ASPEN - Chris Davenport has climbed to the top of the world and skied slopes in Colorado best left to mountain goats, so he should be undaunted this week when he visits the treacherous terrain of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Davenport is part of a delegation that will lobby members of Congress Wednesday to take action on climate change. He and professional snowboarders Gretchen Bleiler (an Aspen native) and Jeremy Jones will speak up for the winter sports industry as representatives of the nonprofit group Protect Our Winters, or POW.
"It's a very neat opportunity, and one I don't take lightly," Davenport said.
He said he has been following climate change issues for years as a "mountain person" who has made a career on adventures to snow-encrusted locales. He summited Mount Everest earlier this year, and he previously skied all of Colorado's 54 peaks higher than 14,000 feet in one year.
He said much of the national debate surrounding the regulation of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change, "drives me crazy right now." Some politicians ignore the overwhelming scientific research that shows mankind's burning of fossil fuels is contributing to global warming, he said.
"It's such nonsense, and it's just embarrassing," Davenport said.
An energy bill that would have capped greenhouse gases died in Congress last year, Davenport noted, and parts of the Clean Air Act that deal with carbon have been "gutted."
He is frustrated that greenhouse gas regulation often gets branded as a job-killer. The POW delegation wants to make sure Congress realizes that the snowsports industry - everything from ski makers to resort operators - also creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and generates billions of dollars of commerce.
"We're trying to say there's this tremendous industry out there that relies on long, cold winters and snow," Davenport said. "We're not trying to show up as expert witnesses [on scientific issues]. We're speaking out for the winter sports industry."
While he might not be an expert witness, Davenport has witnessed changes that may be tied to climate change. Glaciers are retreating in places where he has skied in the Alps, he said. Closer to home, Snowmass Mountain - the 14,000-foot peak, not the ski area - used to cradle the largest permanent snowfield in Colorado. Now that snowfield doesn't survive the summer.
Davenport, Bleiler, Jones and Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler will attend a reception Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and Sen. Mark Udall, both Democrats from Colorado, at the Capitol Visitor Center. On Thursday, they will be the featured speakers at a Natural Resources Defense Council press conference. That will be an opportunity for POW to deliver its message to a broader audience, Davenport said.
Chris Steinkamp, executive director of POW, said professional winter athletes are excellent "influencers" on climate change. They have greater star power and can get a message across more effectively than other presenters simply because people listen to them, Steinkamp said. He noted that Aspen High School students listened wide-eyed earlier this year when Bleiler spoke to them on climate change during the Winter X Games.
Jones, one of the best big-mountain snowboarders in the world, formed POW in 2007. Bleiler and Schendler are members of POW's board of directors, as is Penn Newhard, owner of Backbone Media in Carbondale. Davenport regularly works with POW, and he was a spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co.'s Save Snow campaign.
Steinkamp said winter sports athletes naturally rally around the issue of saving snow and easing climate change.
"The thing about POW is that we want to be a platform for pro athletes to enable their environmental activism," Steinkamp said. "So whether it is getting them into schools to talk with students, going to D.C. with them, writing op-eds with them, or something as simple as giving them the added tools for media appearances, pros are such positive influencers that its important to us that we help give them that platform."
POW wants to "disrupt" the usual message that lobbyists for the fossil fuel industries deliver to members of Congress. POW's representatives will deliver a letter to the U.S. House and Senate that opposes legislation to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to limit carbon pollution.
Schendler said the Capitol Hill trip is exactly the kind of activism that the Skico supports. Ski resorts can do more to help the environment by pushing for legislation to regulate carbon rather than "greening" their ski areas, he said.