Olympic Snowboarder Says Neither Utah Nor Colorado Deserve Outdoor Retailer

Gretchen Bleiler says the outdoor industry needs a fearless leader. The Rocky Mountain state isn’t it.


I grew up snowboarding in two of the best states for the sport: Colorado and Utah. The world-class ski mountains in these neighboring states were key factors that allowed me to represent our country in two Olympics and numerous X Games. But today, I have to own up to disappointment with these places I love so much. Now, the two rivals for terrain and powder are competing again. This time, though, unless something changes, it’s a race to the bottom about who can be more environmentally backwards.

In Utah, despite exploding use of public land for recreation, top elected officials want to eliminate or reduce in size the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, financially starve federal land-management agencies and transfer public lands to state ownership to prioritize extractive uses. As a result, Peter Metcalf, the former CEO of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment, and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard called for the Outdoor Retailer trade show to move to another state. In what became a master class in how to wield power, the show, which brings in $45 million to the local economy, will leave the state for good. Clearly, Utah, where elected officials are so unfriendly to the very natural resources that are the source of the outdoor industry’s profit, doesn’t deserve the show. So where should it go?

Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper told the Denver Post that the gear show ought to come to his state. Indeed, Colorado is friendlier to public lands than Utah is. Hickenlooper launched an initiative to improve public-land access statewide, as well as a $100 million plan to develop trails across the state.

But Colorado doesn’t necessarily deserve the show, either. There, sniffing the political winds just after Donald Trump’s election, Hickenlooper backed off a proposed executive order on climate change that, while lacking legislative teeth, set out a clean energy vision for the state. It advocated for reduced carbon emissions and carbon goals that exceed those of the clean power plan. He made this politically motivated move at the same time that other progressive states — Colorado’s competitors for leadership on clean energy, as well as for skiers — anted up in opposition to Trump’s appointment of climate deniers to key posts like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to revamp the state’s energy grid; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a carbon tax to tackle the state’s budget crisis; and California Gov. Jerry Brown suggested that his state could launch climate-monitoring satellites if NASA can’t. There is still an opportunity for Colorado to lead under Hickenlooper, but, as temperature records blow past norms and as Aspen hosts a balmy World Cup finals, time is running short.

Climate change poses a far greater threat to the outdoor industry than even the privatization of the public lands. As just a small example of the impact, consider that in the unusually warm winter of 2016, profits at North Face dropped in part because people really didn’t need warm clothes. Never mind the feast or famine we’re seeing in California around snowfall and rain, or the horrific starts to the European ski seasons lately, with their deadly avalanches.

Colorado’s proposed executive order wasn’t a mandate, and it wasn’t even legally binding. Instead, it was a vision of the possible. But Hickenlooper caved in to the same forces pushing for public-land privatization in Utah — the oil and gas industry.

Colorado and Utah have had a good run with oil, gas and coal. Those fuels powered our economies, created jobs and provided the cheap energy to make the snow-sports business thrive. We owe fossil fuels a huge debt, and as a professional snowboarder, I acknowledge this. But coal is fading away of its own accord (China recently canceled 104 planned coal-fired power plants), and oil and natural gas face growing competition from electric vehicles and wind energy. In fact, Elbert County, Colorado, just welcomed a billion-dollar wind development, including a new transmission line, making the state a locus for American’s fastest-growing profession: wind technician.

The writing is on the wall. The old extractive order is behind us. We need to find new, lower-carbon ways to fuel our economies — whether that means the snow-sports industry or the travel business, manufacturing or high-tech. And the state that wins the prize of the Outdoor Retailer trade show ought to be a clear and fearless leader on both land and climate issues.

If Colorado and Utah are unwilling to adapt, both will lose out, not just to competing states that capture environmentally minded trade shows and the clean energy economy, but in the race to provide viable national political leaders for the future.

