‘Saving Snow’ screenings bring climate conversations close to home  

Saving Snow

The Jefferson County CCL chapter organized a “Saving Snow” screening and panel discussion, inviting representatives from local, popular winter recreation.

‘Saving Snow’ screenings bring climate conversations close to home  

By Mary Gable

In February and March, Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapters across the world brought people together to watch “Saving Snow,” a new film about how climate change is transforming winter recreation. (Spoiler: it’s not doing any favors.)

Many of the screenings were followed by Q&A sessions or panel discussions that allowed viewers to share how a changing climate is affecting their own home towns and local businesses.

Three hundred miles from Hayward, where much of “Saving Snow” takes place, is Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, a town of 12,000 people that is experiencing similar changes. The Jefferson County CCL chapter, led by Alyson Schmeisser, organized a screening and panel at a public library in town.

“To determine who should be on the panel, we started by thinking about the most popular types of winter recreation here,” says Craig Ficenic, an active volunteer who helped put together the event. The chapter recruited a variety of participants, including 2 Rivers Bicycle and Outdoor, an outdoor gear shop that has seen requests for skis and ice skates drop in recent years. The Jefferson County Parks Department handles grooming of parks and cross-country ski trails, putting it in tune with changing seasons.

For generations, Haumerson’s Pond was the center of life during Fort Atkinson winters. People of all ages gathered there to skate and play hockey on the frozen pond, until it fell into disrepair. In 2015, a group of community members raised money to restore the pond and build a shelter for visitors. But warmer weather has meant that despite people’s best efforts, the days of making winter memories at the pond may be over for good.

The final panelists were two representatives from the Jefferson County Snowmobile Alliance (JCSA). The Alliance has more than a dozen chapters throughout the county and is seeing its reason for existence melt away—leading to fewer practice opportunities and more accidents.

Warming winters become personal

One of the Alliance’s representatives was Jason Lenz, a trail coordinator who, like many snowmobiling enthusiasts, has been involved with the sport since before he could drive a car. He learned to snowmobile from his father, when the season extended from late December through mid-February. Now that Lenz’s own kids are getting older, he’d like the share the sport with them—but the chances to do so are growing fewer and further between. This past season, the trails were open only three days. During two of the past six years, they didn’t open at all.

“Saving Snow” made Lenz realize that these experiences aren’t just flukes. “When a sport like this is your passion, you try to stay hopeful. One year might be bad, but you assume that next year things will get better. You watch that film and realize it might not be,” he says.

Lenz points out that maintaining snowmobiling trails requires planning ahead, an act that depends on hope. The trails crisscross 200 miles of private farms across the county, and JCSA members are responsible for leveling, mowing, adding signs and making sure the trails are safe for use before the season officially begins. More and more, that work is going unrewarded.

“Many of us have multiple generations of family members in the Alliance,” Lenz says. “Snow means so much to us, and our volunteers put in so much time getting the trails ready for winter.”

“It really breaks a guy’s heart to see that work go to waste.”

Continuing the conversation  

While the missions and activities of the panelists were very different, the changes they’re seeing are the same. Shorter seasons. Fewer customers. Dwindling opportunities to do the things they love.

The film screening and panel was a great way for the chapter to connect with community members beyond those who attend monthly gatherings. “Snowmobiling isn’t the greenest sport, and we weren’t sure whether we would be welcome at the event,” Lenz admits. “But people were very receptive. And the film was a game-changer.”

Lenz purchased a copy of “Saving Snow” and showed it at the following JCSA meeting. He’s also shared it with family and friends. “This isn’t something you hear about on our local news,” he says. “But it affects all of us.”

Spreading this awareness is critical, as time is running out to save snowy winters and all they represent. In April, four Olympic winter athletes briefed Congress on how warmer winters are changing their sports, making it harder to train and stay injury-free.

Lighter snowfall is far from the most dire consequence of climate change. But for many people, it’s one that hits close to home. Between the hundreds of screenings of “Saving Snow” held by CCL chapters and winter Olympians sounding the alarm, we hope this gets people talking—and gives them one more reason to fight for a livable future.

Mary Gable
Mary Gable is a writer and editor who focuses on sustainability and innovation. She's based in Seattle, but takes her work on the road whenever she can.