On Saturday, Caroline Gleich and a group of skiers took off on their skis in support of a place not known for its snowfall or steep vert. Gleich, Brody Leven, Forrest Shearer, Rob Lea, and others climbed and skied 157,951 vertical feet—nearly 30 miles of up and down, in 24 hours—to raise money for an education center in Bears Ears National Monument. All told, the group raised $26,000 on Kickstarter for Friends of Cedar Mesa, which is trying to build the center in Bluff, Utah, to educate visitors about how to be respectful of the thousands of sensitive archeological sites in Bears Ears.
The skiers saw the skiing vertathon as just another way to help help fight back after President Trump nearly eviscerated Bears Ears last week, reducing the new national monument’s size by 80 percent (from 1.35 million acres to 201,876). Near the Great Western chair at Brighton, Utah, the skiers utilized a section of the resort that was still closed due to lack of snow. From 5 a.m. to 5 a.m., each skier completed nine laps, amassing roughly 15,000 vertical feet a piece.
Gleich says the connection to skiing is clear, given that skiers primarily recreate on public land, particularly in the West. As the land around Bears Ears is eyed for development by the fossil fuel industry, Gleich says the move could have implications on climate change as well. She says part of the purpose of the vertathon was to help draw attention to skiing’s connection to the public lands debate. “If we don't come to the table in the leasing process, then other industries are going to step in and do it for us,” she says. “There’s a lack of awareness about how we recreate and how we can be better stewards of the land.”
Trump also ordered Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to be drastically downsized, calling the two sites an example of federal overreach when they were established by his predecessors. The two monuments are located in Southern Utah, and both were established by presidential decree—Bears Ears by Barack Obama in 2016, and Grand Staircase-Escalante by Bill Clinton in 1996—through the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives presidents the power to protect sensitive and culturally important areas.
Trump’s order was immediately followed by lawsuits from a host of environmental groups and the five Native American tribes that worked to get Bears Ears established. Patagonia also filed a lawsuit against the move and dedicated its homepage last week with a message stating: “The President Stole Your Land.”
“This attack on Bears Ears is not just a Utah thing,” says Gleich, a Patagonia-sponsored athlete. “It has an implication on the entire environmental policy of our nation.”
Gleich implored more skiers to get involved in the public lands issue, saying their voices are needed if they want to protect resources, even for those lands that might seem far away. “It can be really intimidating to speak out if you ride chairlifts or dream of taking that heli ski trip,” she says. “But whether you are motorized or non-motorized, it’s important for all skiers to come to the table. You don't have to be carbon neutral to be an activist.”
For more information on the Bears Ears Education Center, go to Friends of Cedar Mesa.