Snowboarding, Tradition and Empathy

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Snowboarding, Tradition and Empathy

One of my mantras is:

Don’t forget to enjoy what you’re fighting for.

The reason it became a mantra…

4 years ago I got a great sustainability job where I knew I would be doing what I loved and making a difference.

But, because I was in the habit of spending all my spare time working on sustainability — when I didn’t love my job — I fell into a trap.

I was working hard at my day-job, then coming home and working on side-projects… and trying to spend time with family and friends… and trying to have a relationship…

In short, I didn’t change my habits.  I kept working on sustainability non-stop.

But my hobbies and other passions — including enjoying nature — fell by the wayside.

2 years in, I realized that fighting to protect nature was more meaningful and more enjoyable if I stopped to revel in nature.

Not only that… but I could return from nature revived, rejuvenated, and ready to take on any new challenges I’d been facing.


I love snowboarding.

Iowa actually has a really nice place — ironically called Sundown Mountain Resort — in Dubuque.

NE Iowa has bluffs and valleys, and these 6 or 7 major slopes (for Iowa) are very respectable.  One black diamond, steep, jumps, timed trial area, trees…  Not just a dirt pile with fake snow (sorry Boone).

I returned from a trip yesterday evening with 2 friends.  It was a 24-hour whirlwind adventure of driving, camping at a parents’ basement, fresh powder snowfall, and more driving.  We had a blast.

On the ski lift, we were enamored by the rolling white, snow-covered hillsides and trees.  It was breath-taking.

But I also had tough conversations.

We also asked questions like, “How much electricity do you think it took to create all the fake snow earlier?  Ugh.”

There’s also:

  • The water source used to make the snow
  • How run-off affects the watershed below the slopes
  • The foam and fiberglass used to make snowboards

Granted, Dubuque isn’t a high-altitude resort… that would add further complications… but you get the point.


It bothers me that I love a sport that has pretty large impacts on the environment.

90% of the time I’m lost in the excitement, the fresh snow, the fun, and the friendship.

I hadn’t had a winter adventure since the first snow in November.  No hiking or sledding yet.

I felt alive.  Happy.  Exhausted.

Memories came flooding back — my first lessons at Tahoe; trips in Garmisch, Germany; and epic trips in Innsbruck, Austria.

Snowboarding became a tradition for me.

It’s something I love doing with close friends.

Bonding time.  Memorable moments.  Road trips.  Long conversations.  Sore bodies.

Mountain scenery (doesn’t get much better than the Alps).  Crisp, cool air.  Questionable road conditions.

The thought of giving up snowboarding hurts my heart.

But it’s not lost on me that the sport has quite a journey to reach a model that is “sustainable.”


The value that I get from ruminating on a topic like snowboarding — and coming back from a great weekend with concerns — is that it helps make me a better environmentalist.

It is a useful reminder.

Much of what I’m working on creating in the world… in my sustainability mission… requires the people that I’m hoping to reach and connect with to question things that matter to them.

Often, I’m asking people to change “behavior.”

That behavior is likely a habit — which is tough enough to change.

But that behavior is also possibly a tradition.

And tradition means so much more.

Traditions involved loved ones, are rooted in emotion, and represent larger aspects of our relationships and who we are in the world.

A few facts and figures aren’t going to convince people to give up all of that meaning.

But taking the time to listen, tease out, and empathize with all that is wrapped up in those traditions — how much they mean to people — will help us find alternatives that can retain meaning for people, yet not compromise our future.


What imperfect traditions do you have?



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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