Protect Our Winters Canada has officially arrived. Originally started by big mountain pioneer Jeremy Jones in the United States, the climate advocacy group has been has been working hard to connect with communities, lobbying congress to fight for a clean energy future, and much more. While many athletes and citizens in Canada were involved, and the issues are undoubtedly global, there was a certainly a void in Canada’s climate awareness as far as the outdoor community goes.
Make America Deep Again? How About Keep Canada Deep.
Among the many outdoor athletes in their Athlete Alliance, our friend and snowboarding icon Marie France-Roy will be acting as Vice Chair of P.O.W. Canada. We caught up with her in between film tour stops and winter scheming to hear where Protect Our Winters Canada is at, and where they are headed.–Ben Osborne
What’s up Marie? Tell the people a bit about yourself, and what Protect Our Winters is all about.
Hi! My name is Marie France-Roy, I am from Quebec but moved to BC over a decade ago and I have been snowboarding for a living for about 13 years. I joined Protect Our Winters a while back as a donor, and also as a member of their Athlete Alliance. By definition, P.O.W is a passionate crew of diehards, professional athletes and industry brands mobilizing the outdoor sports community to lead the charge towards positive climate action.
It was started in 2007 in the United States by world-renowned big mountain snowboarder (and absolute legend), Jeremy Jones. Their mission was to focus on educational initiatives, political advocacy and community-based activism around climate change.
Mike Douglas reached out to me a few months ago and asked me if I was interested in being on the Board of Directors to start P.O.W in Canada. Of course, it was an honor for me to accept and get involved. David Erb, now the director, is the one who got it all started. He comes from a background of management experience in the business and charitable sectors in Canada and had been reaching out to P.O.W USA for years to make something happen in our country. Thanks to him and Mike Douglas, it is now happening and we have a few other amazing members the board too.
What are your past experiences with environmental initiatives?
Well, I have been a member of P.O.W for several years as a part of their Athlete Alliance. I did a few talks in schools as well as several different initiatives in my own life and throughout my career. I produced a movie called “The Little Things” a few years ago which featured different snowboarders who were inspiring for their sustainable and simple ways of living. I built my own home on Vancouver Island with sustainable building principles, which I describe as my dirt palace! For the last two years, my friend Alicia Gilmour and I organized the Triple Plank, a fun snow, surf, skate contest on Vancouver Island and managed to raise over $10,000 for Central Westcoast Forest Society, a local stream and habitat restoration non-profit organization.
Have you laid out some specific goals as P.O.W Canada? Any specific areas you are looking at?
For now, our main goal is to work on behalf of the outdoor community (youth, enthusiasts, professional athletes and industry brands) to take real action against climate change by turning our collective passion into a movement. In this early stage, we first need to establish ourselves in Canada with as many members and athletes as possible, so we are inviting everyone to get onboard and subscribe online, it’s free and really easy! Our first plan of action consists of a few different initiatives which are: Athletes presentations at schools with our “Hot Planet, Cool Athletes” program, Educator Climate Resource Portals, Community Events, and Store Displays.
To get started, MEC is hosting a Launch Tour for us this Fall across Canada so make sure to tell your friends and come check it out!
When did you make that connection between the environment, your lifestyle e as a professional snowboarder, and your ability to influence people?
I feel very lucky because I grew up in Canada, right along the St-Lawrence River, surrounded by forests, lakes, and tons of room to play outside all day. Even before I knew what pollution meant, I had already seen it with my own eyes as a very young child. We are the product of our environment and I loved spending time alone in nature, either fishing, catching salamanders and snakes, or playing with bugs. But I could also see the effects of human development on my playground and what was taken away from the wildlife and their habitats. It was with an innate awareness for me that humans were affecting the natural ecosystems in many different ways. I didn’t need to hear it from scientists, it was obvious. It became so apparent and important to me that I decided that this is what I wanted to do for work, from a very young age. I studied Applied Ecology for three years after high school at Le Cegep de La Pocatiere and I absolutely loved it. Snowboarding had a big play in my path too, it solidified my love for the outdoors even more because I was outside doing what I loved and it became my number one passion and to be real, more like an obsession, ha!
If I wanted to speak up, I needed to live off the grid somewhere in the woods with no footprint at all and quit my career. But would that actually help fix the problem that much? Is that the best thing I can do in my power to make a difference? Who would listen or care what I have to say then? It took me ten years just to say “You know what, that is bullshit.”
