NCAA cross-country ski coach inspires Stratton Vermont Solutions Festival

Posted By: The Ski Channel on August 3, 2010 9:57 am

The Vermont Solutions Festival is set to take place at Stratton Mountain Resort on August 27th and 28th, but it might not have been possible without the efforts of certain Vermont residents such as Middlebury cross-country ski coach, Andrew Gardner.

Gardner, who acts as the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) first coordinator for sustainability in athletics, pioneered the idea of bringing sustainability to athletics such as skiing.

It would be a college knee injury that drove Gardner’s competitive nature on a mission for new ways to express his passion for the sport, even though he was sidelined from ski competition.

Gardner said, “You look at what the pinnacle of success in athletics, how athletes represent their success, some of it being at the highest levels of consumption possible. I can’t wait for a time when reduction becomes hip, when paring down is the new bling.”

“I visited authors and essayists,” Gardner said. “And with the help of a college grant, I started to look at the underpinnings of sustainability in the sports that I love. It’s really the same calling that is at the foundation of the Vermont Solutions Festival”

As Middlebury’s cross-country ski coach, Gardner has implemented several initiatives designed to meet his goal of mergiing sustainability and athletics. That work has included hosting a summit on the Middlebury campus collecting the major environmental groups, powering his ski team’s truck on used vegetable oil and a plan to increase biking availability throughout the Vermont campus. He explains his motivation as a natural progression of skiing.

“I’m motivated to do this work because climate change is so visceral for a skier,” Gardner said. “I remember visiting glaciers when coaching in Europe and watching people freak out when snow was melting at rates they hadn’t seen.”

“To that end, Stratton Mountain is a perfect place to host the Solutions Festival because you can’t even make artificial snow if the temps don’t drop low enough.”

At Stratton, Gardner’s vision is to dedicate a day every year searching for the solutions to problems that arise when sport and sustainability collide. As he suggests, the Vermont Solutions Festival is intended to be a gathering of minds to take on sport in a more sustainable manner, with a farm-to-table dinner, a Farm Stand bike ride, a keynote address from local author Bill McKibben, a panel discussion with leaders from sport and sustainability backgrounds, a youth summit and a concert from the Del McCoury band.

“The line that keeps ringing in my head about this event comes from environmentalist Doug Peacock who said, ‘Sport is a perfectly valid way to organize a life, you just don’t have to screw everything else up with it.’ It’s my hope that this festival will create solutions for exactly how to do that.”