There are two things that immediately come to mind when I hear the name Porter Fox. One, what a badass name; it’s the kind of moniker that a superhero/ninja/ spy/leading man might have. And the second, POWDER Magazine, the people’s choice of winter wonderland pulp, where he has been a writer/editor for 15 years. But more recently, I think about his new work, DEEP, an important book whose subtitle says it all: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow.
After writing over 50 features for POWDER, Porter is what you might consider an expert on the stuff. And you might be tempted to think that he’s one of the world’s most enviable men with a job like that—being a veritable Where’s Waldo of skiing, adventure, and travel, and then writing about it—but I assure you, like he assured me, that it is extremely hard and demanding work to be “that guy.”
Perhaps tales of his hard work are what landed him on the phone with two skiers from Jackson Hole who approached him with an idea for a book on climate change. He told them that he’d think about it, bid them adieu, and immediately dropped in and researched the topic for a couple days, got his mind blown, and there, the seed of DEEP took root. Eighteen months, four countries, and several hard-earned silver hairs later (combined with a successful Kickstarter campaign), DEEP hit the shelves in November 2013.
This isn’t your everyday book about climate change. DEEP focuses on specific areas of our increasingly toasty planet that are changing before our eyes: our beloved mountains. Interspersed between stories of choker powder and destructive avalanches, between the rigors of travel and delights of après libations, between skiing icons and hermetic mountain men, Porter lays down the hard facts about our retreating snow pack in indisputable numbers. And, he argues, perhaps by 2100, if we don’t find a unifying way to stop this barreling beast of a coal-burning train called Climate Change, our winter wonderlands will be a thing of the past.
I caught up with Porter the old-fashioned way: I stalked him. Lucky for me, he was in the country—Brooklyn, New York, to be precise—working away in his 2,200-square-foot warehouse office, Nowhere Studios, that he and his wife Sara converted into shared office/studio space. Yes, the editor/writer of POWDER does, indeed, dwell in the city, but back in the ‘90s he lived in Jackson Hole for a 5-year stint where he “cut his teeth,” as a writer for a newspaper. Soon after, he was offered a job at POWDER, wrote for a quiver of other respectable mags, then hit a high note and authored a book. He also managed to squeeze in an MFA in fiction writing and has collected a mélange of notable awards.
When I ask Porter if DEEP has received the response he was expecting, he says, “Well, not to sound arrogant, but it’s head and shoulders better than I ever could have expected.” And he’s for real. DEEP has been required reading for at least five Mountain West high schools and has been endorsed by Al Gore; it’s been reviewed in countless national magazines and newspapers; Porter has been invited to many television interviews, and the book has been presented in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He has spoken at colleges, marched on NYC with POW (Protect Our Winters), and, wait for it… he was interviewed by BigLife. Cha-ching.
When I suggest that our snow problem is connected with our population problem, his demeanor subtly shifts. The Really Nice Porter on the other end of the line suddenly becomes Serious Porter, the I-know-what-the-hell-I-am-talking-about Porter, so get this: “Population does play a role, but the bigger causes are the decisions made by governments and businesses. That’s the main issue right now.”
He illustrates his point by lamenting the failure of our government to support the mass production of non-petrol vehicles (“They were engineered over 50 years ago.”). Add to that the failure of our legislators to pass the cap and trade (“Europe is way ahead of us there.”), and the power that special interest groups have to instill doubt about the veracity of global warming, and you have a recipe for disaster. “[It’s] human greed,” Porter says, “corporate negligence, and bad politics. Special interests are controlling our politicians, that’s why we’re in this pickle… We need to focus on climate change legislation, and stop burning fossil fuels. That is what needs to happen.” With conviction, he adds, “Right now.”
His words strike the kind of chord that triggers one to experience a sudden teleportation into the future—a future that features a bizarre kind of gluttonous, Hunger Games-esque government in a Mad Max-like wasteland where the 1%ers are living the high life on the last 20 square miles of hospitable land and still making crappy decisions for the “good of mankind,” while the rest of the beleaguered earthlings are stumbling around in the dust, slapping their perspiring foreheads, asking, “Why, why, why? Why didn’t anyone listen?!” It was so disconcerting in that wretched, desolate land that I willed myself back into the present where there is still time to do something about it.
As Porter and I talk, I sense a quiet desperation when he speaks about the grim track the world is on. But he is not sulking away in a corner or mumbling doomsdayer-ish propaganda on a soapbox in the square. Nor is he teleporting himself into some far-out, sci-fi Funky Town only to come back and act as an alarmist herald of the near future. (I took that job.) He’s just stating the facts, and sorry, but the facts are neither comforting nor pleasant.
“You’re an expert on this subject by now, don’t you think?” I ask. He laughs but it is served with a small helping of irony. “By default,” he professes. “I never really wanted to be, but now…” He leaves the rest of that sentence dangling in space, humble as ever.
But now, indeed.
“All I do is work,” he told me earlier. “I’ve got about 11 things going on right now.” Which is precisely the reason I am starting to feel guilty about taking up so much of his time. “I’m writing another book,” he says. Part of me hopes that he is writing an epic novel to give himself a break from the rigors of journalism and the insufferable headlines that trying to save the world inspire. But it is not to be. He continues, “It’s very exciting—I’m traversing the northern border of the United States, writing about the history of it and an actual travel log of traveling along it, and then bringing into it contemporary issues, water issues, immigration issues, smuggling… ”
Okay, so there’s that. This man does not shy away from the big issues of our day. But what else?
He is also the founder and editor of the online literary travel magazine, Nowhere (Nowheremag.com). I can hear the excitement in his voice when he talks about Nowhere, and I can see why. I was hooked on the spot. Nowhere has been around for five years with a dozen or so issues and a number of writers of note contributing.
At heart he’s a storyteller. So, the primary reason Porter felt compelled to establish Nowhere had to do with so many of his stories being sacrificed at the altar of word count and space considerations—or worse, for propriety.
After so many parts of his travel articles ended up on the cutting room floor, he felt deflated and cheated out of his legitimate experience, while also feeling that he was cheating his readers. “A lot of times I’d have a crazy adventure and come back [to the editors] and they’d be like, ‘Oh no, that’s too crazy. We can’t print that!’ And I’d be like, ‘But that’s the story!’”
Okay, so now there’s that on top of the other thing. Two down and nine more to go.
But we never get to the other nine things the sly Mr. Fox has up his sleeve. He is a busy man. We say our farewells, and I am left wondering how one person can do so much.
No longer are there two things I think about when I hear the name Porter Fox, there are several. But top billing goes to all the things we need to do to save our winters. And one thing remains the same. I really like his name. It’s an awesome name.
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