School Program Manager, Protect Our Winters
Perhaps more than anyone else on this list of young go-getters, Jake Black is making an impact—not in the sense of signing riders or executing marketing campaigns, but working for change that has the potential to influence our world, not just Boardworld. After phasing out of a competitive snowboard career, Jake has taken a job with Protect our Winters. Putting to use the degree in sustainable studies he earned while balancing a simultaneously rigorous contest schedule, he is doing much more than his part in working to make snowboarding a thing people might actually be able to do in the latter part of this century. As he's settled into this role, Jake hasn't slipped on his board, spending more and more time on foot-powered backcountry missions outside of Aspen, the town he now calls home. If you see Black's name on a banked slalom roster, know you're competing for second. It's been the Año de Negro for a few years now, with no sign of the Fastest Man in Colorado letting up.
— Taylor Boyd
What's your title, and what do you do?
My title is School Program Manager for Protect Our Winters (POW). I coordinate school assemblies all over North America to middle and high school students to talk about climate change, the science behind it, and how we can all be a part of the solution in creating positive climate solutions at home and around the world. The program is called Hot Planet Cool Athletes, and we bring professional snowboarders, skiers, climbers, explorers, fishermen, etc. to schools to talk to the students about their firsthand experiences with climate change and real tangible solutions to not only reduce our carbon footprint, but to also improve the economy, create jobs and keep the powder days coming.
Where are you from and where do you currently call home?
I grew up in Keystone, Colorado and now live in Aspen, Colorado.
How did you start snowboarding?
I started skiing when I was starting to walk you could say. Then I saw snowboarding; I was fascinated with it and had to give it a go. I was seven years old then, and my mom talked to Steve Link from Summit Snowboards, and he used some scraps from the shop to rig together his first kids' snowboard. I later headed up to A-Basin, and I've been hooked ever since.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to work in the snowboard industry?
Honestly, I never had an 'aha moment', but snowboarding taught me so much and gave me such appreciation for the outdoors, taking care of myself, setting goals, humility, freedom of expression, friendships and a lifelong passion, that I wanted to find a way to give back to the world that gave me my identity.
And how did you make that happen?
I was competing all over in halfpipe and slopestyle events—Dew Tour, Grand Prix, and US Open. I was enjoying the ride but craving a balance between physical and mental stimulation. So I started going to Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge to get my associate's degree with the intention to transfer to University of Colorado Boulder. I would go to school in the fall and some summers, then travel and compete throughout the winter. I loved the atmosphere of the small classes and intimate education at CMC, so when the school started to offer a new Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Studies, I jumped at the opportunity. My life in the mountains led me toward a conservationist mentality and a degree in sustainability aligned with that. To say the least, I was as fascinated with my schooling as I was with my snowboarding. I was exposed to some of the world's greatest hardships, most creative problem solvers and solutions—some tangible, some moonshots—that not only protect the environment but also benefit the economy and the equity of people.
I was inspired and wanted to learn more—more questions, more ideas, more solutions. So I began freelance writing for magazines like TransWorld Business, Frequency, and Snowboard Mag, along with a few newspapers to spark the conversation of sustainability within the snow sports industry. Talk about killing two birds with one stone; I was finding ways to set up interviews with my idols in snowboarding, alongside interviews with my idols in sustainable studies. I was learning how Nicolas Müller defined sustainability within his environment, while learning from Auden Schendler, VP of Sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company, on how he was working to implement sustainability within an entire company and beyond.
Along the way, I began working with Protect Our Winters as an athlete on their Riders Alliance—a team of athletes using their voice to promote sustainable practices locally, nationally, and internationally. I was visiting schools as a guest speaker to share stories from the ground about climate change and to inspire students to question the status quo to help reduce our carbon footprint. Something engrained in the ideology of snowboarding, to paint your own path and to challenge that expression at the next given opportunity, no matter the terrain that lies ahead. Needless to say, I wanted to find a way to be a bigger part of the solution and a bigger part of POW, because POW represented something I truly believed in, in an industry that is dependent on how we care for our planet. So last fall, I ended up taking a bigger role in not only hosting school assemblies, but coordinating them all over the US and Canada. This last school year was POW's biggest school year to date; we spoke with roughly eleven thousand students. This next year is only going to be bigger and better as we hit more schools, talk to more students and discover new ways to make the world a better place.
Who did you look up to in the industry for inspiration?
There are so many that I looked up to as I grew up. I still look up to many for their continued dedication to their passion for snowboarding and now I look up to more than just some of the worlds best snowboarders and athletes. Nicholas Müller is one of my favorites. His film Fruition really helped tell his story of trials and tribulations, to still fuel the fire in the face of resistance and uncertainty is a position I find inspiration from.
Chad Otterstrom—I have never met someone so dedicated to anything the way Chad is to chasing snow. He truly eats, drinks, and sleeps snowboarding three hundred sixty five days a year. I am lucky to call him one of my best friends these days as I feed off of his energy and excitement to not only snowboard but bring the intensity and drive to anything in life.
Then there are characters like Auden Schendler. As I mentioned before, he is the VP of Sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company. He worked alongside geniuses like Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute and sees the world through a different lens than most. His shift in perspective changes the way we perceive problems, not to mention his witty capability to work with others and find levers in order to create real solutions to reducing the impact of businesses around the world.
What do you feel has been your biggest impact in your line of work?
My biggest impact is that I get to talk with thousands of people from all sorts of different backgrounds, social statuses, and beliefs about a subject that will negatively affect every single person on the planet. Some days the task seems daunting and overwhelming. Sometimes I even ask myself if I can really make a difference. But the reality is that we know the problem, and we know the solutions; we just need to invest and create the right incentives now to protect the future for generations to come. There is no silver bullet solution here, and it will take a lot of creativity, teamwork and dedication, but we can truly change our society for the better, live longer healthier lives, make more money, and simultaneously reduce the negative side effects of climate change at the same time. Although it seems like a no-brainer to transition towards renewable energies and become more conscious consumers on a daily basis, change isn't always easy—but it is the only constant. So I try to use this platform to share the knowledge of just how we fix this global issue and inspire the next generation to take actions on their own, change the way we see the world and become the leaders of tomorrow. Right now one of the best things we can do is to use our voices and talk about the problem at hand. It is much harder to turn the blind eye when your friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, and family members are talking about how we can make tomorrow a better place.
What do you want to accomplish that you haven't yet?
There is so much I want to accomplish: I want to take Hot Planet Cool Athletes and speak with more students in states and districts that are questionable to the science of climate change to encourage students to speak up about the subject and do their own independent research. I want to find ways to have respectful conversations about the science of climate change and not create differences between others. I want to find more ways to show how the many of the proposed solutions can make our lives better. I want to take the program and create an international assembly, and I want to talk to college students about the importance in voting and keeping our representatives accountable when they are in the civic hot seat. The list goes on.
Anyone you'd like to thank?
First and foremost, my parents, Annie and Mark, for everything: raising me in the mountains, encouraging me to pursue my dreams and supporting me no matter what. My brothers, Hunter and Zack, for being my friends through it all. My snowboard coach growing up, Jim Smith, he was the biggest influence in my life outside my parents. There were so many teachers that made a difference in my life as well: Joyce Mosher for exposing me to great literature, Mark Palz for sharing with me the endless potential with writing and Jean Kramlich for the guidance in school and endless support. Of course, Chris Steinkamp and the POW team for taking me in and giving me the opportunity to share something meaningful with others. There has been, and continues to be, an astronomical amount of people that have helped me along the way, and I only hope I can repay the debt someday.