By Andrew K. Newell
Having competed in three Olympic Games I’ve been a part of the winter sports community for quite some time. From Torino, Italy to Sochi, Russia I’ve experienced different venues over the years, seasons with high snow pack and others with none, but above all I’ve seen change both in climate and in attitude. This has caused me to question the extreme measures host nations and our world leaders are willing to go to not only to capitalize on the Olympics but, more important, turn a blind eye to our changing climate.
I took my first trip to Sochi a year and a half before the Games were set to begin and what I saw in the outlying mountains were beautiful snow covered peaks in one of Russia’s largest national parks. Fast-forward 16 months and several billion dollars later and we were left with hastily built resort towns, huge unfinished hotels, and thousands of acres of clear-cut forest and polluted waterways.
Upon arrival at the Olympics we were bussed to one of the six gondolas to access the nordic and biathlon stadiums. Of course everyone was giddy with nerves and excitement over the upcoming competitions, but as we crept higher up the 8,000-foot peak to where the Endurance Village was located we could get a true vision of the destruction below.
A bad snow year had left the valley floor brown and muddy, highlighting all the construction debris. Looking across to the mountainside where the alpine and snowboarding events were to take place we saw massive swaths of hillside clear cut to accommodate the new trails and lift towers of a future alpine resort. All of this was created by Putin to capitalize on the Olympics and to create what he envisioned as Russia’s next big tourist destination,.But at what cost?
I don’t think we can entirely blame Russia or Putin for trying to boost a nation’s economy but the underlying theme is that we can expect more from our world leaders and the individuals accountable for these decisions. Why was this untouched land chosen for the Games? Why can’t our world leaders work together to find methods for looking past the dollar (or ruble) signs and taking into account the environment?
It’s because of this, and the continued lack of common sense, that decisions from our governments that led me to start the organization Athletes for Action and partner with Protect Our Winters this season, and begin urgently voicing the need for change. Before the Games I collected signatures from Olympic competitors urging world leaders to recognizes climate change and work together toward solutions. Through a letter we are asking nations to come together at the UN Framework Convention in Paris 2015 and partner on concrete legislation to help fight climate change.
So why will world leaders care what Olympic athletes think? I’m not sure I can answer that question but as someone who spends each and every day training outside for skiing I’ve seen the negative effects of climate change over the years, and I’m worried for what the future might hold. I feel as though it is my responsibility, along with all other outdoor enthusiasts who witness these changes, to voice our concerns and put pressure on our leaders. Weekend warrior or professional athlete, winter or summer, we can all work together to raise awareness and, most important, expect more climate-friendly decisions and legislation from our government officials.
Andrew Newell was born in Bennington, Vermont and raised in Shaftsbury. While he started skiing at a very young age, it was at Stratton Mountain School, that he learned what it would take to ski at an international level. His five years at SMS formed a special bond and pride that goes along with being a Vermont cross-country skier.
That five-year experience led Newell to set his sights on World Cup and World Championship competitions, working with US Development Coach Chris Grover and the rest of the US Ski Team, in Park City Utah. He took a12th place finish in the 2005 World Championships in Obertsdorf, Germany, that earned him a spot on the U.S. National Ski Team and eventually a spot on the 2006 US Olympic Team.
Andy still splits his time between Southern Vermont and Park City, and has come a long way — with top-five finishes at World Championship as well as World Cup podiums.
He has been part of the US Ski team for 10 years and has competed in three Olympics. Follow Andy online at www.andrewnewell.com.
This Vermont native is one of our supporters, and remarked, “You do some great work with Green Energy Times and I’d be happy to contribute.” This article is his contribution.