Ski towns are on the front lines of climate change, and 2017 was a year for local mountain municipalities to take action and save snow. Joining mountain towns across the country in a clean energy movement, Truckee, California, became the 50th city in the United States to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. The man in Truckee who made this happen was the mayor, a 33-year-old skier named Morgan Goodwin.
"We understand how serious this is," Goodwin said in a statement after the decision. "Reducing our emissions will create jobs and long-term economic sustainability as we uphold our responsibility as stewards of the environment."
Young and ambitious, Goodwin has been known to show up to council meetings via cross-country skis. He is as committed to skiing as he is to balancing his political drive and a full-time job, says Alicia Barr, Goodwin's colleague who served on the Truckee town council from 2012-2016. "[Skiing] is absolutely a big part of his lifestyle," she says.
Originally from Lake Placid, New York, Goodwin moved to Truckee in 2012, when his job in the Bay Area gave him the ability to work remotely. Two years later, in 2014, he ran for a seat on the town council and last year, the five-member council chose him to serve as mayor for a one-year term. (The council selects a mayor from their team every year.) I caught up with Goodwin to talk more about how he balances his civic duties with skiing, and why ski towns should join the renewable energy movement.
How did a skier like you get into politics?
For me, I love the mountains and exploring the outdoors. At the same time, a lot of this has always been tied to awareness of climate change--how serious it is and what it means for our civilization. For me, the notion that we need to be more involved in helping to lead our civilization away from fossil fuels has been a big driving force. Getting involved was exciting, challenging, and forced me to use a lot of my skills and energy to give back.
Climate change action has been one of your priorities. Do you think it's a priority for other mountain town politicians?
I feel like most politicians may begin to talk about climate change being a real thing and as it being something that we need to take action on. Unfortunately, I think some of them don't truly understand the severity of it and the levels of opportunity and change that could occur if we eliminated fossil fuels.
So what can be done in the local community?
We are working on a Truckee climate action plan to reduce local emissions by engaging in advocacy work at the state and national level. We are working with a community group interested in setting a 100 percent clean energy goal (Truckee’s electricity is at 61 percent renewable energy) and we are setting up electric vehicle charging stations. We’ve also received California cap-and-trade money for our housing projects, because building housing close to where people work is one of the best ways to reduce vehicle emissions.
Another issue affecting ski towns everywhere is housing. As the mayor of a ski town, what are some solutions to providing more affordable housing?
Local housing is a huge challenge--this idea of the disappearance of the ski bum is something that not a lot of people are aware of or even talk about. It puts a strain on the fundamental question: Why aren't we building more housing for locals? Or if we're not going to build more housing, how do we keep prices down?
Unfortunately, I don't think anybody has been able to solve this issue. It's a larger outflow of the income and inequality that our country is grappling with and hasn't taken a serious step toward. In downtown Truckee, we have several large housing developments in the works, not only providing housing but also expanding our walkable and transit-accessible downtown. We are working on changing fee schedules to make smaller units cost less to build, and making it easier to add secondary rental units. We have invested a lot in regional collaboration, because it is a regional issue, and we’re seeing a lot of collaboration among various agencies to make land available, streamline regulations, and generally work together.
How do you balance the skiing lifestyle with politics?
Like a lot of small-town mayor positions, the job is basically volunteer. I have my day job, which affects how I can get out on powder days. If it's a good year, I can probably get out around the 75-day range. These include cross-country ski days, dinking around in the backyard, touring laps, and resort days at Sugar Bowl.
Last year, I got some big days in the Eastern Sierra. It was the first time I skied down anything that required an ice axe to go up…I need more of that in my life.
In terms of the next step in your political career, what comes next?
I will be on the Truckee town council until 2018, then I'm up for reelection and I intend to run again.
What advice do you have for skiers who want to get more involved in their communities?
I think we can often sell ourselves short. Being young, kind of dirt bags, and not being the real estate agents and lawyers in the towns where we live. We often hold ourselves back from getting involved in not just electoral politics but helping nonprofits and taking on leadership roles in a our community. It can be a super fun, rewarding, and fascinating adventure.
If you want to get involved a lot of the motivation has to be built around how much you love the place you live and how much you appreciate all the people involved that have helped to make that place great. Sometimes its best to come from the perspective of 'how can I add to the good work that is already going on?' Appreciate and thank those people that were there and that helped to turn a cowboy town into a place where you can actually live. Think about the hard choices that they made and then maybe you can learn to empathize with why things are the way they are and how not everything is perfect.