Photography by Sean Beale
With an aim to aid the reforestation of Madagascar, Freestyle skier Pete Oswald has planted over 100,000 trees through his Ski for Trees project. We caught up with Pete to learn more about Ski for Trees and how the reforestation project works.
Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Freeskier from New Zealand. I’ve always loved skiing since my first day on snow at a tiny little club field called Rainbow Valley Ski Area when I was 5 years old. I never raced or had real instruction, but I dabbled in Freestyle and Freeride competitions and competed for a short time for NZ on the Freeride World Qualifier Series. Although my favourite style of skiing is soul riding with friends or big ski mountaineering missions deep in the hills.
What is Ski for Trees? How did it start, and why?
Skiing for me felt a little self-indulgent and I could not see how anyone or anything else was benefiting from my passion from skiing. So, I decided to try use my stoke of skiing to try give back to to people and planet with the biggest positive impact I could make. Planting trees was where I could make the biggest positive impact.
How has Ski for Trees been making a difference?
The plan was for every vertical metre I climbed, 1 native tree was going to be planted towards permanent reforestation in Madagascar where it is needed most. The benefits of the tree planting are so wide ranging, impactful, and far reaching, as well as carbon sequestering to help our global climate (mountain environments everywhere). The tree planting also helps restore wildlife populations, rejuvenates the soil, restores balance to local climate and rainfall, and restores balance to shallow sea eco systems. It also helps lift local Malagasy people out of extreme poverty by fair wage employment and breaks the poverty cycle.
Ski for Trees has recently completed its final super stretch goal of 100,000 trees planted. How was the journey reaching this milestone?
Well, I didn’t really know how it was going to go. I said to one friend, if it plants just 200 trees then it’s still worth it. To reach the stretch goal of 100,000 trees planted was one of the greatest moments in my skiing life. It was not without hard grafting on and off snow. To raise the funds to plant that many trees took countless time behind the scenes trying to gather donations for the project. Climbing the metres was the easy bit. Late in the winter, just after climbing 30,000 vertical metres, I got injured which meant I could not use content from our climbing metres to gather the donations. Instead, I had to be a key-board eco warrior to spread the word of my cause in order to hit the final stretch goal.
Can you tell us in a bit more detail about these reforestation projects, where are they located in the world, and what is their projected impact both locally and globally?
To facilitate the tree planting, I partnered with Eden Reforestation Projects, a reforestation charity Sophie and I also use for our greeting card business Little Difference. Eden has projects in various developing countries, but since Soph and I visited Madagascar in 2017 and lived and spent time with charity members and local Malagasy people learning about the tree planting, the eco-systems, the people, and the link between poverty and deforestation, we gained a much deeper understanding of the needs of Madagascar and the huge positive transformation possible by reforestation there. So this is where I decided to focus the efforts of Ski for Trees.
Photography by Sophie Stevens
Most of the species of trees planted are various native mangroves, which are some of highest carbon sequestering species in the world. Mangroves are also extremely quick and simple to plant. This means the benefits for the resources invested are massive. The difference between planting trees in a developed country compared to a developing country like Madagascar is the volume of trees that can be planted for the same investment is at least 100 times high in Madagascar compared to NZ. The other big benefit is the provision of fair wage employment to the previously impoverished local people. Breaking the inter-generational poverty cycle has a direct effect of reducing the deforestation, as often the deforestation is done out of desperation to survive with methods like “slash and burn” agriculture and small-scale production of charcoal. People who once use to deforest the land and then reforesting it and invested in protecting it.
You are also the co-founder of another charity involved with reforestation, Little Difference. Can you tell us more about Little Difference and its mission?
Little Difference is where the concept of Ski for Trees came from. Soph and I founded Little Difference in 2015 and were determined to start a business whose operation and growth has a holistic net positive effect on people and the planet. It is a greeting card and paper goods company, Soph is the soul artist and I manage the business. It is not a charity, but a business from which we make a living. However, we partner with the same charity Eden Reforestation projects and plant 1 tree for every single product sold. We have now planted over 105,000 trees with Little Difference.
Do you think COVID-19 has had an effect on how we see the world?
In many ways, yes. I think it has been an exercise in re-evaluation of priorities, and many have had a good look at what their true effect on this world is, and what we will leave behind. The tragedy and loss of life caused by COVID-19 is often over looked, it is the saddest and most devastating event of our time. However, the focus of the western world is often the financial, economic, and convenience implications of the tragic events. But the change of pace appears to have allowed many to try to see what good they can do in the world and many have acted on it.
Offsetting carbon footprint is vitally important, what other key initiatives can the general public get involved in?
This is not something I am qualified in, but I would say a good thing to do is vote well with your wallet. Support products an services which make for a better world socially and environmentally.
Where is your favourite place to ski and why?
Hmm, to be honest I love so many different types of skiing from park, to mountaineering, to powder tree runs. Some of the most memorable experiences I have had are in Norway, France, Iceland, Alaska, and Canada. But, many will question this, but the best snow I have ever skied is right here in New Zealand. And my favourite place to ski, it would have to be deep in the NZ backcountry with good friends, hundreds of kms from any other humans, or any other sign of humanity.
If you want to join Pete in aiding the reforestation of Madagascar, Ski for Trees are still taking donations through his website: www.peteoswald.co.nz/ski-for-trees