This story was produced by High Country News. Gretchen Bleiler is an Olympic silver medalist and four-time X Games gold medalist who lives in Aspen, Colorado, and serves on the board of Protect Our Winters. Photo by Clark Weber

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Showing 9 comments
  • Carson
    Reply

    Gretchen Bleiler makes some very good points in this piece, but here’s another possible impediment to OR moving its two shows to Denver:

    I was peripherally involved when SIA moved from Las Vegas to Denver in 2007.
    The original contract between SIA and the Denver CVB granted SIA the right to block any trade show it deemed competitive from using the convention center for a 60 day period before and after SIA. (Almost 100% sure it was 60. Could have been 30).
    This would mean that SIA could block Winter OR from being held in Denver between November 25th and March 28th, given that SIA os scheduled for Jan 25-28. And before you ask, it’s not economically feasible to have the two OR Shows in different locations.

    Disclaimer: I’m talking about the original contract, which may well have been amended or updated on the last 10 years to remove this clause. Also, SIA HQ has since relocated to Park City, which would make the Salt Palace much more convenient for them, toxic public lands policies nonwithstanding.

  • Groove-Colo
    Reply

    Gretchen, there are at least 3 separate logical arguments here and tying them all together for, exactly what alternative, eludes me. 1. driving factors for “privatization” of public lands 2. the boycott by organizations the likes of Black Diamond, Patagucci, Arcterex and others and 3. criticism of state’s policies be it CO or UT. There are largely federally driven implications and with the GOP led congress these fights will undoubtedly get more fierce.

    I commend you for your comments and for outspokenness. In this day and age with Federal environmental agencies going “rogue” with their views, a bizarre confused state of Federal policy and the likes of Scott Pruitt – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/03/09/on-climate-change-scott-pruitt-contradicts-the-epas-own-website/?utm_term=.ac32aa068f71, as a nation, we can certainly use more cooperation and dialog on such issues.

    Still, your points deserve more backing, references, and a more concise stance on possible alternatives. More criticisms of those decision makers driving such bad policies would certainly help. A quick google search turned up both http://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/2/2/14479462/chaffetz-public-lands-backlash and http://www.denverpost.com/2017/02/10/boycott-outdoor-retailer-utah/

    “Deserving” isn’t necessarily the question at hand. More to the point would be how/why the hell did we get to a stage where our progress and strides towards preserving our environment and resources are now moving backwards? CO and UT are at the forefront of such environmental movements, justifiably so.

    I like what REI CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote. “Now more than ever, we need to act together to advocate and find a common voice to protect our most important asset — our public lands.” We should be concentrating on how to better find those common voices not promote competition between states that are fighting a confused and back-tracking GOP not to mention what we as outdoor enthusiasts feel about Dumpf!

    Thanks nonetheless for your voice. With your notoriety as an Olympian it is always welcome.

    • Dave
      Reply

      Jeeze, Groove-Colo… been grading a few too many school assignments, lately? (“…your points deserve more backing, references, and a more concise stance…”) Whew! If this was meant as constructive criticism, well, it was out of place and over the top. Write your own damn essay! Well done, Gretchen.

  • Kathleen Gasperini
    Reply

    Gretchen, I agree, as do many others in terms of opening up the conversation. I am from the snow industry, and recently completed Former Vice President Al Gore’s training in Denver March, 2017, and so now I am a Climate Reality Leader. Your conversation is so important. There is a group of us forming a steering committee about this issue.

    From what we learned, you are correct about UT and CO.

    Thank you and please contact me. Thank you for presenting your comments. Thank you to Adventure Journal.

  • Brian Barry
    Reply

    Thank you for bringing such critical issues to the mainstream. It’s great to have such an evident lover-of-the-outdoors, and someone we look up to and with whom we can relate with, speak to those of us who also love our playtime outdoors and care about where our giant playgrounds are headed! ✌

  • Mr. Pragmatic
    Reply

    I’m all for renewables but, unless the author rides a bike to the trailhead and uses a split-board* to get up the mountain, he’s going to be stuck with fossil fuels to aid his outdoor pursuits for awhile yet.

