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Sunday, July 29, 2012
Updated: August 3, 7:13 PM ET
How'd you get that sweet job?

By John Symms

Protect Our Winters Executive Director Chris Steinkamp.

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[Editor's note: Jobs are hard to find these days. But that doesn't mean your dream job in the snowsports industry isn't still out there waiting for you. In this interview series, we talk to folks who have seemingly great gigs, filled with travel, powder, and changing the world for the better. Read on for advice on how they got there and how you can find your way in, too.]

If you reading this blog, you're probably somebody who likes cold temperatures and plentiful snowfall. Chris Steinkamp does too. Along with pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, Steinkamp heads up the nonprofit Protect Our Winters, an organization founded in 2007 to spread awareness and help push for policy changes that will limit climate change. As the organization's executive director, Steinkamp has awarded grants to clean energy startups, arranged for athletes to speak in front of schools and he's even gotten the likes of Jeremy Jones and Chris Davenport into a shirt and tie to present their case to Congress in Washington DC.

Tell me a little bit about your organization, Protect Our Winters. What is your mission and what do you do to achieve it?
After traveling around the world for years, Jeremy Jones saw snowfall levels change in many of the places he visited annually. He didn't see anybody from the winter sports community doing anything to address climate change. There was this gap between what was happening to our mountains and the action being taken. Jeremy saw this opportunity for all of us to get involved and make something happen — I mean, there are 21 million skiers and snowboarders in the United States alone but there was no organization to unite and mobilize those people against climate change when arguably we're one of the groups that's going to feel it the most.

What did you do before working for Protect Our Winters?
I had been in the advertising business for about 12 years before going to work for Protect Our Winters. I was working on big brands like BMW and Nissan, doing national advertising campaigns. And then I left advertising and worked for a couple of years doing the marketing for Teton Gravity Research and that's where I met Jeremy [Jones]. That's when Protect Our Winters took off. I would work on that nights and weekends for the first couple of years, when it was just getting off the ground and couldn't support full-time staff.

It's a full-on street fight and we're losing right now, but if we work together to really engage the snowsports community and influence environmental policy to put a cap on carbon, we're taking huge steps forward.

-- Chris Steinkamp

Have you been directly involved in the coalitions that POW has sent to Washington, D.C.?
Yes, I set it up and we went there a couple of years ago. We've been there twice now. Both trips were just amazing. We would go to Washington with Jeremy, Chris Davenport and Gretchen Bleiler. When you go to Washington with that caliber of athlete, it really opens up some eyes in Congress. When we're sitting in offices with these senators, talking about the environment and the impacts of climate change on the winter sports industry it becomes a really amazing conversation. We're probably going to go again in the spring this year after the elections to try to get in front of the newly-elected officials on the hill.

POW founder Jeremy Jones in Washington, D.C.

What is going on in the legislature right now on the climate change front?
A couple years ago, there was a lot of clean energy legislation in place. There was a cap and trade agreement that we hoped would make it through congress. But pretty quickly, the economy took precedent and I guess rightfully so. We did recently have one major victory though. A few years ago, the EPA was awarded the authority to regulate carbon as a pollutant and a few months ago the EPA's authority was extended to include coal power plants. Any new coal plants that are built must conform with some pretty tough regulations on their CO2 emissions.

How important would you say Washington is in all this, versus the importance of people fundamentally changing their lifestyles to consume less energy and resources?
Policy legislation is what's going to get it done. We started telling people to change their light bulbs and carry reusable water bottles and other small habitual changes like that. That's the stuff that we all need to be doing anyway. But we can't just stop there. We're really focused on trying to mobilize the community and going to Washington to effect policy change. We also spend a lot of time teaching students to be the next generation of leaders on climate change issues. Over the last year, we brought ski and snowboard athletes like Gretchen Bleiler, Ingrid Backstrom and Nick Martini into schools to speak to about 15,000 students all across the country. When those guys talk to students, they really start to listen.

With all the driving, chairlifts, snowmobiles, helicopters and frequent airline travel involved, it seems like skiers and snowboarders are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to climate change. Long term, is it really possible for our sports to coexist with responsible stewardship of our environment?
I think what we're trying to do is look at the big picture. We recognize that a lot of the people that we work with do all those things. It's kind of an occupational hazard, in terms of climate change. That's part of how a lot of us make our money and that's how we do our work. If we can get those same athletes to spend time in schools, and spend time in Washington, then it kind of offsets the bad. If those athletes can at least do their parts to make sure that what they do off the hill influences others to take better care of the environment, then sacrificing their influence to save a few plane trips is probably a little short-sighted.

Parting shot: Seeing what you see today, do you believe that our winters will be protected in the future?
I absolutely think we can win this fight. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe we could be successful and I wouldn't be asking for hard-earned contributions from our supporters either. It's a full-on street fight and we're losing right now, but if we work together to really engage the snowsports community and influence environmental policy to put a cap on carbon, we're taking huge steps forward and I absolutely believe that's within our reach.