Q&A: Extreme Skier & Consultant Alison Gannett
Alison Gannett, a world champion extreme skier and climate change activist, has always had her hands full. But after a knee injury resulting from overshooting a cliff landing at the 1999 X-Games, the now 46-year-old returned to her roots as an environmental activist and climate change consultant.
She also began integrating her love for the mountains through her foundation Save Our Snow, whose mission is to educate people on global warming's impacts on glacial recession, as well as her women's adventure camps KEEN Rippin Chix.
As someone whose goal is to reduce her carbon footprint to two tons a year (versus the U.S. per capita average of 20 tons) Colorado-based Gannett takes her public role as a citizen athlete personally — from maintaining the homestead where she and her family live to the way she now skis.
In the second of our Q&A series with athletes committed to the environment, Alison Gannett shares stories of her past inspirations and future aspirations with SIERRA.
SIERRA: When did you start skiing, and how has it influenced your environmental and social outlook?
AG: I started skiing at 1 1/2 in my driveway in Massachusetts, and then at the massive 800-vertical of Crotched Mountain, New Hampshire. My dad managed the 800-foot hill, and almost all kids went there after school everyday, as we lived in the boonies and there was nothing else to do. My mom took us camping for all our vacations, and I really learned to love the outdoors and wanted to take care of it.
Was there a particular moment or adventure that led you to be more involved in the environmental movement or to start SOS?
When I was nine, I started getting really upset about my dad's styrofoam coffee cup use; after that, I just got worse through college. Now my friends call me the environmental alarmist.
I started my first environmental business designing homes and doing energy audits and solar design in 1991, and have since founded four non-profits, including Save Our Snow. I've been fighting to make the world a better place twice as long as I have been a professional extreme skier.
Both my mom and grandmother were really strong women, teaching me to "expand my horizons" and fight persistently for what was right. I would also say that when I worked with Al Gore, I figured out that I didn't want to be that kind of person that was not walking the walk.
What role do you believe athletes should play in environmental or social justice movements?
People really look up to athletes and examine their lives closely, and many kids emulate what we do or don't do. Therefore, it is important that you live an examined life, and work to leave a legacy for future generations.
While jumping off cliffs is super cool, inspiring people to make changes in their lives to consume less or live a more sustainable life is way cooler.
With SOS, I've been traveling the globe coaching businesses on how to calculate and reduce their carbon footprint while also saving money, with special help from KEEN Footwear, Elemental Herbs, and Climate Ride.
SOS has now expanded into helping schools, teachers, staff, janitors and students work together to do the same at their local schools.
Since I now grow and raise almost all my own food at our farm, we also teach kids and adults how they can make small or large changes in their food and beverage choices that create more local jobs for farmers, reduce their carbon footprint and increase soil carbon sequestration.
SOS is also involved in helping folks choose clean energy, fighting against the high carbon footprint of gas drilling and/or fracking for natural gas. In general, SOS helps people make simple choices everyday to make a difference.
Have you faced any setbacks or challenges while pursuing your environmental work? What challenges do you see up ahead?
I think the biggest challenge is that we are a generally lazy consumptive society that is protected from the impacts that our choices really make on lives of others. If we saw how cows in low-cost feedlots were raised — wading in manure pit, eating genetically-modified corn that they were allergic to — we wouldn't choose to buy that beef.
If we saw the impacts of non-organic cotton — that kids are being born with out limbs from chemical exposure — we might change our purchase decisions.
If people knew that "free-range" eggs were raised in windowless warehouses, we would support local farmers like myself that raise them on grass pasture. I believe people are good, but they are getting shielded and deceived by big agriculture and fake green marketing.
What other ways do you spend your time when not on the mountain or participating in SOS?
I run four non-profits, including Save Our Snow, The Office of Resource Efficiency, Local Farms First, North Fork Fracking, and KEEN Rippin Chix surf, bike and steep-skiing camps. [My husband] Jason and I run Holy Terror Farm, growing, raising and preserving all our own food.
How could you see your sport itself becoming "greener?"
Skiing is not a very green sport, as the gear has a high carbon footprint, as does travel and running ski areas. I try to do the best I can by utilizing more public transportation, and my friend Tom hand-builds my skis out of repurposed materials. I hike and ski right off my farm as much as I can and buy items with lifetime guarantees, such as Patagonia or Osprey, or with more sustainable, organic or beyond-organic ingredients.
Most of all, I try to live simply and work towards a more sustainable life each year. This summer, we hope to get a permit to distill our own fuel and Applejack.
--Images courtesy of Alison Gannett
Benita Hussain is a freelance writer and editor whose work has also appeared in GOOD, Women's Adventure Magazine and Matador Sports, among others. With degrees from Cornell University and Fordham Law School, she's also a part-time lawyer and yoga teacher that surfs, climbs and travels to do both. Twitter: @hussainity.