Residents and visitors at the ice skating oval in Lake Placid, New York. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.

The Other Water

When asked about memories of St. Lawrence, Chris Steinkamp ’87, who grew up in Westchester, New York, and who learned to ski at the age of five, says he remembers it being, “Just cold and snowy from November to March. You can’t really have the North Country without snow. It’s part of the culture and I loved it. Everyone just embraced winter.”

Thirty years later, Steinkamp finds himself at the forefront of harnessing that love of snow and winter sports to address the issue of climate change through a nonprofit called Protect Our Winters (POW). It started after Steinkamp took on the marketing director position for Teton Gravity Research (TGR), a production company specializing in premier ski, snowboard, and surf films and content that focuses on athletes and action sports culture. It is through TGR, that Steinkamp met and joined forces with professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones to launch POW. Over the last decade, POW has helped an initially reluctant ski industry become a powerful voice for clean energy and action on climate change.

“Living out in California we realized that the winters started to be hit or miss,” Steinkamp says. “Especially in the mid-90s, winters were not as dependable as they always were. You used to be able to ski in November. Thanksgiving was the kick-off ski season, but then Thanksgiving started to become hit or miss, and you were banking on Christmas, which now is even hit or miss.” It was this lack of snow that alarmed Steinkamp. “As skiers, we got a first-hand look at what climate change was starting to do.” 

Winter sports are a $62 billion business in the U.S., supporting 965,000 jobs. Erratic winters and extreme weather patterns have had an adverse impact on winter-sport economies all over the world, including the North Country. Jones and Steinkamp wanted to do something about it. They recognized that they could combine the star power of professional athletes and big brand name companies, with the 30 million American winter sports enthusiasts, to make a difference.

“When you get the big brands in outdoor sports, North Face, Burton, and Patagonia to say to Congresspeople, ‘we need you to take action on climate because it is not just an environmental issue, it is an economic issue,’ then you really start taking off,” Steinkamp says. He is very aware of how hyper-politicized the issue of climate change has become as well as the dismissal of the science supporting the need for action by some elected officials, putting at risk the progress made over the past decade in establishing environmental protections and investing in clean energy technologies. 

“If you like clean air and clean water, you’ve got to take the politics out of it. Unfortunately, politics has found its way into the climate discussion in a big way, but at the end of the day, climate change is a scientific fact,” says Steinkamp. He believes whether you are a Republican or a Democrat it’s the same issue, and it’s going to affect us all. 

Steinkamp and Jones have worked for the past 10 years to build POW, which is now a 130,000-member network with chapters in France, Austria, Sweden and elsewhere. They recently relocated from California to a new headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, where Steinkamp and his family now live.

“Sure, snow is here for our sports, but that’s icing on the cake,” Steinkamp says. “Snow is water and the lifeblood of our industry and winter-tourist based communities.  If it doesn’t show up at all … that’s our real problem, and we have to start doing something about it.” Steinkamp believes this is a call to action for everyone, not just winter sport enthusiasts, and that is where Protect Our Winters can assist. 

“The responsibility for change is on us. It’s POW's responsibility to not just build awareness of the issue but give everyone meaningful ways to participate in this movement. If we can build an army of concerned citizens, pro athletes and industry brands taking action on this together, we’re going to succeed.”

Find out how you can take action on climate change at

Chris Steinkamp '87