explains Jones. “I feel like I’ve been able to learn what advocacy is and how to use my platform the most effectively. And now I have my own non-profit focused on climate action which they’re funding in a big way.”
As the impacts of the climate crisis become more acute, we are facing the consequences in the form of heat waves, prolonged droughts, more frequent and severe wildfires accompanied by bad air quality. Sometimes these changes are sudden and drastic, and sometimes they are subtle and nuanced. In all cases, knowing the land helps us understand and connect with the changes that are happening – and from this place of connection we can take action. As frequent visitors of wild places, trail runners are well-positioned to serve as witnesses of these changes and advocates for more effective climate solutions. POW helps empower runners to translate these observations into meaningful work to address climate change and build a stronger community around climate advocacy.