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Episode 4: Capturing the Climate Divide on Film | Jeremy Jones, founder of Protect Our Winters and Jones Snowboards

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In this episode, snowboarding legend and Protect Our Winters founder Jeremy Jones talks with Kristin Hostetter (the two are first cousins!) about his latest film, Purple Mountains, safety concerns about the backcountry surge during Covid, and skiing in the woods of Stowe together when they were kids. 

Watch the edited video interview here.

Read the Jeremy Jones transcript

Note: Straight Talk is produced as a video and podcast and is designed to be watched or heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. Transcripts are generated speech recognition software and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Kristin Hostetter: I’m Kristin Hostetter and you’re listening to the Straight Talk podcast by Outside Business Journal I’m really psyched about my guest today–the one and only Jeremy Jones is here with me. How are you, Jeremy? 

Jeremy Jones: I’m doing awesome. So great to see you.

Kristin Hostetter: It’s good to see you too. Of course, Jeremy is a pro snowboarder. He is the founder of Protect Our Winters, the founder of Jones Snowboards. He’s a very busy man. He’s a climate activist. And he also– full disclosure here, folks– happens to be my first cousin. We grew up together. Our moms are joined-at-the-hip identical twins. Our fathers were best friends and football teammates back in high school.

Jer and I grew up in the crib, on the mountain, on the beach together with our brothers. So, I’m really proud of him and I’m really psyched to see him and have a conversation that’s half work, half chat. 

Jeremy Jones: Yes. I’m looking forward to it too.  It’s just so cool that our lives have intertwined and we get to call this work.

Kristin Hostetter: I know, we’re actually getting paid here. So you’re at home in Tahoe right now, right? 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. 

Kristin Hostetter: Okay. And how’s the smoke situation? The wildfires. 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. We have a bunch of big fires near or around us. I’m not worried about them coming into our community, which we’re very grateful for, but we’ve definitely been dealing with kind of a smoke lottery, and it’s just It’s been wild to see, it’s just been this constant.

We had a proper blue sky day recently and I was like, is it always look like this? Like, I forgot what real blue sky looks like. Yeah, it’s hopefully not the new norm. We got a little bit of rain and a little bit more in the forecast. So yeah, we’re dealing with it athe best we can.

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, for sure. In your movies and in your interviews about the change that you’ve seen in the mountains with less snow, warmer winters, obviously receding, glaciers and wildfires. I think it’s easy to forget that these raging wildfires that California has had for three or four years straight now is also so directly related to climate. 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. We talk about the new normal and I’ve lived here for 25 years and it was like not being able to, say, get out and get exercise due to smoke. It really started I think about eight years ago, we had some fires that kept us indoors. So, yeah, it’s like we’re playing fire roulette and it’s disheartening. And you really see that for these communities to operate, we need clean air because if you can’t exercise, nobody’s coming here. And so talk about a town just emptying out and the restaurants going empty and all that stuff. As soon as smoke hits, it’s like everyone’s out of here. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, wow. All right. Let’s talk about your latest movie, Purple Mountains, okay. I’ve seen all your movies, of course. There are dozens of them and I love them all. This one feels really different to me, though, because it’s a lot less action and a lot more issue oriented.

So tell me about the inspiration and how this movie came to be and why you felt so compelled to do this different kind of movie. 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. So going into this election we look at this as the most important election of my lifetime, specifically on climate. And I have this platform that the outdoor industry has given me, and I just felt I needed to do everything I can to try to utilize that platform, to get us on the right track as a country. And as someone has made a bunch of films I decided to dive into this film, which as you said, it’s very different. It’s not action based. There’s some action in there, butit’s really much more of an impact documentary, which is putting me way out of my comfort zone. I like getting out of my comfort zone, but it’s also scary at the same time. 

Kristin Hostetter: Okay, Jer, so tell people a little bit about the premise of the movie, because I thought it was really interesting. You talked about going out of your comfort zone. You actually sought out people with different opinions than you to try to engage them in conversations around climate and find some common ground, right? It’s a really interesting premise. 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. So, it’s based on the fact that climate is the most divisive issue in our country right now. And the film is about my exploration to understand why we are so divided and really around finding these outdoor enthusiasts, people whose life, what we call at Protect Our Winners “the outdoor state,” whose life revolves around being in the outdoors and we share this passion for the outdoors, but we don’t agree and are divided on climate.

So, I go and seek out these people and just have discussions and really do a lot of listening. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, that came across, for sure. And here we are, we’re recording this conversation on October 6th, 2020. We are exactly four weeks away from election day right now. And you’ve been really laser focused on POW’s Get Out The Vote campaign lately.

How has that been going? What kind of engagement are you seeing with all of the tools that you’ve created and how ptimistic and hopeful do you feel right now about that? 

Jeremy Jones: I guess I look at it like we’re trying to climb this big mountain and we still have four weeks of a mountain in front of us, and we’re moving in the right direction.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re definitely seeing engagement and getting a bunch of new people out to vote. And specifically in key areas is where we’re spending our time. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah. I thought your tool, the tools that POW set up were so useful. In fact, I sent them to my son, Charlie, who’s in college. Because I thought it was a really easy way to share all the tools that those kids need to make sure they’re getting their absentee ballots. And what a great place to focus is: college campuses. I told him, make sure you share this with all your friends. 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. So that’s a great, Charlie is an awesome example.

