The impact of climate change? These winter Olympians have seen it

Jamie Anderson competes in snowboard big air at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea
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The summer camp that melted

Jamie Anderson was 15 years old the first time she showed up at Camp of Champions, a snowboarding and freeskiing camp that was founded in 1989. Based on Horstman Glacier in British Columbia, the camp featured a massive summertime snowpark, complete with pipes, rails, and jumps.

“Athletes would come from all over the world,” Anderson, a three-time Olympic medalist, recalled.

Like Anderson, many of her fellow campers went on to win Olympic and X Games medals.

Shaun White, Devin Logan, Mark McMorris? All former campers.

“It’s hilarious how many people that came to camp ended up as rockstars,” said Camp of Champions founder Ken Achenbach. “It was the magic of camp.”

Kaitlyn Farrington, Sebastien Toutant, Cassie Sharpe? They all went to Camp of Champions, too.

According to Achenbach, former campers who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics racked up so many podium finishes that “if we had been a country, we would have finished eighth” in the overall medal count.

Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson, age 17, training at Camp of Champions in July 2008. (Credit: Camp of Champions/Angel Rodriguez)
Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson, age 17, training at Camp of Champions in July 2008. (Credit: Camp of Champions/Angel Rodriguez)

But the medals were just a bonus for Achenbach. “What I loved about camp was just influencing all of these kids to have amazing lives,” he said. “Camp was the place where all these people could discover what makes them happy.”

Two of those kids? His daughters, Kaia and Caprii. They grew up playing on the glacier, where they got to know Anderson as “my friend Jamie” before she became a snowboarding legend.

When Kaia was five years old, she announced that she wanted to become the “boss of camp” once she turned 25. Initially, Achenbach could imagine a future in which he’d be able to pass his business on to his daughters.

But in 2017, nearly three decades after it opened, Camp of Champions declared bankruptcy and closed for good.

“I lost my job because of global warming,” said Achenbach, who now works in real estate. “The glacier park that we were on is pretty much gone.”

In a 2017 letter about the camp’s closure, Achenbach detailed how he had seen the ice at Horstman Glacier drop by over 140 vertical feet in just 30 years.

“Every year, the final pitch of the Horstman T-Bar shrinks more and more making it harder and harder for Whistler Blackcomb to maintain,” he wrote. “To give you an idea of how much melting has happened the last few years, in 2015 alone the glacier lost 35 vertical feet of ice.”

Of course, it’s not just Horstman Glacier that has seen the impacts of climate change.

A 2018 study found that by 2050, nine of the 22 prior Winter Olympic host cities will be too hot to host the Games. And in the United States, nearly all ski areas are expected to have a season that is 50% shorter by the middle of this century, according to a 2017 study in the Global Environmental Change journal.

But not every member of the winter sports community has always been in agreement that climate change was happening, let alone worth addressing.

In 2019, Gian Franco Kasper, then President of the International Ski Federation (FIS), told a Swiss newspaper that there was no proof of climate change. (In the same interview, Kasper also expressed his preference for working with dictators over environmentalists.) Kasper, who later apologized, retired from FIS in June 2021. He died the following month.

Anderson, who denounced Kasper’s 2019 comments, donated her prize money from that year’s World Championships to Protect Our Winters, a non-profit organization that promotes climate change legislation.

“I do think that athletes [can make] a stand,” Anderson said last week. “You can speak your truth.”


You can’t out-ski global warming

While the worst impacts of climate change are still years away, athletes who compete on snow and ice have already seen the impact of rising temperatures and less predictable snowfall. Many winter sports hold events at the same places at the same times each year, providing athletes with a close-up look at just how quickly the environment is changing.

“Climate change is real. It’s here and it is 100% affecting our sport,” two-time X Games champion Maggie Voisin said at last month’s Team USA media summit. “I think back to when I was younger when there was way more snow earlier in the season and at the end of the season.”

“Halfpipes are getting fewer and fewer all over the place just because it takes so much snow,” said two-time world championship medalist Maddie Mastro.

RELATED: One of the factors Mikaela Shiffrin weighs in ski racing future? Climate change

“We’ve gone to sites [where] normally we would have snow, but instead it’s been raining,” aerialist Winter Vinecki explained.

“It’s really scary to all of us, especially as winter athletes, to see these changes happen,” said cross-country skier Gus Schumacher. “I think it’s really important to focus on… because otherwise, we’re not going to have a Winter Olympics.”

In recent years, Anderson has attended pre-season training camps in Saas-Fee, a glacier village in Switzerland. But while Saas-Fee’s Allalin Glacier is rideable, at least for now, Anderson has made note of some worrying changes.

From an increase in the amount of ice breaking off to the visible decline in the glacier’s size, it’s “a pure, physical testimony to how gnarly climate change is,” Anderson said.

Two-time Paralympic snowboarding medalist Keith Gabel, who has also trained at Saas-Fee, shared a similar story.

“We’re watching ice chunks break off from the glacier every day. It sounds like avalanches,” Gabel explained. “To see how much the ice has shifted just in the last couple of years, it’s mind boggling.”


When loving something might mean letting it go

While winter sports are undoubtedly impacted by climate change, they also – like any other carbon-emitting event – are contributing to its progression.

Anderson often finds herself feeling conflicted. If she wants to be an elite athlete, she needs to attend pre-season training camps. But on the flip side, what sort of environmentalist is she if she takes a transcontinental flight in August or September just to find snow?

“I’ve considered making a promise to myself to not ride in the offseason and not travel across the ocean to go ride glaciers. It’s really hard to find that balance,” she said.

“I know I’m just as much a part of the problem as I am the solution. I’m still here snowboarding.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.