    *made without petroleum products

    • Susan
      Reply

      Yep. Let’s not forget that tourism and the ENTIRE ski industry is ALL about wasting natural resources for pleasure. Fly your jet into Aspen, get your fresh fish flown into Jackson Hole from Hawaii or Alaska, travel long distances to play & party in the newest coolest town with a bazillion other people who LEAVE A TRACE, wear the latest clothes made from synthetics which shed oil-based micro fibers that pollute the water, post pretty pictures on Instagram and Facebook which use massive server farms consuming vast quantities of electricity to keep everybody clued in to all your advertiser-driven hipness, use wind energy which kills thousands of birds and spoils the landscape, use hydro and dam the wild rivers, etc etc etc……

      Gretchen Bleiler is correct. We owe fossil fuels a huge debt. She probably fully understands the failings of groups like POW and the harm that outdoor enthusiasts can create in the backcountry. I’m not suggesting that she is a horrible hypocrite for attacking the politicians who might drain the backcountry of any life if given the chance to earn a dollar. Everyone is a hypocrite. There are degrees of hypocrisy that are certainly different. Perhaps hers is less offensive.

      As for the idea that climate change poses a far greater threat to the outdoor industry than the privatization of the public lands, I see no evidence of that. It might mean that people are spending more time on their $7000 mountain bikes instead of on their $5000 skiing quivers. Will people try to stop the next ice age? Adapt. Welcome the warming. You probably can’t stop it at this point. There’s no proof that you can, really.

      There’s no proof that life as we know it WILL be better in the future. Who needs skiing? Some people are doing without basic medical care in this world. Will they be better off if we divert trillions to whatever the latest solution is to deal with climate change? They’ll probably die before their lives are impacted by climate change. Are we doing this climate stuff for HUMANS? Why aren’t we helping the people who are suffering now? Instead we pour millions, billions, into fighting climate change with no certainty that we will be better or worse off.

      • Groove-Colo
        Reply

        Thanks Susan!

        Not a lot of trust in your own gov’t, I take it? For a lot of things, right now, me too! Thankfully, however, this information hasn’t yet been torn down by our current administration. Please read and take heart,

        “…it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.[2]”

        https://www.epa.gov/climate-change-science/causes-climate-change

        These are our own scientists. REAL scientists. EPA scientists. They have committed their lives to the study of climate change.

        “Models that account only for the effects of natural processes are not able to explain the warming observed over the past century. Models that also account for the greenhouse gases emitted by humans are able to explain this warming.”

        We as care takers of this earth for our generation and generations to come owe a debt to the earth and MUST take care to ensure that the type of climate change experienced in our lifetime is properly recognized ALONG with the causes. Humans.

        Please recognize the data for what it is, (honestly, it’s quite easy to read…) – https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-07/models-observed-human-natural.png

        We can change! We can make a difference. It’s no time to give up!

        • Davio
          Reply

          You missed Susan’s point. She didn’t deny climate change, nor did she deny a human hand in climate change.

          Perhaps you can answer her concerns about the cost of ‘preventing’ climate change compared to the cost of adapting to it, and perhaps you can provide proof that humans can actually stop the warming at this point and that the cost is worth the effort. Provide proof that the world and its people won’t benefit from climate change in the long run. Do we really want a world with 8 billion people? Perhaps climate change is God’s plan to cull the weak and keep the planet hospitable to humans going forward. Will you try to stop the next ice age if we are able to reverse global warming? Can you provide proof that you can stabilize the climate?

          Personally, I’d rather help those who are suffering NOW from war, poverty, famine, crime, failing health, poor education, etc, and learn to adapt to a changing climate. There are no guarantees that anything you do will make the world better for the human race in the long run or the short run. It’s all guesstimates.

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