Podcast: How winter sports athletes directly perceive the impacts of climate change

Every year, the effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent, especially if you know where to look.

For winter sports athletes who travel the world in search of snow, these changes are impossible to ignore. Crouching Brocka professional snowboarder from San Diego, saw it with his own eyes in 2018 when he was buried in an avalanche.

While Crouch miraculously survived the ordeal, many others weren’t so lucky. Last winter, the United States recorded more avalanche deaths than any other year in recorded history, and scientists say weather variability caused by climate change is to blame for the rising number of avalanches.

American freeskier David Wise, the reigning double Olympic halfpipe gold medalist, has also seen the impact every year when he travels to Switzerland to train on a glacier in Saas-Fee. Glaciers are steadily retreating, with a recent study finding that glaciers in the French Alps – not far from Saas-Fee – lost an average of 25% of their surface area between 2003 and 2015.

“I think the first time I came [to Saas-Fee] It was 15 years ago and the glacier was almost down to the city,” Wise said. “So I could see the glacier retreating.”

In the latest episode of NBC Sports’ “My New Favorite Olympian” podcast (listen below), several winter sports athletes – Crouch, Wise and jessie diggin — recounted their experiences seeing climate change up close and shared what they are doing to make a difference in the fight against it.

The effects of climate change could soon have a major impact on the Winter Olympics themselves. A study found that of the 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Games, nine of them may not be cold enough by 2050 to host them again. That’s why winter sports athletes felt it was their duty to demand action now.

After winning a gold medal at the last Winter Olympics, Diggins used her new platform to advocate for climate change legislation. Protect Our Winters, a non-profit advocacy group founded by a snowboarder Jeremy Jonesorganizes trips to Capitol Hill for Winter Olympians to meet members of Congress and urge them to take action on climate change, and Diggins went on one such trip shortly after the 2018 Games.

“It was very scary,” she recalled on the podcast. “I do remember being alarmed at the amount of sweat my hands could sweat out in a single day.”

During a bipartisan congressional briefing, Diggins passed around his gold medal, pointed to a chip on top of it, and used it to make a point.

“You can replace a medal, you can create a new one,” she said. “You still have that memory. But we have a planet. We have one hit. We can’t mess that up. It’s an irreplaceable element that affects everyone on the planet. And so it’s important that we things properly with the time we have.”

Diggins also encouraged his ski sponsor to prioritize sustainability. They have since pledged to carbon offset their athletes traveling to competitions and to make their own events carbon neutral or as close to it as possible.

As for David Wise, one of the ways he uses to fight climate change is to reduce his own environmental footprint. He and his family work to create a sustainable lifestyle that includes getting their food by growing it themselves or hunting it – with a bow – on his property in Nevada. His goal is to be completely off the grid within the next decade.

While this type of lifestyle might seem out of reach for most people, Wise offered some practical advice for those looking to become even a little more sustainable.

“Start making small changes to get a little bit better,” he said. “There are a lot of very simple things you can do without even realizing it, like composting much better and [being] more meticulous about your recycling.”

In order to achieve meaningful change, advocates like Diggins and Wise know there are still people who are skeptical about climate change, and they need to find ways to engage those people in the larger conversation.

“I understand that accepting that we are where we are right now is very scary, because it’s acknowledging that we’re in a bad place, and sometimes it’s easier to deny than to accept that reality,” said said Diggins. “But I think the only way to fix it is to say, ‘Look, we screwed up and we have to fix it. We’re not perfect, but we’re going to do everything we can.'”

Wise echoed the sentiment.

“It’s really quite simple at this point,” he said. “I’ve seen the climate change with my own eyes. I’m only 31, but in my lifetime I’ve seen the winters change drastically, so there’s nothing left to deny that the climate change. The question isn’t if it changes or not, it’s how fast it’s going to change? And can we slow it down enough to keep the things that [we] like to do in winter?”

For the full story, listen to the podcast above. “My New Favorite Olympian” is the fourth season of NBC Sports’ Sports Uncovered podcast. New episodes release every Wednesday and will introduce you to the most inspiring members of Team USA and the issues they stand for. The series is hosted by eight-time Winter Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno and NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo.

Naomi C. Amerson