Gretchen Bleiler is certainly no stranger to being in the spotlight. She is one of the most decorated female snowboard athletes of all time, as a four-time winner of the X-Games Aspen Superpipe contest, the World Superpipe Champion, and is a two time Olympian that won a silver medal in 2006 in Torino. However these days, Gretchen is shining her spotlight towards the issues of climate change and her motto of “always living extraordinarily.”
While traveling the globe for snowboarding competitions, Bleiler and husband Chris Hotell saw firsthand the effects of climate change. From glacier recession, to rain in January during the World Championships in the European Alps, they recognized the devastating impact that humans were having on the environment. More importantly, they recognized that the small, everyday actions of humans would be a big part of finding a solution. Bleiler and Hotell became committed to reducing their footprint as they traveled the world, and the first place they saw to start was by eliminating the single use plastic water bottles from their routine.
It was in 2009, standing over a sink full of dirty, hard to clean water bottles that Hotell said, “we should make a water bottle that opens in the middle so you can actually clean it!” and the idea for ALEX was born. While searching for a name for the brand, they wanted to land on something that would personify the bottle in order better integrate it as a daily part of life for the user. More importantly, they wanted to create a product and brand that made living sustainably easy beautiful and fun. ALEX the name was born, and the idea of Always Living EXtraordinarily was brought to life.
Gretchen defines “always living extraordinarily” as identifying something your passionate about, having the courage to step outside of your comfort zone, and finding the discipline to stay on track to reach your goals. ALEX is just as much a lifestyle as it is a water bottle; it’s a call to action that our everyday choices are what take our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. She believes that there are evolutions of extraordinary for everyone and it will always look different for each of us.
“It’s not necessarily about standing on an Olympic podium or climbing Mt. Everest or even becoming an entrepreneur and having your own company. It’s about having the courage to step outside of society’s norms to go beyond your comfort zone for something that you’re passionate about,” says Bleiler.
Since stepping away from competitive snowboarding, Bleiler has leaned into her yoga and meditation practices to find the next evolution of her extraordinary. Yoga asana came into her life as a teenager, to supplement her rigorous training and travel schedule. Later in 2012, she found herself disconnected, overwhelmed, overextended and in need of some serious grounding. Knowing the power that yoga asana had already played in her life, she started down the path of meditation in order to “reattach her head.”
And it worked. So much so that in 2014 she received her certification in primordial sound meditation from the Chopra Center University and continues to teach and share the ancient wisdom. Bleiler believes that yoga and meditation are integral tools and techniques to creating a sustainable, conscious and extraordinary lifestyle.
In addition to yoga and meditation, Gretchen has also leaned into the role of environmental advocate. On Sept 13th she traveled to Washington D.C. with Protect Our Winters (POW) to meet with the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of 56 House members working together to address climate change.
Bleiler was joined by other athletes, such as pro fly fisherman Hilary Hutcheson, who all shared their stories on how climate change was directly impacting their lives and ability to make a living. Hutcheson lives in Montana and spoke to the air quality from wildfire smoke; the levels have been so toxic that her guiding company’s insurance adjuster has banned them from taking people on the river, costing her days of business.
While there is a lot going on in the political landscape right now, it’s clear that climate change affects us all, particularly in Colorado where our lifestyles, environment and economy all heavily depend on great snowfall.
Bleiler encourages readers to “vote for the environment, be brave and take small actions everyday. Education is half the battle, so arm yourself with information.” POW offers a free newsletter which disseminates information with easy steps on how to get in touch with the government leaders who will have the most impact.
“In the 2006 Olympics, I started talking about climate change and how I was seeing it and now I’m being asked to testify in front of Congress on the effects of climate change in the recreational industry,” she shares. “I never thought I would be politically involved, but if we are truly citizens of this earth, then we have to get politically involved. It doesn’t have to be anything more than vote for the environment.”
Sometimes it takes getting outside of your comfort zone to make change happen. Your voice matters, explains Gretchen, so show up individually, be brave for the planet that means so much to us and collectively we can make an impact in our small everyday actions.
“Having the courage to try is extraordinary, because you try once and realize, ok that wasn’t so bad,” she adds. “It was scary and a little bit outside of my comfort zone, but now I feel a little bit more knowledgeable and engaged.
“You don’t have to have an Olympic medal to get involved, it can be anyone! The power is in our hands.”
Gretchen Bleiler is based in Aspen. Learn more about her projects at www.alexbottle.com & www.protectourwinters.org.
Photos by Shea Perkins and Jordan Curet.