This article was written by Jordan Freytag and paid for by Creative Energies.
JACKSON, Wyo. — I had the privilege of sitting down with ski legend, Kit DesLauriers in her beautiful home at the base of the Grand Tetons to talk with her about her love of the natural world, her history with environmental activism and about why it was essential for Kit and Rob to have solar panels on her own home.
The day brings light drizzles as Kit prepares for a two-week-long backpacking trip into the Winds. She is inventorying lightweight water filters when I arrive for our interview.
One only needs to glance at Kit’s long list of incredible accomplishments to see that she is a highly motivated person. She’s the first person to ski the seven summits of the world; she spent several years working as a search and rescue patroller; she rehabilitated a she-wolf in her early twenties; She’s a stonemason; she’s recently written a book about her adventures around the world; the list goes on. We talked at length about her environmental-facing life, how and why she came to do the things she’s done, and how the solar industry plays a role in all of it.
Of course, my first stage of inquiry was where does this motivation come from?
Kit DesLauriers (KD): It is up to each of us to make our lives what we want. I’m making it up as I go, honesty. Change is the only constant and I like to have a balance of thinking big and being in the moment. I’ve just always been aware that my choices help to define me. Everybody has their own.
The environmental stewardship piece is really my appreciation of the natural world and understanding that we humans are a piece of it. Not in control of it at all and we never will be. We are an important piece of it. We belong here but the natural world itself doesn’t need us; we need it. That’s where it comes from—that we need to take care of it.
Although her family does have a history of loving the sport, DesLauriers asserts that a love for the outdoors and natural world came before a love for skiing. Her grandfather and father were avid outdoor enthusiasts, skiing the mountains of Vermont. She says that an awareness of and a kinship with the natural world has always been a part of her and although skiing is a big part of it, being a steward for the environment has always been the priority.
In recent years, DesLauriers has worked with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. These 19.6 million acres of wilderness gave her a glimpse into the everlasting power of nature, sharpening an awareness that we must work to preserve it at all costs.
KD: My first trips up there felt like this is the natural world at its perfect inception. It is no different than when our ancestors came to this continent. Eventually, I became more informed and intimate with the relationship of the indigenous people who depend upon that land and the wildlife that live on the land. In particular, the Gwich’in people. They live a traditional lifestyle based upon the health of the caribou who migrate onto the coastal plain of the arctic refuge every spring to give birth. Even though the Gwich’in people live on the southside of the range, this area, since the 2017 tax act, has been opened to oil and gas drilling—about 100 miles from where the Gwich’in live. The caribou come right through the Gwich’in land, so it has become a social justice piece for me too. So, when you ask me about environmental justice, I now have this lens that is so much more about the land and drilling on the land— about everything intertwined, including the first nation people.
An interesting side note. In 2012, I was volunteering for some glacier studies in the high mountains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for Dr. Matt Nolan, a PHD Glaciologist, and I was up there measuring some glaciers. He took core samples, taking them to the labs in Colorado. From some cores up in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on the McCall Glacier, they were able to see a change in the particulates in the glacial ice that directly related to the clean air act. So, legislation can go both ways. It often comes down to jobs, not wanting to take away jobs from the traditional oil and gas industries. But what I can say is that there are jobs in renewable energy sectors. And losing a job in the renewable energy sector is something I’ve personally been exposed to.
As a teenager, DesLauriers’ father entered the solar industry while working for Pierson Yachts, acquired by Grummen Allied Industries. In the late seventies, Grummen developed a solar department for which her father became a salesperson, ultimately deciding to relocate the family to the western United States.
KD: He was there early and solar was really taking off right about then. There were, what may have been, the earliest subsidies for residential consumers and businesses. I was too young to know the details, but it was an industry that was beginning to take off as a result. Because of those subsidies. By the time we got to 1979, his work was requiring him to travel quite a bit. At that point we were living on the shore of Long Island. And he oversaw the western sales team, taking him to Arizona. When he went there, he thought “Wow, this place would be a lovely fun adventurous change for our family!” We were the first branch of our family on either side to move west of the Mississippi. We did that in 1980. Unfortunately, with a change in administration in that year—the solar industry changed dramatically. Under Carter’s administration, the solar subsidies were implemented—at that point, the future for solar looked bright. We’d just moved to Arizona and basically my father lost his job. Life goes on. Change is the only constant.
