The Skier Taking on Global Warming

Summer 2019
Lagasse in gear skiing down mountain

Photo by Court Leve

Brennan Lagasse ’02 has skied every continent in the world, but he’s not doing it just for the thrill of the ride. Through his adventures, he’s seen the effects of climate change on the terrain he loves. The professional ski guide and sustainability professor at Sierra Nevada College is working to make a difference through activism, focusing mainly on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska.

His feet were in ski boots by age 2. Lagasse was born and raised in Vermont; his mother made sure skiing was always part of his life, but she didn’t expect him to make a career out of it. Accidents come with the type of intense skiing Lagasse does. “I don’t even tell her most of the stuff that I do because it’s hard for her to understand why I do what I do.”

This spring, he trekked to Greenland to ski guide and partner with an Inuit group working to develop ecotourism. Nestled just above the Arctic Circle, the town of Sisimiut is reliant on the fishing industry, and its people are looking to diversify the area’s economy. Lagasse is leading them around the snowy area to find a solution. “My invitation there was based on my ski guide work years ago, but over time, getting to know these people, these are the things that we would discuss. We thought, ‘How can ecotourism offset the reliance on resource-extractive multinational corporations?’ Now, we’re able to go that next step.”

His daughter’s first trip was to Capitol Hill with Lagasse to lobby for the protection of the Arctic Refuge with the Alaska Wilderness League. He  continues to fight for the area, which is vulnerable to climate change. “To quote Howard Zinn, ‘You can’t be neutral on a moving train.’ Theory is so important, but you can only theorize so much before acting.”

He believes in teaching through doing. Lagasse has taken students to the Arctic Refuge to witness the effects of climate change on locals, like the Gwich’in Tribe. Because the Arctic climate is complex, with limited sunlight and a bounty of ice, it’s sensitive to temperature changes, threatening wildlife, glaciers, and the people who live there. After visiting the area, the students were faced with the desire for a solution, and Lagasse showed them how they could help combat the issue through sustainability efforts. Some of his students have lobbied for progressive climate change policy, while others have tackled issues of food waste and transportation.

Catch him on the silver screen. For an upcoming IMAX film, called Out of Bounds, Lagasse is filming polar bears and guiding the crew in the Arctic Refuge and Antarctica. In the picture, he discusses climate change in both regions. “In this next segment, we’re going to work with one of my good friends who’s an elder Inupiat and one of the strongest voices for Arctic Refuge protection around Kaktovik.”

He’s setting an example for the next generation. “I want [my daughter] Mika to know that if I ever leave her [for work], for even a little bit, that I’m doing it because of something I really believe in. I want her to grow up with the support to know that whatever she believes in, what her heart tells her, we’re going to be there for her so she can follow her dreams and bring out the best in her in this world.”