This article first appeared in print in the Winter 2021 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
By Amy Erving, Protect Our Winters
From freeskiing to farming, the rise of COVID-19 shifted B.C.-based Chris Rubens’ routine from chasing first tracks to setting down roots in Revelstoke and starting the farm, First Light. The reality of the pandemic for Chris, similar to most, presented many challenges. Amidst the uncertainty, Chris felt confident that now was a better time than ever to transform his vision of farming and sustainable living into a reality.
“COVID-19 kick-started us into farming. We had completely different plans for the summer. We were going to go sail, surf, and spend most of the summer on the coast. When the pandemic hit, farming was definitely my first thought.”
With so many unknowns surrounding the ski season and even more, surrounding the state of the world, Chris found himself returning to simpler ways of living.
He and his partner Jesse Johnston-Hill had dreamt of this farm, feeling that, “It was good for us to get that nudge because sometimes there are so many big daunting projects and you need a kick to get your priorities straight.”
Without any second-guessing, Chris traded in his nomadic lifestyle for a small piece of land.
AE: What aspects of being a professional athlete translate into farming?
“A big part of what I love about skiing and mountains is the community,” which he appreciates finding amidst farms and farmers markets.
Chris described 2020 for First Light as a year of learning, grateful that other local farmers were so supportive, “They are just super excited to see more people growing food in town.”
“It’s one thing to grow food, one thing to sell it, and then a whole other to be profitable with it. It translates to moving in the mountains. It all comes down to efficiency. Everyone told me you can’t be a profitable pro skier, ‘It’s a dirtbag job.’” Now, Chris finds himself stepping up to this challenge all over again, but instead with farming.
“Just like being in the mountains or in the ocean, you are at the mercy of mother nature in farming too. Right when you think you’re on top of it, mother nature throws you a curve ball and you remember that you can only react to whatever comes your way.”
Chris shared that many times, we shy away from things that feel out of our hands, but skiing and farming both provide us with unique opportunities to adapt. “Be dynamic and deal with uncertainty because forecasts can change abruptly.”
In terms of COVID-19, Chris feels that “This is [humanity’s] best opportunity to change our ways in regards to climate change. This is our opportunity to go down a different route.”
How do you foresee balancing First Light and a skiing career?
“We just purchased a property and will be hard at work next spring! My partner Jesse is the real farmer and I just help her out. In early winter, she can begin with the plant starts while I’m skiing. Once I’m done, I’ll help her out.”
What is the environmental responsibility of a professional skier in terms of climate change?
“I got through a lot of my career with the saying that the beauty of outdoor sports is you learn about what there is to lose. Being in these beautiful places you see them affected by climate change and have that realization you need to keep these places pristine.”
“We have a huge responsibility as outdoor advocates to stand up for the environment. That’s why Protect Our Winters (POW) is so important because it provides a voice for the outdoor industry. I’m a huge believer in individual change for climate change because it encourages us to do more, but we also need much more than that.”
“The best thing you can do is sign up, vote with your dollar, and just vote.”
Should every skier start a farm?
“Definitely not. I went vegetarian, then I flew less, then I used veggie oil in my car. Now we have a farm. Like being in the mountains, it’s all about progression. Your lifestyle changes over time and you’ve got to stay motivated. As much as we want overnight change, it’s not realistic. It’s more about the mentality that you are willing to change.”
What lessons can we learn from your story?
“Changing your lifestyle is not about setting too lofty of a goal. Especially with climate change, the most important thing is to do something and that looks different for everyone. Setting more achievable goals, helps turn negatives into positives. We take positives and we get incentivized.”
Anyone who has dabbled in growing food knows that it is a time-consuming activity. Balancing this commitment with a career trademarked by travel is tricky; however, as with most difficult tasks, Chris believes he will find a way. As we put 2020 behind us, perhaps we can draw inspiration from this story – turning challenge into an opportunity for change, uncertainty into new ways of sustainable living, and a whole lot of dirt into a dirtbag’s dream.
Wondering how you can make a change in your daily life?
If you are looking for ways to challenge yourself to live more sustainably, keep your eyes on the horizon for the 2021 Protect Our Winters’ 12 Month Challenge! In the meantime, visit the POW website to become a member at protectourwinters.ca to get involved in local initiatives, email the Revelstoke POW Chapter at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can take positive climate action in the outdoor community.