Olympians to Congress: Winter is leaving



From left, Winter Olympians Maddie Phaneuf, David Wise, Stacey Cook, Arielle Gold and Jessie Diggins at the briefing on Capitol Hill.


WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 25, 2018 — Five members of the U.S. Winter Olympians appeared on Capitol Hill Wednesday with an urgent message: Climate change is not something that will happen in the distant future. It’s happening now, and it’s affecting winter and the sports we love.

“Climate change used to seem looming and far away,” said gold medal freestyle skier David Wise. “But in my lifetime, I’ve seen winters start later and become more volatile.” He said that because of drought years and then years of heavy precipitation, he never knows when the season will start, or if it will be good.

Other Olympians appearing with Wise at the briefing for congressional staffers were cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, halfpipe snowboarder Arielle Gold, biathlete Maddie Phaneuf and alpine skier Stacey Cook.

Phaneuf said she grew up skiing with “tons of snow everywhere,” she remembers. “But in recent years, the majority of my races are on 100 percent man-made snow.” She describes her courses looking like “a ribbon of white snow. You can see that everywhere else is just grass.”

The Sochi Olympics were a big dream for snowboarder Gold, but it was “one of the worst events I’ve ever had. They were spraying blue chemicals on the half pipe to try to keep it frozen. It’s unlikely that city will ever be able to host the Winter Olympics again.”   

Gold, whose arm was in a sling at the briefing, said, “I can attribute this injury to the conditions in Sochi. It was 50 to 60 degrees. We hadn’t been able to practice because it was so warm that the half pipe would fall apart.” That lack of practice led to a crash.

The briefing was co-hosted by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Bennet told the audience, “It’s critical for us to build a coalition around the consensus view of scientists that climate change is real… Our economy is going to depend on us getting it right on climate.”

Bennet reminded everyone of the time in the 1970s and 1980s when Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve the vexing environmental problems of the day, like the ozone hole in the atmosphere. “Some of the biggest champions for thoughtful environmental regulation in the 1970s were Republicans.”

Bennet said we need a  “durable, sustainable political coalition that is as diverse as possible, so that we can produce a result that endures.” He added, “I’m pessimistic about a lot of things in our politics right now, but I’m optimistic that we’ll do the right thing here.”

Gold medalist Diggins said, “We’re your canaries in the coal mine. We see [climate change] happening all over the world, and it affects everyone at every level. I see man-made snow everywhere we go — nobody can count on natural snow anymore. It’s a sign we really need to do something. Climate change is taking away a very healthy, incredibly fun, family-oriented sport that I love.”

Diggins said, man-made snow is “icier and more dangerous because we’re not equipped. We don’t have metal edges” She said one of her teammates broke his leg due to the conditions, in fact.

Alpine skier Cook said, “I’ve been on the World Cup tour for 15 years. When we first started training in Europe, we did off-season training on the glaciers. In that time, I’ve seen the glaciers recede past where chairlifts go — it has disappeared beneath our feet.”

Following the briefing, the athletes took their message to several senators and representatives.



Citizens’ Climate Lobby — Steve Valk, 404-769-7461, gro.e1621173122tamil1621173122csnez1621173122itic@1621173122evets1621173122

Protect Our Winters — Sam Killgore, 206-310-5393, gro.s1621173122retni1621173122wruot1621173122cetor1621173122p@mas1621173122

To arrange athlete interviews, contact Lindsay Bourgoine: *protected email*

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.

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