I don’t go into this and be like, I’m going to turn this guy and make him a climate champion. At Protect Our Winters we are focused on traditional non-voters which is the biggest political party in the U.S.– almost the same size as the Republican and Democratic parties combined.

And we focus on that middle person who’s maybe on the fence. And so that’s really the goals of the film. And as Charlie can attest, it’s overwhelming if you’ve never voted before, especially during a pandemic. And it’s not by chance that especially in these purple states that could come down to a couple hundred votes, it gets even more complicated in there.

So POW’s site is this one stop shop to get you registered.

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, so I definitely didn’t intend to talk too much about politics because that can get crazy, but I do want to ask you something. Back in June of 2016, you might recall, right after President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, I called you to see what you thought about it.

Because I knew you were not going to be happy about it. In fact, you were super pissed, you were fired up, and I asked you to pull out your journal (because you were in Europe traveling at the time) to write a Dear Mr. President letter. And I published that letter on our site and it went totally viral. You just spilled out your guts. It was in your handwriting. It was so great, and so well done, and so timely. It was all about your kids and the future that we’re leaving for them. If you were going to write a Dear Mr. President letter today, what would you say? 

Jeremy Jones: Oh man, we’re so far along and hopefully towards the end of this, but I guess it’s just “listen to science.” Like the death of the expert and the death of science, because we don’t like what the experts are telling us…that’s been the playbook with climate, and now our current president has brought that into the pandemic and these other areas of life.

And that’s just a dangerous course for a society to take– to stop listening to experts in science. So that’s what I would say. 

Kristin Hostetter: Okay. Let’s talk for a minute about social media. Because it’s a huge platform for you. You have about 300,000 followers on Instagram, right? Instagram is your favorite platform.

I think a lot of times your posts on climate get trolled, right? You get people on there that just start ripping into you and sometimes it can feel really personal. Do you read all the comments and how do you deal with that? 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah, in general, maybe right when I post, before it gets too crazy, I’ll read some comments. But I know what I’m getting into and it’s really this loud minority that is coming out. It’s paid trolls. Bots are a lot of it. And unfortunately, social media is not the greatest platform to have an in-depth conversation with people. The loudest, most aggressive people steal the show.

And I guess that the sad part of that. There’s very little return on time investment to go head- to-head with some staunch climate denier. The sad part is I miss out on opportunities to talk to maybe someone that does have a meaningful question that would be a good dialogue to have. But my intentions are pure. They’re backed by science and not speaking up and doing everything I can to get our country on the right path just because of some loud trolls–I’m just not gonna do that. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, that’s good. You’ve learned your lesson. I’m sure it’s hard. It’s sometimes hard to bite your tongue, right?

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. That’s why I don’t spend that much time on it. I can just look and be like, wow, 400 comments. There’s a war going on in there. And it’s really more positive than negative. And a lot of those posts that have the most aggressive comments are also the most liked.

So clearly the numbers show people support me on that. And then also understanding what created these trolls. It’s not by chance that a white male of a certain age demographic is five times more likely to be a climate denier than anyone else. And that’s because of this sophisticated campaign by the fossil fuel industry that’s been going on since the seventies to create climate denial.

And so understanding what made these people so angry, I have a level of empathy for them and so I actually don’t take it as personal as I once did. 

Kristin Hostetter: Good. Do you manage all your social posts on Instagram, or do you have someone who helps you with that?

Jeremy Jones: No. I’m totally in control. 

Kristin Hostetter: You do a good job. 

Jeremy Jones:  Thank you. 

Kristin Hostetter: Like everybody, these days you’ve been sticking pretty close to home, which is very unusual for you, right? 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. The big thing is the business travel for me. Like launching this film, I was planning on doing a road trip across the country to these different college towns and doing a very robust tour with the film in the purple states.

And then also the fall is a busy time with the snowboard company and sales meetings and things of that nature. That chunk of travel, quite frankly, having that off my plate has been really nice. And then with the snowboarding,  my busiest time of year is October 1st up to the trade shows.

And after that I get to be a pro snowboarder and I have total control of my schedule February to June. And I spend that in the Western U.S., because as someone who loves to go and explore new mountains, the Western U.S is stacked with them. And so that’s been my focus really for I’d say the last eight years.

Kristin Hostetter:  Awesome. Good. You’re lucky you have so many good mountains right out your backyard as well and in that your kids love to do it with you. 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. 

Kristin Hostetter: I think this winter is going to be pretty crazy though, because people aren’t going to be traveling for skiing. All of the multi resort pass companies are coming out with these statements about new rules. There’s going to be a lot more challenges probably with gear sales. What do you think this winter is going to be like amid this pandemic for winter sports?

Jeremy Jones: I mean, having a snowboard company that has a lot of hard goods sitting in shops, it’s scary for sure. We’re totally in the unknown, but the reality is I actually don’t spend too much time looking at the Weegee board, like who there’s just so much unknown.

