How Chris Rubens Wrestles his Carbon Footprint Against his Career

Rubens is taking a serious look at the impacts of the ski industry, and his place within it—while still making sure he’s having fun.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize Chris Rubens’ name, you’ll probably recognize his laugh. You might have heard him whooping his way through Salomon Freeski TV episodes and Sherpas Cinema films. But that sense of joy from smashing pow belies the thoughtfulness that goes into his skiing. “He’s one of the most competent big mountain skiers I’ve ever been out with. He definitely has the skills to hang with a lot of ski mountaineers and guides,” says photographer Bruno Long.

Last year, Rubens, 33, and fellow Revelstoke-based skier Greg Hill took a 2,500-mile road trip to ski a variety of Northwestern volcanoes. They tackled the journey (and all its backwoods mountain roads) in an electric car—a Nissan Leaf instead of a lifted truck with a sled deck—just to see if it was possible to ski the kind of terrain they wanted to access without fossil fuels.

The film that documented the trip, “The Curve of Time,” won Best Environmental Film at both the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in 2017 and the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival in February.

After a 15-year career crossing the globe, Rubens is taking a serious look at the impacts of the ski industry, and his place within it—while still making sure he’s having fun.

For pro skiers, a huge amount of our lifestyle and job is traveling. If you cut it all out, it’d be easy to cut your carbon footprint, but it would change your lifestyle and you’d probably lose your job, which is a platform to talk about the things you think are important. As a professional athlete, one of the most powerful things you have is your voice that you’ve gained through your sport.

I did pretty good last year. I think I only flew twice, but it’s a balance trying to find that line of what you think is acceptable between burning carbon but still having to live your life.

It started with “Guilt Trip” in Greenland. To me, climate change seemed like such a big problem that an individual cutting out carbon wouldn’t do anything. To be honest, during that whole trip, even in discussions with scientists, my opinion didn’t change. It was really when we took the film on tour, people—people in New York City who had never seen a glacier—kept saying, ‘This is cool and all, but what are you doing about it?’

You can go down the wormhole of things to change. Diet was a huge one for me; now I’m pretty much 90 percent vegetarian. Greg Hill is a weekday vegetarian. That’s a great example of how we should be living our lives. You don’t have to cut everything out.

Travel is the fuzziest line for me. This year I got invited to Tibet. No way I’m going to say no to that, but I struggle with it. Going to other countries and seeing how they live has been really eye-opening, so it’s hard for me to tell anyone not to travel. It’s so invaluable in the grand scheme of things.

A shift in human mindset is what’s going to solve the problem. We live in a fossil fuel-based society. But if we collectively change our mentality, and we’re not going to buy stuff that’s not environmentally friendly, corporations will have to change.

The electric car thing had its ups and downs. It takes twice as long to get anywhere and we almost ran out of power a lot. It’s not for everyone, but it was inspiring, doing it differently.

Within the Revelstoke community, people are ready to change and want to change. People struggle with what to do and what they can do—they still want to go biking and skiing—but it’s at the forefront of people’s thoughts.

You’re living under a rock if you don’t think climate change is going to impact our lifestyle before we leave the planet.

I’ve always really enjoyed the human-powered thing because the fulfillment of doing it under your own power is so much greater. With heli skiing, you ski the gnarliest line, and then you do it again. Touring is more of a slow burn, but you’re buzzing for weeks or months after because you’re so engaged for so long.

A lot of the human-powered ideas are about going back to the past, slowing down, and taking a step away from technology. It makes you question the whole social media game. I much more enjoy when you get to talk with your friends over beers.

This story originally appeared in the September 2018 (47.1) issue of POWDER. To have great interviews delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.

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