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New-Era Climate Discussions Highlight Technology and Solutions at 2016 SIA Snow Show

February 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

It’s a new era in the fight against climate change. This was clearly felt at the 2016 SIA Snow Show, where, in partnership with Protect Our Winters, world-class speakers were featured talking about the shift that’s currently happening in the global climate movement.

The climate discussions at the Show included the Opening Ceremony keynote from US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and the Protect Our Winters (POW) Breakfast with Tesla VP Diarmuid O’Connell and Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth. All three speakers highlighted the shift both in the country’s thinking on climate, as well as the advanced technology that is supplying solutions for the future.

POW Executive Director Chris Steinkamp said, “The discussions at the Show this year were incredible. It was empowering, and gave people real hope that there are solutions and the technology is here. To have Gina McCarthy, a cabinet level official, come all the way out here to see our industry was a message that we matter and we have a voice. It also showed that we have a big hand in the solution. A large part of the reason that the EPA has partnered with POW and SIA is because we know how to speak to these young outdoor enthusiasts who, since they love winter, want to protect it.”

At the Show’s Opening Ceremony, US EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy delivered a keynote address to hundreds of attendees gathered at the Colorado Convention Center. After her keynote address, she was joined on-stage by Auden Schendler, VP of Sustainability at Aspen, for a more informal discussion elaborating on the ideas she presented in her keynote.


US EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Aspen VP of Sustainability Auden Schendler

“Right now there is a shift in the way people are thinking about climate change across the country,” she said. “As long as you make your voices clear, that shift will continue. The issue now is, what to do about it. For years we never had anything to move towards, but that’s no longer the case. The solutions are there, and the opportunities for investment are there.”

McCarthy said the discussion is no longer about politics or belief. “I think you can quickly get away from the science and talk about the cool things happening in the world today. I think that’s where we have started to change the dynamics. Part of the President’s message is that this is an economic issue, it is one of the things holding people down, keeping people in poverty. The new solutions available will build a more inclusive economy, and give people more control.”

After the opening Ceremony, Administrator McCarthy walked the Show floor with Steinkamp, Schendler, and outgoing SIA president David Ingemie. She enjoyed getting a feel for the culture of the Show and visiting the Jones Snowboards booth, where she met with POW founder Jeremy Jones.


Jeremy Jones, David Ingemie and Gina McCarthy on the Show floor

At the Protect Our Winters Breakfast, POW presented Diarmuid O’Connell, VP of Tesla Motors, with an introduction by Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley. Wirth’s introduction was an integral part of O’Connell’s presentation, as he explained the nuts and bolts of how Squaw, POW and Tesla have worked together on a plan for Squaw Holdings to cut their carbon emissions in half by 2020 while simultaneously cleaning up the energy grid in Northern California and Nevada.


Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth

“I want to cut straight to the quick on a few things, all of which have been facilitated by Chris, Jeremy and POW,” Wirth said. “From a business perspective, we have embraced the issue of climate change and asked what we do about it. So with the help of POW and Auden Schendler at Aspen, we dealt with the hypocrisy of our operations, and realized that between our operations and our guests we generate about 30,000 metric tons of carbon per year. Then we took action. First, we ventured into the deep dark world of utility companies and said to our provider, as your number-three customer, we need you to let loose of coal. Since January 1, there is no longer coal feeding our grid in northern Lake Tahoe. For the second part of our plan, Tesla is building an 80 megawatt solar array in Hawthorne NV, so by the time we get to 2020, that will turn on and there will be an energy storage solution for us. In 5 years, it will be one of the most progressive grids in country.”

Diarmuid O’Connell’s presentation then connected the dots between Administrator McCarthy’s keynote themes, Wirth’s real-life example from Squaw, and the work Tesla is doing now to bring technology solutions, as well as hope and positivity, to the issue of climate change.

“Over the past ten years at Tesla, I’ve had the opportunity to see the change in our industry and also in change of mindset across the country and the world,” O’Connell said. “The issue of climate change is serious, and the results could be dire if we don’t focus on the problem and we don’t activate some of the opportunities.”


At the 2016 POW Breakfast, Tesla VP Diarmuid O’Connell addresses a huge crowd in the Mile High Ballroom over burritos and bloodies

O’Connell explained that Tesla’s goal has been to grow their scale in order to make electric cars more available to the masses, with a plan that includes a new, more affordable model coming out this spring. He then showed the industry how Squaw Valley’s accomplishments with clean energy can be mirrored both on a residential scale as well as a larger utility scale.

“The technologies that could help us address these pressing global problems are available, and more often than not, they don’t involve serious compromises to our lifestyle,” he said. “With the technology in our cars, we offer the opportunity for a better driving experience, and that’s also true for our energy storage. It’s essentially net zero – you generate all the electricity you need on your roof and store it all during the day on the back of the house, and that’s really cool. Not just for you and your neighbors, but also for our kids’ generations.”


Tesla VP Diarmuid O’Connell

“What’s changed in the past 15-20 years is storage technology,” O’Connell explained. “Consumer electronics have drawn some of the greatest minds in the world into battery technology, and that is our opportunity. We’re showing the world what can be done, and we’re de-risking the category so that larger businesses can use the technology without worrying about how it will affect their bottom line. Andy was talking about saving money while getting off the grid, and there are many other business opportunities associated with it. This is the complete sustainable future. It boggles the mind, and this is all happening right now.”

After the presentation, POW founder Jeremy Jones said, “It was really exciting to have these speakers today because they highlight the amazing role technology is playing. It’s very uplifting to see what’s really happening on the front lines and hear about the changing dynamics of energy, so hopefully everyone leaves the room inspired and realizing that there are wonderful solutions out there.”


Chris Steinkamp, Diarmuid O’Connell, Andy Wirth and Jeremy Jones

“It’s been a really exciting evolution,” Jones said. “Only 2 years ago we officially started the talks around climate change at SIA. Now this year, with Gina McCarthy and the POW Breakfast speakers, the turnout was incredible and people are very engaged. It’s been great to see, and we are so happy to have SIA as a partner in this mission.”

Steinkamp concluded, “We’re not going to empower people to do something if we bum them out, so we’ve got to let people know that there’s a way out of this, and companies like Tesla have the way out. So if someone wants to do something right now, they can do all the things we ask them to, they can advocate, they can vote, but they can also get off the energy grid now. They can buy solar panels and do this. And the companies in this room can get off the grid too, just like Andy’s doing.”

To stay on top of what’s next for Protect Our Winters, follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For more information about POW, to learn about what their next steps are, and to get involved, go to To read about POW’s work leading up to the Show, check out our previous posts on Snow Source.

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