by DOUG SCHNITZSPAHN
Gretchen Bleiler is the greatest female snowboarder in Colorado history. The winner of a silver medal in the Olympics and four X Games gold medals, she’s been honored with an ESPY Award for best female action sports athlete and been inducted into the Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame and the Action Sports Hall of Fame. She may have retired from competition at the end of the 2014 season, but she has focused her energy into new passions: fighting climate change as a member of Protect Our Winters (protectourwinters.org) and deepening her meditation practice and teaching. She took the time to talk to us while attending the COP21 climate change talks in Paris last month.
What did you experience at COP21 that gave you hope when it comes to climate change?
There is no silver-bullet solution to limiting our warming to no more than two degrees, but there is a “silver buckshot.” That means we will have to divide the task up among a wide array of existing partial fixes that add up to a whole solution. This is why leadership in every sector, and at every level, is necessary for change. I was able to see how sports—from the NHL and Formula E to UEFA and The Green Sports Alliance—can, and will, play a huge role in this shift. All industries are either suppliers or sponsors of sport and it is also sport that transcends our differing political and religious beliefs and creates a harmonizing platform that brings us all together like nothing else.
While in Paris, I also saw a climate simulation called En-ROADS. It’s like a video game that puts us in the leadership role in order to develop our own climate deal (basically simulating the agreement our world leaders are working on now at COP21). It was an empowering simulation. All developed and developing countries have zero to 10 years to reach our peak emissions; after that we must decrease our carbon footprint by four percent annually in order to reduce warming to the essential 2 degree Centigrade marker by 2100. We absolutely have the power to do this as a global society. I encourage everyone to play the simulation for themselves (climateinteractive.org/tools/c-learn).
How can Protect Our Winters (POW) make a difference when so much of the debate seems deadlocked in partisan politics?
Coming together, getting educated and taking action to demand the reduction of our carbon emissions from the local, to national and global levels is the social movement that has been missing from climate activism. Protect Our Winters is filling that void by mobilizing the 23 million snowsports enthusiasts in the U.S. that make up a $66 billion dollar winter tourism industry. We are a group of athletes, scientists, small businesses, outdoor brands and resorts with a lot of passion, a lot of influence, and a huge economic impact.
What is POW doing to educate younger snowboarders and skiers?
POW has a program that I helped to moderate called Hot Planet, Cool Athletes. This video takes students through some of the climate science but is also paired with members of POW’s Riders Alliance, a group of over 70 of the top snow sports athletes from around the world. They share their own first hand experiences with climate change, how they have gotten involved in the solutions, and how students can also take action. We have met with over 50,000 students in the past four years.
You have been getting more deeply involved in mediation. How do you practice and how does this affect what you do out on the mountain and in your day-to-day life?
I’ve been practicing a mantra based meditation since 2009. It’s been so instrumental in my competitive career and daily life, so I became a Primordial Sound Chopra Center certified meditation teacher in 2014. I’ve also now been doing a lot of speaking around the idea of being able to tap into “flow state” when it matters most in everyday life. Meditation is a really powerful tool that goes along with that concept. [Learn more about Gretchen’s three-part teaching at GretchenBleiler.com.]
How does your meditation practice resonate with your work with POW?
Meditation helps us connect with what matters most in life. To me that’s living life to the fullest and we just can’t live a healthy and full life if the environment we depend on is compromised by our own behavior. That’s why working with POW is so important. It’s about shifting our awareness to see that we are interconnected to one another and our earth and therefore must change our behavior to reflect it.
Do you still find time to get out and enjoy riding?
After retiring from competition, I quickly ended up falling in love with my splitboard. Snowboarding has always been a way for me to push past my boundaries and ideas of what’s possible, and adventures in the deep mountains on my splitboard definitely do just that!