I started snowboarding at 11 years old at my local hill Le Massif and got into different competitions across the province in high school and during college. I never thought I had what it took to become a professional snowboarder but most young riders at the time naturally had that fantasy and so did I. My final internship for my Applied Ecology degree was at the Vancouver Aquarium. Since it was so close, I decided to move to Whistler for one year before getting a real job in my field, just to experience the west coast mountains and powder at least once in my life. During that year, snowboarding took off for me and that totally changed my route. For the last ten years I’ve been snowboarding for a living, but that environmental passion and responsibility feeling never left.
It’s a truly remarkable career to be a professional snowboarder but it comes with certain aspects that didn’t fully align with my environmental path: sponsors requiring you to promote consumption of more products, flying all over the world to attend contest and different events, heliskiing, and cat skiing. My environmental footprint kept growing and so did my guilt. As much as I cared about the environmental issues, I felt like I couldn’t speak up about it because of my own footprint and people questioning my credibility. I felt so helpless. I almost quit snowboarding over it and figured that if I wanted to speak up, I needed to live off the grid somewhere in the woods with no footprint at all and quit my career. But would that actually help fix the problem that much? Is that the best thing I can do in my power to make a difference? Who would listen or care what I have to say then? It took me ten years just to say “You know what, that is bullshit”. As soon as we are born we are all hypocrites, we all are users of fossil fuels whether we want it or not and living off grid requires some fossil fuels too! The very reason I need to speak up is to change it.
We all have a footprint, and yes, mine may be bigger or smaller than others. But my platform and voice is also bigger than most, my circle of connections is too, and these are the best tools I have to make a difference. I believe the environment is the foundation of it all but it is also directly tied with our political, economic and social challenges and that is all too complex to be fixed overnight by only a small group of people. It requires the whole population to get involved and help with whatever different assets and skills they have.
Let’s focus our precious time and energy toward solutions. Let’s encourage and support the people that are speaking up and working on the front lines. Coming together is the most efficient way to get more people involved and accelerate solutions.
How do you think POW helps on a country wide level and how does it help the individual with the guilt you experienced?
The athletes at P.O.W are the secret ingredient. It is proven that people, especially the youth, are more likely to connect about issues if it is brought up by someone they admire or a close friend instead of experts, teachers or even parents.
As far as country wide action, once again, the athletes hold the secret key. An Olympic gold medallist not only has the power to inspire kids, they also have an extremely respected voice when they bring the environmental issues on behalf of the outdoor industry to Parliament Hill. They have legitimate power to influence elected official to consider our message and affect policies.
Protect Our Winter’s goal is to empower the youth to become climate advocates. Surveys are showing that climate change is the number one issue that millennials are concerned about for last three years. Let’s give them the confidence and tools to insure a good quality of life for their generation and the next.
It’s easy to be dedicated to the environment when you live in a beautiful place. How do you think we can reach the people in parts of Canada that aren’t as innately beautiful and volatile to the effects of Climate change?
I think that’s a fair question. The connection to the land is so important. It’s easy to do a talk in Whistler, because all the kids are already onboard and taking their own initiatives up there. It’s true that if you go to Saskatchewan or Alberta, some may have a different reality or influence. The economy is different and the values are different. Connecting kids to nature through sports is always a good way, but not every kid there has that option. In that case, I think we really have to connect the audience with nature being our lifeline. We have to show them the bigger picture. Influence them to travel, spend more time outdoors, help them realize where their food and water comes from and why that is so important. Canada is truly beautiful and there are a ton of beautiful landscapes and outdoor gems to discover in every single province and community. Maybe we need to take them on a camping trip! Something this simple can be enough for them to understand: this is your food, you air, your water—and once it’s gone, everyone’s quality of life will not be the same.
Totally. So, what’s next? How can people get involved and where is P.O.W. at now? Also, we know you’ve got shred plans this winter…what’s up?
The Website just launched today so make sure to head over and subscribe! Like I said, It’s free and really easy: www.protectourwinters.ca. You can donate, look at what we are doing and what we have planned for the next year. You can even send in a request to have your school host a POW assembly with the athletes.
My personal plans for the winter are still getting determined every day and change all the time, but it’s always busy with good stuff. I am on tour for The Radicals Film right now which is super exciting and shining the light on several ongoing issues. This winter, I will be doing different projects with Patagonia and Arbor, I will be a part of a few different split board clinics, and we will host the third annual Triple Plank in the Spring along with a lot of P.O.W work in between. It’s gonna be fun! Cheers!
For more information on how to get involved, visit www.protectourwinters.ca.