‘If we don’t, who is?’ Adventurers protect winter playground as climate changes

‘If we don’t, who is?’ Adventurers protect winter playground as climate changes

BANFF, Alta. — Professional adventurer Greg Hill was skiing in Pakistan five years ago, when he got caught in an avalanche and broke his leg.

As he healed, he reflected on what legacy he would have left behind had he died.

Hill had climbed hundreds of mountains, skied millions of vertical feet and documented many of his adventures in Canada, South America, Norway and Pakistan.

“It was awesome — I was encouraging people to push deeper,” Hill said in an interview. “But it was the selfish 30-year-old adventurer. It was all about my own stuff and what I can do.”

Now a father in his 40s living in Revelstoke, B.C., Hill wanted to do “something that can be learned and taken and adopted by others and help improve the world.”

He’s one of a growing number of Canadian adventurers — including ice climber and paraglider Will Gadd, retired ski cross Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor and alpine ski racer Erik Guay — who have come to focus on the environment.

They’re all ambassadors for Protect Our Winters Canada, a non-profit advocacy group based in Waterloo, Ont. It’s made up of outdoor enthusiasts, professional athletes and sporting brands trying to get governments to take action on climate change.

“Our overall goal is to unite and organize the outdoor community,” said Dave Erb, the group’s executive director. “As people who enjoy spending time in nature and recreating in nature, it really should mandate our participation in the fight to save and protect it. If we don’t, who is?

“We’re the ones who see the changes but also have a deep connection to these landscapes and these magical places.”

Erb said the group’s ambassadors can help influence how others think about climate change, but find themselves in a hypocritical situation.

“They love going and exploring and living this adventure-based lifestyle, but they also know their carbon footprint is big.”

Hill said that was exactly his thinking.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind the hypocrisy of my situation — the way I was loving and enjoying nature, on the one side, and then, on the other side, kind of helping to destroy it.”

Hill said he was seeing the effects of climate change first hand, such as the retreating Illecillewaet Glacier in the Selkirk Mountains near Rogers Pass in B.C.

“Every year, it kept going further and further back,” he said. “There used to be this scary bulge to get on to it and now it has receded back 100 meters. It’s so far back than what it used to be. You just didn’t notice it.

“If it made noise and screamed, maybe we’d do something about it.”

In 2017, Hill decided to do what he could to reduce his impact.

He quit heli-ski guiding, sold his diesel truck and leased an electric car to travel to his adventures. He and another athlete, Chris Rubens, decided they would ski as many mountains as possible without burning fossil fuels.

They documented their adventures in a film called “Electric Greg,” which premiered in November at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and is part of the festival’s World Tour.

The film also includes a trip with his children, now teenagers, to the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies, where markers on the ground show its retreat.

In addition to changes where he skis, Hill has also noticed changes where he lives. Summers are increasingly smoky in the B.C. Interior due to forest fires, which research shows are becoming more frequent and more extreme due to climate change.

Hill has also embraced recyclable bags, weekday vegetarianism and localism — eating only locally produced foods and buying items such as locally made soaps and locally roasted coffee.

The transition isn’t perfect, but he believes people are paying attention.

“There was some skepticism at the start because I was supposed to be a globe-trotting athlete,” said Hill. “In the end, if your story is relevant and real, then it’s got purpose, and luckily the environmental stories are very important right now.

“Mine makes a lot of sense and it’s resonating with a lot of people.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Employee at Bethany CollegeSide in Red Deer tests positive for COVID-19

An employee at a Red Deer continuing care facility has tested positive… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta has identified 1,828 new cases and 15 new COVID-19-related deaths, which brings the provincial death toll to 590. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 1,828 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Central zone has 1,251 active cases

Higher sales of cannabis helped Canadian farmers come out in the green. (Black Press Media File)
Drumheller RCMP lay charge for unlawfully distributing cannabis

A joint forces investigation involving the AGLC investigation team partnered with Drumheller… Continue reading

Three weapons have been seized and four people are facing charges following a police operation in central Alberta. (Photo contributed by RCMP)
RCMP, Lacombe Police seize loaded guns, arrest four people

Four people have been arrested and multiple prohibited firearms are off the… Continue reading

The Salvation Army's 2020 Christmas Kettle Campaign includes a new $5 tap feature for pandemic-friendly donations. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Salvation Army officers safe, touchless options for Kettle donation this year

The Salvation Army in Red Deer needs help. Kettle donations are needed… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Montreal Alouettes' Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a “laggard” on homophobia in sports

Study finds Canada a “laggard” on homophobia in sports

Canada's Kadeisha Buchanan (3) and Mexico's Jacqueline Ovalle (11) battle for the ball during a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer match Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Edinburg, Texas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Delcia Lopez
Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan named Canadian Women’s Player of the Year

Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan named Canadian Women’s Player of the Year

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris celebrates his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the first half of the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Running back Andrew Harris, who was instrumental in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ending their Grey Cup drought in 2019, tops the CFL team's list of potential free agents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Grey Cup MVP, top Canadian Harris among Winnipeg Blue Bombers potential free agents

Grey Cup MVP, top Canadian Harris among Winnipeg Blue Bombers potential free agents

24Toronto Raptors' Fred VanVleet (23) goes up for a shot agains the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.. Watching Connor McDavid let a slapshot fly or Fred VanVleet sink a deep three can be a salve to the soul of a sports fan run down by the difficult realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark J. Terrill
Bubbles are best: experts say return of sports risky as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Bubbles are best: experts say return of sports risky as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall (10) scrambles past Texas State's Nico Ezidore (95) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in San Marcos, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chuck Burton
BYU presents tough challenge for Chanticleers, Canadian Makonzo this weekend

BYU presents tough challenge for Chanticleers, Canadian Makonzo this weekend

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, arrives at B.C. Supreme Court to attend a hearing, in Vancouver, on Friday, November 27, 2020. The U.S. Department of Justice is refusing to comment on media reports that its lawyers are seeking a plea deal of sorts with Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PM won’t confirm reports U.S. Justice Department seeking plea deal with Meng Wanzhou

PM won’t confirm reports U.S. Justice Department seeking plea deal with Meng Wanzhou

Alek Minassian is shown in a handout photo from his LinkedIn page. A psychiatrist retained by the defence will testify for a fifth consecutive day today at the trial for the man behind Toronto's van attack. Dr. Alexander Westphal says Alek Minassian does not truly understand the moral wrongfulness of killing 10 people, but says criminal responsibility is a legal opinion, not a psychiatric one. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
‘I know what I did was morally wrong,’ Alek Minassian told psychiatrist, court hears

‘I know what I did was morally wrong,’ Alek Minassian told psychiatrist, court hears

A look at what provinces and territories have said about COVID-19 vaccine plans

A look at what provinces and territories have said about COVID-19 vaccine plans

Most Read