Interview by Jeff Schmuck
Photos courtesy of JP Auclair
So you’ve got a new project on the go called Alpine Initiatives. Tell everyone what it’s all about.
Well basically Alpine Initiatives (http://www.alpineinitiatives.org) is a foundation that was put in place to get everybody from the snowsports community working together on different projects to help make a difference in the world. It sounds like a big deal when I say it like that so I always feel kind of shy about it, but that’s basically what it comes down to. We don’t really have one specific cause, every now and then we’re just going to pick a project that we want to work on and then whenever we want to do that we’ll have Alpine Initiatives set up in place to gather everybody together to work on one specific thing. Our first project is going to be this fall when we’ll be going over to Kenya to build a community home for AIDS orphans.
JP Auclair, Seth Koch and Mikey Hovey at guide school in Alaska
That’s awesome. What prompted you to start something like this?
Well I was talking to my buddy Mikey Hovey who’s a guide in Alaska and I met him while I was in guide school two years ago with Alaska Heli Skiing. I was telling him I wanted to go do something like that, do construction in a third world country and just go help people, and he got really excited because that’s what his mom does. She’s working with another foundation called International Peace Initiatives in Kenya. So he told me we could definitely do something because it’s all set up, and we could just show up and work and help out, so I was like, ‘done.’ So then we got in touch with International Peace Initiatives and after talking to them we quickly realized there was going to be a lot more going into it than just showing up, and that it’s actually not as easy as we initially thought. They have it setup so that if you want to do something, you’re going to have to put a lot more into it from yourself so you get a lot more out of the experience, with learning skills and learning different things. So we realized we had to get a group together and get organized and raise our own money to buy different materials and all that. So it started to turn into a bigger project than we anticipated but we were still super excited about it. But while we were putting everything in place and were realizing how much effort it was for this one project we decided why not go further and beyond the Kenya trip. So at first we were just feeding off each others’ energy to put this together long term but now everyone we’ve been talking to along the way has been super supportive and really excited about it so next thing you know we’re now feeding off of everybody we’ve been talking to about it. So many people have been willing to contribute and since the website has launched I’ve gotten amazing emails from people I didn’t know and people I knew and people I haven’t seen or heard from in a while, like Zach Davison, who sent me a really cool email and said he really wants to help out in any way that he can. There’s just been a lot of support from all these people that share the same passion for skiing and snowboarding, which is basically what unites us. Because for the same reason that I can travel all the way to New Zealand or Japan and have a home, it’s the same reason that we can unite and work on things together, because there’s so many individuals in these sports that have so much passion and energy. I mean take a guy like Anthony (Boronowski), who is so pro-active and involved and he’s got so much energy. And there are so many others in skiing right now that have that same passion and involvement with making movies, magazines, companies and overall just being so pro-active. So basically with Alpine Initiatives we want to channel that energy towards projects that are going to make a big difference, and all in all it’s a really good excuse for everyone to get together and work on projects that will benefit the less fortunate.
Who else is involved in the project?
The four main guys are listed on the website and it’s Mikey, Chad Fleischer (former US Olympic downhill skier), Seth Koch (also a guide in Alaska) and myself. And the people that have helped out along the way are Iannick B, who built the website, Janine Bouchard, who’s a girl from Calgary who works for Lulu Lemon who’s been helping out a lot with getting in touch with people, and another good friend of mine Jeff Tatham from Calgary who has been helping with the editorial content of the website.
When did everything get started?
It’s funny, because it all happened really fast. It started when Hovey and I first started talking in January about wanting to go on a trip. And the next thing you know Hovey got in touch with the people in Kenya and started talking with them, and then we found out in April or May that there was a trip planned with a school in October to get help finish the building over there just in time for kids to make it for the first day of school which is November 1st. But lately there has been a lot of violence in Kenya so the people got worried and canceled their trip. So the people in Kenya got really worried that they wouldn’t be able to finish the building in time and when they heard there was a bunch of skiers thinking about heading over they got super excited, and ever since that day we couldn’t really back out of it (laughs), because it made them so full of hope and got them really excited. So ever since we’ve done everything we can to make this happen.
So you’re going to be building a school over there right?
