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Trail and ultrarunner Abby Levene has had no shortage of meaningful runs throughout her career, from competing on the collegiate level at Princeton and the University of Colorado to winning ultras, like The North Face Endurance 50K and Colorado’s Divide 100K. But it’s quiet solo outings, like running what’s known as the “Monadnock Traverse” or connecting a 20-mile route across the Wapack Range, both in her home state of New Hampshire, that have really moved her.
“There isn’t much public land in the east,” says the 30-year-old, now living in Boulder, Colorado. “Doing the Monadnock Traverse, which is all on land that has been preserved through land easements (watershed, wildlife corridors) I had this moment of appreciation for needing to protect these places so that we have running water, wildlife, and have places to recreate.”
For the past six months, Levene has acted as the trail team captain for Protect Our Winters (POW) a climate advocacy nonprofit organization started by backcountry splitboarder Jeremy Jones. And while she explains that the Monadnock run wasn’t a direct action for POW, it was one of the most meaningful runs of her life. “I was hit in the face with how the land is special and we need to protect it.”
Jones, based out of Truckee, California, in the heart of the Sierra Nevada range, launched POW in 2007 in an effort to unite members of the snowsports industry in caring about how climate change is resulting in diminished snow each year—impacting not just skiing and snowboarding, but the melting of glaciers and the shrinking of clean water supplies.
Gaining corporate partners and spreading the word has led to lobbying for climate advocacy in Washington, which Jones and members from POW embark on each year, among other efforts aiming to raise awareness for outdoor athletes. “Beyond getting athletes to care about the environment,” says POW’s Communications Director, Sam Killgore, “we aim to educate athletes on the issues, and provide tools to effectively advocate for solutions to climate change at a systemic level.”
These days, POW members extend beyond snowsports. The organization branched out into trail running in 2018 because, says Killgore, “the community of trail runners was highly engaged, independently, in climate advocacy already.” She adds that trail running was, and is, an immediate and symbiotic fit aligning the POW mission and runners’ desires to do more and use their platforms more effectively.” Following the successful launch of POW Trail, the organization launched POW Climb in the spring of 2019, and are working to open other sports segments.
“POW hits on a bunch of levels,” says Levene, who, as the POW Trail team captain, heads up efforts of trail runners connected to the organization and recruiting additional runners. “One of them is the lobbying trip to Washington,” which she explains, happened virtually this past year. “Within trail running specifically, we’ve come up with offering race directors to have their events ‘POW-certified,’ which includes them not having disposable cups and taking other measures to be more sustainable.”
Levene explains that the trail running subset—and the larger organization—has internal discussions about how much to travel for international races versus staying local, noting the carbon footprint made by athletes, and others. “I’m really hoping that in the future, staying local is something we can promote,” she says. “All of our backyards have so much to offer.”
POW also focuses on awareness and protection of public lands (something covered in the documentary film “Purple Mountains” put out by the organization in the fall of 2020).
POW Alliance member, ski mountaineer and POW Ambassador Jim Morrison started an initiative called #CrushIt4Climate in March of 2020 that got sidelined through the pandemic and pushed to the current month of March 2021. For the initiative, participants register their email with POW if they’re not already members, then set a goal of any sort — like skier Connor Ryan looking up who’s native land he’s recreating on with every outing (@sacredstoke) and runner Jonnah Perkins pledging to run around her Minnesota farm each day—and hashtag #CrushIt4Climate.
From there, each #CrushIt4Climate participant is entered to win gear prizes from the organization’s partners.
“The direct goal of CrushIt4Climate is to grow our database of people so we have more leverage with Congress by saying, ‘This is how many people we have behind this,’ for any given environmental cause,” explains Levene. “The less direct goal is coming together with outdoor activity to take on climate action.”
Levene recently returned from her own CrushIt4Climate activity, skinning up and skiing down laps at Ski Santa Fe for the equivalent 29,000 vertical feet of Mt. Everest, an effort known as “Everesting.” The effort, which she tackled with fellow runner and POW Alliance member Rickey Gates and others (who joined for a lap or a few), took 15.5 hours.
Having lost her grandmother to COVID-19 this past year, having her sister work as an EMT at a COVID pop-up hospital in New York City, she says, Everesting gave her something to strive toward. “I felt like there was value in the sense that I could go out and do something really hard in the same way we’re facing monumental challenge of how to tackle climate change. They’re both literally one step at a time.”
While the #CrushIt4Climate campaign wraps up April 1, opportunities to connect with POW’s fight against climate change do not. According to Levene, the best way to get involved with POW as a trail runner at any time is to sign up via the organization’s website. “That way, you can join initiatives and Calls-to-Action, volunteer locally, help galvanize the vote, et cetera,” she says.
Once signed up, members receive weekly climate news roundups through the organization’s newsletter, which aim to help keep members up to date on science and legislation as an integral part of being invested and involved. “All of those actions make you a climate advocate,” says Levene.
And moving forward, Killgore says POW will be continuing to work on engaging the outdoor community in advocating for climate solutions–focused bills in Washington.
“None of us are perfect,” says Levene. “We drive cars, live in houses heated by oil and gas, live in the system. But we can come together to change that system.”