The Inspiration Behind POW Mobility Month 2023
Mobility Month 2023 may be behind us, but challenging your everyday travel habits to help
protect the places you love doesn’t have to stop. In this blog post, I take a more personal look at
the “why” behind mobility month by expanding on the issues that drove the campaign and motivated the people who supported it.
Today, transport emissions account for the largest part of the outdoor industry’s carbon
footprint. In 2019, the World Tourism Organisation reported that transport emissions were
responsible for up to 75% total emissions from the tourism sector. But this doesn’t have to be
reality; if we opt to jump on the bus to get to our local mountains 100 km away instead of driving
a car, we are already making the choice to save around 680 kg of CO2 in a single trip.
This example was just one of many driving figures that backed up POW Europe’s strategic goal
of inspiring our community to do better, over time creating a cultural shift which would
encourage political will and push for innovation and progression towards effective public
transport and access systems to our favourite playgrounds. But is there more to the story than
some numbers? You betcha.
An Athlete’s Take on Outdoor Sports and Mobility
Professional outdoor athletes (those who make a living from harnessing the power of our natural
landscapes through sport, film, coaching, and more) know a thing or two about mobility issues.
To stay on top of one’s game, there is often the requirement to follow the snow – pushing them
across continents to either compete, create engaging content, or both. Here the elephant in the
room is that in order to stay relevant and competitive, travelling long distances is a compulsory
and conflicting part of the job.
But now, with the effects of climate change becoming harder than ever to ignore, many
professional athletes are choosing to challenge traditional travel pressures by seeking
opportunity and adventure close to home. While this does come with limitations, it also brings
unexpected and exciting experiences of endurance, deepens their cultural connection to a
place, and supports the outdoor-dependent longevity of their sport.
Just take Finnish snowboarding legend Antti Autti, who began to think about the lines he could
ride closer to his home in the Arctic Circle after 9 years of competing and flying around the
world. Antti talks about how such a major career shift was pretty much unheard of at the time
(2011), but nevertheless decided it was important to showcase the beauty and possibilities of
his native landscape. Or Tom-Olivers, also from the remote nordic country of Sweden, who has
given up flying for skiing. Instead he chooses to ride the train, use an Electric Vehicle, E-Bike, or
a sailboat. Meanwhile, Manu Mandl – Freeride World Tour Snowboarding heroine – drew
attention to the amount of travel required to participate in the Freeride World Tour by
documenting her and others #FWTbyTrain series in 2021.
But these athletes are just the tip of the (melting) iceberg, as many others have already woken
up to the immense value in promoting their home mountains, questioning the status quo of
competition travel, and standing up for the places they love. In doing so, they represent a
community of voices demanding improved and reliable public transport systems that ultimately
supports building a sustainable and accessible outdoor industry for all.
Here at POW Europe, our Athlete Ambassador Alliance members work with their individual
national POW Chapters to help spread the word and increase our reach across the outdoor
community. I sat down and spoke to some of them about the conflicts they face as professional
sports people in the topics of transport, travel and responsibility. Many themes came up, mostly
that our current systems just do not provide a good enough and a cheap enough alternative.
“We have not socially accepted the true cost of our carbon intensive travel habits. If it is cheaper
to pay for a tank of fuel to get to a competition in Chamonix from Innsbruck than buying a train
ticket, then it won’t force a behavioural change on the scale necessary to promote systemic
change.” – Francesco Drago, POW Austria
Talking about culture and habit
When it comes to personal comforts, I spoke to POW Germany Athlete Ana Ways about habit,
culture and change, all of which can be stubborn factors in our transition from our default state
of efficiency. The conversation brought up nuanced thoughts for us both.
Ana likes to travel slow and for long periods of time. Taking two months off for her last big
adventure to Georgia by bus and by boat from Germany, she told me that the comment she
hears most often is “I don’t have time to travel like that. If I have one week, I want to get there as
fast as possible to start my holiday”. This brought the conversation back around to topics of
cultural change: does our fast paced society accommodate sustainable travel? We didn’t think
so, which is why “’Making the journey a part of the adventure” was a POW Mobility Week 2022
On this note, Ana explained how embracing the journey as part of your trip provides a smoother
transition into ‘holiday mode’, giving time and physical space to separate from work life or other
life stresses which a holiday is for. We delved into how physiologically, putting this time and
space between everyday and holiday possibly provides even greater health and overall
wellbeing benefits than simply hopping on a plane and being at your destination 2 hours later
without your body understanding the shift in state from relaxation to stress.
“In this way, slow travel is like a transition facilitator, helping you embrace mindfulness and stay
present – something that is actually highly recommended as a therapy for our modern and
stressful lives.” – Ana Ways, POW GR
Photo: Christian Bock
Talking about Logistics
Laura Grasemann and Lena Muller have been vocal through POW Germany’s Thin Ice
campaign, demanding better public transport options in Bavaria. Lena pointed to the fact that in
Germany (like in most countries!) the train tickets are not an attractive price while Laura admits
that although she lives in Switzerland where the trains are more frequent, reliable and
connected, her one trip to the mountains in March was taken by car due to the cost factor.
So sure, maybe living in Switzerland means it is much more possible to reach remote places by
train than in its neighbouring EU countries, but does it mean the option is inclusive for
everyone? In many senses, the answer is no.
On this subject of inclusivity, logistics and mountains, I chatted with Elenora Delnevo from POW
Italy, who – following a climbing accident in 2015 – lost the use of her legs. She now advocates
for accessibility in the mountains and for adventures which are inclusive to everyone.
In her chair, Elenora experiences the same issues as all of us: not enough trains, no buses to
remote places, expensive cross country rail travel, and difficulties with car-sharing when she
needs space for her chair and bike.
“Even the lesser technical hiking trails are inappropriately built for those of us using mobility
aids. I mean, the overall planning of an adventure requires more research and effort than the
already arduous task of planning an excursion for an able bodied person using only public or
active travel. The outdoor industry has such a long way to go with facilitating inclusivity.”
Elenora continued on by saying that these kinds of considerations need to be understood and
included not only from a public transport point of view, but also from trail building and a facilities
provision point of view in order for the outdoors to become a welcome space for all.
Elenora Delnevo travelling on her handbike.
My talks with these POW Athlete Ambassadors left me feeling like there was still so much work
to do before we can truly move sustainably to and in the places we love.
Travelling by private car brings so much comfort and efficiency which let’s admit, we are all
mostly victims of indulging in. Our individual choices to decide to travel in a way which more
often than not requires extra planning, let alone at times extra financing, are important
parts of showing our politicians and Governments that we are serious about wanting better
options for low carbon mobility. And, that choosing the planet’s health and future over our own immediate individual needs comes before the annoyance of a delayed train or another crowded
What’s crystal clear to me is that it is from our politicians and from our Governments with whom
this system’s sea change must be driven by. Don’t get me wrong, continental Europe ranks
highly for rail and bus connectivity but there is a long way to go before these options are
available for all and represent a good enough alternative to deter us from our private vehicles.
And so we must not waste time and energy feeling guilty about our individual actions but
continue to do what we can to set examples, and show the political agenda what we are
demanding. After all, complacency is the enemy of success!