Actually it’s called a community home. And if anyone wants to find out more about it there’s a link on our website to the International Peace Initiatives’ website and on there you can read all about the home. But basically it’s a new kind of design and concept for an orphanage. Usually the orphanages are in the bigger cities, which means the kids get taken away from their own communities to be in them, and they get crammed into these houses, which so far has been the only solution unfortunately. And now there’s this lady named Karambu, who runs International Peace Initiatives, and she’s come up with this new concept where houses are going to be built in all the different communities, so that way the kids get to stay in their communities with their extended family and friends and the houses are going to be both a place to stay, and a place for sustainable businesses to develop. So our main goal in going over there is to finish the actual building, and we just partnered up with a really cool team called Evo Design from Colorado, and they specialize in sustainable landscape design. So they’re going to take care of the garden part of it by growing a garden with organic vegetables which can be sold to the rest of the communities and the surrounding areas, and there’ll be a goat and a cow there so they can make and sell milk and cheese and there will also be a clay facility so bricks can be made which can also be sold to houses in the community. So by the time we leave it’s supposed to be a functioning operation that’s more than just a house to give them shelter. It’s designed to help them be sustainable so they can make it on their own.
How long are you planning on going for?
Mikey and I are going to go for the full month, so we can manage the people that are coming in and out, and most of the other people that are coming over are going to be there for 10 days.
When do you guys leave?
The 1st of October.
Where exactly in Kenya is it?
The town is called Neru, but I’m actually not sure where it is exactly. It’s so funny because I’ve been so busy working on all the other stuff that as far as the actual trip is concerned with where we’re going to stay, what we’re going to eat, whether or not we get electricity are things I’m not too sure about (laughs). I’m trusting that Hovey has got it all figured out though.
How can everyone help?
Well in the future there’ll be events and things like that and people will know about how they can get involved in more original ways than just giving money. But since this trip happened so last second because we just found out the school needed to be done so it was important for us to go this year as opposed to preparing it better and waiting until next year, right now the best way to help is by giving money, which is a boring way to help but it’s going to make the difference. And I realize that people sometimes get discouraged by things like this because they want to help but don’t have a lot of money and think that the little they can donate isn’t going to help much, but we’re really counting on the volume, and obviously Newschoolers is a huge site, and we’re trying to get the word out about this all over the place. So even if it’s just a couple of dollars it’s really, really going to make a huge difference in the end. The epitome of the concept behind Alpine Initiatives is, and this so cliché to say, but although it’s true that one person alone might not be able to make a huge difference, the goal behind this platform is that all together, this whole community from the ski industry, if we all get together we actually can make a huge, huge difference, and everybody’s tiny efforts are going to funnel down to us and then we’re just going take all of that and take it to Africa. And in the future, every now and then we’re going to pick a project and we’ll all get together and work on things and anyone can get as involved as they want. They can get really involved or just barely at all. You can come on trips with us, you can work with us, you can make events and things like that or you can just donate two dollars. What’s really going to matter in the end is the volume of people involved in it and not necessarily the amount of money.
How can people reading this donate?
On our website you just hit the big donate bubble, which is going to take you to one more page that explains basically that we’re not registered yet, because it takes months and months to become a legit non-profit organization and so we didn’t want to start taking people’s money like that because it was kind of sketchy. So it actually works out great because when you hit our donate button it tells you that we’re transferring you to International Peace Initiatives’ website in Kenya, and you’re basically going to donate straight to them, and they’re keeping tabs on all the money that’s coming in. They’re giving us the use of their Paypal accounts for the next two months, so any money that goes into their bank accounts in the next two months they’re assuming is coming from us and that it’s Alpine Initiatives’ money to work with once we go over there. So it’s cool because the money is going to go straight to the people we’re going to go help and it works out well too because as they receive the money and before we even arrive they’re going to go and start buying materials, like things for the house, the goat, the cow, things to get the garden going, so that when we do show up we’ll have pretty much everything we need and can get started right away. And we’ll still be raising money the whole time we’re there as well, so we won’t be done accepting money for that project until November 1st.
Any last words to say about it to everybody?
Thank-you. Thank-you to everybody who’s interested in the project and be sure to check out the site. It’s been a really, really amazing experience so far and I’m really excited about it.
Thanks JP. Good luck.