After witnessing the effects of climate change firsthand, Bryon Friedman started Soul Poles to protect the mountains he loves
It may be hard to decipher the findings of climate scientists in lengthy reports and studies. But it’s not hard to understand the implications of climate change when you’re seeing the effects firsthand. That is what happened to Bryon Friedman during his decade-long run as a member of the U.S. National Ski Team.
After experiencing a routine shortage of snow and undesirable ski conditions, Friedman decided he’d do something that merged his love of the slopes with his passion for sustainability. In May of 2011, he fulfilled that dream, launching Soul Poles, a company that handcrafts sustainable ski poles that can be used for hiking in addition to snow sports. The company celebrated its fourth anniversary this spring.
Friedman’s ski journey began early. His father, an avid skier who had long felt a connection to the mountains, put Friedman on skis when he was 3. A few years later, his father’s job took the family from Atlanta, GA, to Park City, UT, where mountain getaways became much more frequent. “Skiing was the obvious thing for us to do,” Friedman says. “The mountains were our playground. They were our backyard.”
By 15, Friedman entered a development program sponsored by the U.S. National Ski Team, before becoming an official member from 1999 to 2009. He started as an all-around skier and eventually specialized in downhill and Super-G races. Competition took him around the world, from South America and Europe to New Zealand and other scenic locations. And a lot of the time, that travel was a result of poor ski conditions at particular race locations.
“Snow would always be a concern,” he says. “I started to notice that the first one or two races of the season would always be postponed or rescheduled for later in the year because of a shortage of snow. And it became more and more of an issue every year.”
For all of the ways climate change was negatively affecting the environment, Friedman realized that the industry was also contributing an adverse effect. As national team members and brand ambassadors for various vendors, the U.S. Ski Team athletes would cycle through a ton of equipment and gear that would become obsolete as soon as the year ended, resulting in a lot of waste. “Every year the graphics on your uniforms and gear had to be updated, or you would get new equipment because of ever-changing technology,” Friedman says. “And we weren’t recycling or reusing any of that old gear and equipment.”So when he formally launched Soul Poles in 2011, Friedman set up his company based on a low-energy, zero-waste production model. Each set of Soul Poles is handmade with a 100-percent bamboo shaft and baskets created from recycled plastic. Poles are then painted with low-VOC, water-based paints.
Four years later, Soul Poles still operates as a small, tight-knit family, with just a handful of employees handcrafting the poles. The company produces about 2,000 sets of poles a year, and seeing them on the slopes has been one of the most rewarding parts about running the business for Friedman. “It’s cool to see the poles on the hills and think, ‘I probably made those for you,’” he says.
Moving forward, Friedman hopes Soul Poles can inspire an even broader sustainability movement throughout the ski industry. “Living in mountains we get a front row seat to climate change,” Friedman says. “Our mission is to inspire eco-conscious living through products—and to protect the playground we love.” soulpoles.com