And so putting energy into that unknown, from a snowboarders manufacturer perspective. So we’re just trying to be as nimble as possible. But as far as what the resorts look like and sales, we just, I have no idea. I could call up the head of Squaw and be like, what do you think, man? And  it could change in a month. Is the pandemic coming back? We have no idea. 

Kristin Hostetter: All right. That’s a totally honest answer. Let me ask you this though. I think, one thing that most people are saying is that because the resorts are going to be a little bit trickier to navigate with social distancing and possibly, needing to do reservations at the resort, there’s definitely been an uptick in interest in the backcountry. And that’s a great thing for Jones, right? For Jones snowboards, you guys make a lot of splitboards boards. That’s your thing. It definitely begs the question, is the fear that people are going to be going into the backcountry for the first time this winter without proper training safety training and avalanche training, right? 

Jeremy Jones: Yeah. I am confident in saying the back country is going to be more crowded than it’s ever been this winter. We saw that when COVID hit. Trailheads were the busiest they’ve ever been. And the mountain bike trails have been the busiest they’ve ever been. Hiking trails, climbing, all of that.

And so I absolutely have fear with people’s safety. A big thing is also just like the difference between a snowpack in November, December, and January compared to February, March, April, May–It’s just way more dangerous early season. And we just see the lift lines in every speck of snow that falls in early season, November and December, or even January. It’s like the froth levels are so high at the resort.

And now that will be in the back country, that’s a time to really just get your legs strong. My winter really is focused around February, March, April, May, and even into June. And when I give talks on split boarding and I go, Hey, who’s excited? I am. Who’s a first timer?  I am. And I’m like, great May and June is your time.

And the irony is people don’t like that answer. Theywant to be out there on that beautiful November, December, first snowfall day. And yeah, go out there, but man, you gotta be really careful. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, for sure. Now I wonder if we’ll start seeing more of these backcountry type resorts. There’s a new one in Colorado. I think it’s called Bluebird. It’s a touring resort, a backcountry resort where presumably, it would be a little bit safer because there’s people around and there’s education opportunities and it would be great if we started seeing more of those, huh?

Jeremy Jones: Thank you for saying that. Absolutely. If you think of, say, my home resort Squaw Valley, if it is limited opening, like you’re seeing at Aspen, let’s put in an uphill track. You see it all over Europe. It’s a big part of the communities that have them, where they allow you to split board up in the morning before the lift opens and it’s a clear path and it’s just such a great way to get a nice workout in and then experience the morning.

And then these controlled areas that you know people want, and not every resort is set up for it, but I just really hope that these resorts maybe can think outside the box and go, you know what, we’re not going to open that lift. That’s going to be an uphill zone. And instead of having it be tracked out in two hours, it’s going to take all day, or maybe it takes three days.

But you get this great uphill experience. Maybe you take a chairlift to get there, or what what have you, but I really hope that the resorts are rethinking their product. 

Kristin Hostetter: Yeah, that would be a great thing to see, come out of this, huh? So back country is becoming more popular.

Oh, now I want to turn to something else. I actually like to think that back in the day, when we were kids, when we grew up skiing at Stowe, we were way ahead of the curve, because we loved the backcountry. And even as kids, we sought the backcountry out. I’m going to show you something that’s going to crack you up.

And I want you to tell us a little story about it. “coyotes.” 

Jeremy Jones: [laughs] Oh my God. The Coyotes! 

Kristin Hostetter: We were like the original backcountry rug rats, right? That’s what the Coyotes were. 

Jeremy Jones: So we fell in love with finding the best tree runs at Stowe, Vermont. And we called ourselves the Coyotes. I have no idea where the name came from. And we had the hats made at Moriarty’s. And Adam, your youngest brother and I, we were Coyote Juniors. And it’s funny because that idea and concept of finding that ultimate run top to bottom, incorporating all aspects of snowboarding into a single run. That concept is really what has been my compass in snowboarding since being a little kid and being a Coyote. 

Kristin Hostetter: Awesome. Well, I take full credit for that. I’m just saying.

Jeremy Jones: Yeah, obviously you get that credit and well deserved!

Kristin Hostetter: It was really great to talk to you, Jer. Thanks for everything. Thanks for all your efforts, getting out the vote. And hopefully we will see each other at a family reunion or out on the mountain somewhere soon. 

Jeremy Jones: Awesome to see you. And we need to get on snow together– soon!

Kristin Hostetter: Absolutely. And thank you everybody for listening to this episode of the Straight Talk podcast by Outside Business Journal. The outdoor industry is full of fascinating people doing bold things, whether it’s in sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, specialty retail, activism, marketing, or brand building, and here at Straight Talk we dive straight in. 

This episode was produced by me, Kristin Hostetter. Our executive producer is Jeff Moore. Our executive audio engineer is John Barcklay. Our associate producer is Aashish Shrestha. Our production assistant is Louisa Albanese. Please subscribe today to the Straight Talk podcast. Write us a review, and of course stay up on the latest outdoor industry news at OutsideBusinessJournal dot com.