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Whistler’s Mike Douglas mentors young climate activist in Sam & Me

Documentary captures burgeoning friendship between freeskiing legend and 13-year-old Sam Tierney
E-Arts1 Sam & Me 28.45 SUBMITTED_CMYK
Mike Douglas, left, and Sam Tierney while filming the new documentary, Sam & Me.

As a vocal climate activist and chair of Protect Our Winters (POW) Canada, freeskiing legend Mike Douglas is used to getting letters from people asking for advice on what they can do to fight climate change.

“But this was the first time I got a letter from someone so young and also someone so freaked out about his future,” says Douglas of a letter he received from then-13-year-old Pembertonian Sam Tierney. 

An avid skier and mountain biker himself, Tierney reminded Douglas of his younger self and, moved by the teen’s letter, he emailed him back almost immediately. His advice followed a common mantra at Protect Our Winters: action is the antidote to despair. With that in mind, Tierney got to work, first by joining the climate advocacy group, then organizing a petition calling for more youth involvement in Pemberton’s climate action plan, which he and a group of students delivered by hand to Mayor Mike Richman after school one day. Douglas also tapped Tierney to consult on a POW campaign aimed at engaging youth called Hot Planet, Cool Athletes. 

“It was definitely a very good way to relieve all that anxiety I was feeling,” says Tierney, now 14. 

It was about a month later that the two finally met face-to-face at a climate march in Whistler, and Douglas, an accomplished documentarian in his own right, pitched Tierney an idea: the pair would meet once a week to go skiing and talk climate, with a film crew in tow. That formed the basis of Sam & Me: Lessons from a Life on Snow, which premieres as part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival’s (VIMFF) fall series, running from Nov. 12 to Dec. 12. The documentary will also be screening at the Maury Young Arts Centre in Whistler on Nov. 19, with both Tierney and Douglas in attendance.

For Tierney, the experience was not only a way to work through his climate fears but also fulfil a dream of many a young Sea to Sky shredder. 

“I’m not gonna lie, it feels really good, especially with the place we live, it’s sort of the holy grail around here to be in a ski movie,” he says. “I’m just super glad I got the chance to do that and get a good message out there.” 

Before meeting Douglas, Tierney, like so many of us, felt paralyzed by the daunting scale of the problem of climate change, reading magazine articles that kept him up at night. But these days, he recognizes that climate action must start at the individual level, a realization that has helped lessen his anxiety. 

“There’s a lot of stuff you can do on the individual level, like trying to drive less, take public transport, ride a bike, shop for food more effectively so you don’t waste it. Compost. Eat less meat,” he says. “That’s most of the super easy ones to do.” 

Although Douglas filled the mentor role in his new friendship, the teenaged Tierney also imparted some important lessons on the climate advocate and freeskier, who himself gets bogged down at times by the weight of the issue. 

“Being a climate advocate is tough. It is a depressing subject. It’s so rare to get good news in this world,” he says. “So having someone like Sam and seeing his enthusiasm, seeing him rise out of his despair and see hope in things and look at these mountains that I’ve been skiing for 33 years with new eyes … all those little things give you shots of inspiration and motivation to keep going.” 

Tickets to the Whistler screening of Sam & Me are $20 for adults and $15 for those under 16, available at showpass.com/samandme. Doors are at 7 p.m., with the film beginning at 7:30. Following the film will be a panel discussion featuring Douglas, Tierney and other notable locals talking about the next steps for climate action in the Sea to Sky.