It was an interesting first exposure for me to the solar industry and how important legislation is and policies are that will compensate people for the significant investment it is to start with solar. The solar coaster—it affected our family directly.
The term “solar coaster” is used to describe the ever-changing landscape of solar, regarding both policy and technology. Over the decades, solar solutions have been met with scrutiny and solar initiatives face their fair share of resistance as they’ve been introduced. With changes in administration, solar incentives are implemented or redacted, making the solar industry unpredictable at best—until recently with the Inflation Reduction Act, which gives more communities and individuals prolonged incentives to adopt clean solar energy to power their homes or facilities.
With these unpredictable changes, I was curious if solar was always a goal of DesLauriers’s, despite the slender incentives that existed at the time.
KD: It was always a goal of mine to have solar on a house that I would hope to own someday. I studied environmental political science in college, and I’ve always cared deeply for the natural world and the concept of justice is a motivating one for me. These changes in the world are highly evident to me. As humans, we should do the most we can to work with the renewable natural resources that our world gives us.
We looked at Geothermal and it’s a beautiful idea—and I think where we live, we could probably run all our house on Geothermal, but the initial infrastructure cost was too much. The terrain and the soils we’d have to dig through. It was just too much. Then we looked at solar and how much solar can we put on our home. So, we put a certain amount on knowing that eventually we would add more solar later. We’ve made subsequent improvements over time.
After spending even a short amount of time with DesLauriers, it is safe to say that she’s committed to doing the right thing for the natural world, fully aware that it is not necessarily always the easiest route to take. She has a keen understanding that the challenges of being a steward of the environment can be at odds with being a member of modern society.
KD: After I studied environmental political science, I basically went and lived in a little cabin in the woods in Ophir Colorado. Then I became a stonemason and a ski patroller because I was like I’m going to hide my head below a rock and try to live in a minimal way because the future is not looking bright for our environmental situation—and that was in the 1990’s. I’ve always tried to balance the way that I’m choosing to live with the awareness that we all have a footprint. It’s a part of why I volunteer at Protect our Winters. I’m a member of the Rider’s Alliance. And in the early years of that, there was a lot of talk (and there probably still is) that it is inauthentic for us as athletes to go out there and speak up against climate change when we are using fossil fuels to fly to Alaska to go on an expedition. The reality that we must remember is that we have a certain footprint on this earth and there’s ways that we can lessen it. We must work towards bigger solutions. You do what you can where you can, and sometimes that means lending your voice to ideally legislation that will help us all get on a better path, and sometimes that is putting solar on your house, sometimes it’s driving an electric vehicle. For a while that was the dream when we built this house. That was it: “I want an electric car and I want solar panels to charge it.” If I can at least power our car and some of our house through our solar then I feel like I’m doing something good.
Something to consider, when you do something where you are contributing to the greater good, it feels good. It’s not just about helping the other causes; it also makes us feel good as humans. Knowing that were doing the right thing. I think the same about solar.
Regarding her history with and knowledge about the solar industry, why did she choose to collaborate with Creative Energies on the project? I was happy to hear that it was the example set by one of our founders who has since passed that was the reason behind going with Creative Energies.
KD: I’m not sure if there were many other options at the time—and I liked Andy Tyson. I really appreciated who Andy Tyson was. I didn’t know him well, but I counted him as a friend. I really appreciated that he was a path cutter in this area, and he had a deep drive to do the right thing. He was a mountain spirit. You mentioned expedition behavior earlier, and I can only imagine that came straight from Andy Tyson.
“Expedition Behavior” is a part of three short phrases that act as a guide for Creative Energies, the others being “Be Authentic” and “Master Your Craft”. Kit is a perfect example of someone who has been practicing expedition behavior all her life, and she defined it perfectly as we concluded out conversation.
KD: If you’re looking at a big expedition. That happens when you put one foot after the other, both with planning and training. Learner’s mind. Kindness and compassion—that’s a big part of expedition behavior.