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    March 31, 2017 | 6:00 AM

    Making the Snow Stick: I AM PRO SNOW’s Mission to Preserve Our Mountain Communities

    First published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

    As a native of the Adirondack Park in upstate New York —a place known for its skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports—I’m just one of many who live for all things winter, as an avid Nordic skier, ice skater, and snowshoer. Over the past few years, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of the climate crisis on my community, and it has moved me to join The Climate Reality Project’s I AM PRO SNOW program to save the snow culture I love so dearly.

    We in the Adirondack Mountains rely on tourism as a major pillar of our year-round economy, but especially during the winter. Less snow not only means fewer skiers, snowmobilers, and other winter sports enthusiasts, but also fewer restaurant patrons, booked hotel rooms, and visitors to our cultural institutions.

    Last year we had a “winter that wasn’t.” Numerous regional and international events, including the Freestyle World Cup, Lake Placid Loppet (a long distance Nordic race), and the annual Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival, were canceled because of a lack of snow and frequent thaws. This winter started strong but by the third week of February, temperatures soared into the 50s and 60s, melting snowpack. At the 2017 World Snowshoe Championships, we had to truck in man-made snow and competitors raced in shorts and t-shirts. Unlike in a typical Adirondack winter, Mother Nature failed to keep the cold and snow coming.

    These rising temperatures, decreasing ‘snowpack’ days, and more frequent and earlier thaws – along with the greater flood risk, increasingly regular heavy storms, and uptick in invasive species we’re seeing thanks to the crisis – may be foreshadowing of a drastically different Adirondacks in the future—an Adirondacks without snow, a place unrecognizable to our communities of winter enthusiasts.

    In the summer of 2015, I was trained as a Climate Reality Leader by former Vice President Al Gore and his organization, The Climate Reality Project, in Toronto, Canada, an experience that catalyzed my own action and advocacy on this issue. Over the past two years, I’ve helped over 20 high school students and teachers get involved in Climate Reality’s I AM PRO SNOW program through my role as director of programs in the Youth Climate Initiative at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, New York.

    I AM PRO SNOW looks critically at the climate crisis through the lens of snow-dependent regions like the Adirondacks and my students and I have been proud to spread the program’s message while working  to preserve and protect our ways of life in the place we call home. These young people I work with on a daily basis care so deeply about this issue, and I’m constantly amazed at the work they’re doing to educate people in our community about how climate change affects all aspects of our lives. The enthusiasm and passion they have is infectious, and for me, it’s a source of hope that we can solve this momentous challenge.

    There are other reasons to hope as well. Just this past week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that three New York-owned ski resorts – Belleayre Ski Resort, Gore Mountain, and Whiteface Mountain – were joining another Climate Reality initiative and making the 100% Committed pledge. The 100% Committed campaign works with individuals, resorts, mountain communities, businesses, and towns to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, with the institutions that sign the pledge committing to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030. Already, major mountain towns like Boulder, CO and Park City, UT are getting on board.

    Belleayre Ski Resort, Gore Mountain, and Whiteface Mountain represent  the first resorts on the East Coast to make the commitment, and I could not be more thrilled that my home state is taking action to protect the economies and livelihoods of communities like mine. Local and regional action on climate, like these commitments to renewable electricity, are making a real difference in reducing emissions, and with enough support behind us, this movement has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about powering our communities. Renewable energy will not be just an option; it will be an imperative.

    Mountain communities all over the world are on the front lines of climate change, but with the many solutions we have at hand, we have the tools to fight back. Urge your communities, local businesses, college campuses, cities, and towns to partner with Climate Reality and sign the 100% Committed pledge, and help us make the snow stick. 

    Jen Kretser

    Director of Programs for The Wild Center

    Jen Kretser is Director of Programs for The Wild Center – a place-based science museum located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York State. Jen manages all creative education and community-based program development and implementation. One of her favorite Wild Center initiatives is the Youth Climate Program which convenes, engages and empowers young people to build climate literacy and take action in their schools and communities on climate change. The Wild Center’s Adirondack Youth Climate Program was highlighted by the White House Office of Science & Technology in 2014 as a model program and has been replicated in other parts of New York State, Vermont, Seattle, Detroit, Finland and most recently, Sri Lanka. In December 2015, Jen represented the Wild Center and the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) at the UN COP 21 climate talks in Paris where she had the opportunity to participate in an I AM PRO SNOW panel. Jen became a Climate Reality Leader in 2015 in Toronto CA and since then, has helped to bring over 20 high school students to Climate Reality Trainings and continue to empower youth voice and action on climate change. Jen can be found exploring the Adirondack Park on foot and on skies, making art at BluSeed Studios in her hometown of Saranac Lake, or seeking adventure in far-flung places.