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American Alpine Club CEO Phil Powers to step down in summer 2020

Posted on: October 2, 2019


Phil Powers at an American Alpine Club Benefit Dinner with Doug Walker, a former president of the AAC who died in an avalanche in 2016. [Photo] Jim AikmanPhil Powers at an American Alpine Club Benefit Dinner with Doug Walker, a former president of the AAC who died in an avalanche in 2016. [Photo] Jim Aikman

American Alpine Club CEO Phil Powers announced yesterday, October 1, that he plans to retire after 14 years. He will remain CEO until this winter, then he will step back and continue working with the organization as a senior advisor until next summer. The goal is to transition to new leadership by summer 2020.

"Phil has been instrumental to the Club's growth over the last decade and a half," AAC Board Chair Deanne Buck said in a press release. "Under his leadership, the AAC's membership has grown from 5,400 to more than 25,000, and we're better positioned than ever to meet our members' needs. The entire board of directors is incredibly grateful to Phil for his service to the Club."

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In a "draft" letter to AAC members that was shared with Alpinist and other media outlets, Powers writes:

I will leave this role feeling more anticipation than satisfaction. In many respects, we have only begun to see the ways in which climbing benefits individual lives and, more broadly, is a force for good. I think of these years as foundational to an even greater future, and I look forward to watching that unfold—and contributing where I can.

My experience here has been a special one. I've been able to spend time, often at the crag or in the mountains, with some of the early greats in American climbing. I've been able to witness, get to know (and even climb with on their "rest days") contemporary climbers who continue to advance our craft. Many of them have gone on to become extraordinary ambassadors for the landscapes and ecosystems we depend on.

The AAC board has begun its search for my replacement, but this is not my goodbye. I am committed to supporting that effort in every way that makes sense over the coming year. As I move on from the AAC, I look forward to spending more time with my family and with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, which I have owned with my partners for the last 20 years. I will also be spending more time with the wild places we have worked so hard to protect.

And, of course, I'll still be climbing, so look for me at your crag. There are many I still want to visit....

Powers in the Tetons. [Photo] Sarah PiercePowers in the Tetons. [Photo] Sarah Pierce

In an interview with SNews that was published October 1, when asked what he "considers some highlights and accomplishments," Powers said:

We've significantly expanded our public policy work through the Climb the Hill event and a public policy newsletter to become force that supports public lands in the United States. Our education program has been a long, slow effort, but it may be my greatest passion. Years ago, we helped the [American Mountain Guides Association] launch their single-pitch instructors course. Recently we've expanded that and we're right on the front edge of launching certifications for volunteer leaders across the nation.

The quantitative accomplishments are nice, but what I'm more proud of are the qualitative accomplishments, such as the character and complexion of the climbing community today and the membership at the AAC. We've vastly reduced the average age of membership and we've significantly improved the gender balance. We're still working on diversity in the club. There are 70 chapters around the country, each with people working to make those chapters vibrant and relevant in their own communities.

In the interview, Powers also discusses his take on the #SafeOutside survey about sexual harassment and assault in climbing (the survey was backed by the Alpine Club and other entities, including Alpinist).

"We needed to know the truth and we needed to wake ourselves up to this topic," he told SNews. "We also needed to take a stand and help people understand that [sexual harassment and assault] isn't just something that happens to other people or in a different community. It's happening all around us. Climbers have always struggled with confronting other climbers in unsafe situations. That survey and the conversations around it gave people wonderful tools to not be a bystander and to be helpful in the moment...."

"The next chapters of the AAC are probably something I can't even imagine and I think that's why now is the right time for me to leave," he told SNews.

The Alpine Club press release describes Powers' career:

Powers is a lifelong climber who has made over 30 expeditions to Alaska, South America and the Karakoram Range. He made the first ascent of the 8,000-foot Washburn Face on Denali, the first ascent of Lukpilla Brakk's Western Edge in Pakistan (VI, 5.11, A3) and the first winter traverse of the Tetons' Cathedral Peaks in 1992. He has also climbed two 8,000-meter peaks—K2 and Gasherbrum II—without the aid of supplemental oxygen. Phil has served on both the Access Fund and AMGA boards. He is the recipient of the American Mountain Foundation's VIIth Grade Award for climbing achievement; the AAC Mountaineering Fellowship Grant; the Mugs Stump Climbing Grant; the NOLS Instructor Award (twice) and the Wilderness Education Association's Paul Petzoldt Award for Excellence in Outdoor Education (2007). He received the American Alpine Clubs highest award for service, the Heilprin Award, in 2012. Phil has written two books on climbing: NOLS Wilderness Mountaineering and Climbing: Expedition Planning. He has been a tireless advocate for climbers throughout his career and continues to be an active climber and skier.

Powers leading. [Photo] Courtesy of the American Alpine ClubPowers leading. [Photo] Courtesy of the American Alpine Club

The AAC describes itself as "a passionate advocate for the climbing community" since 1902:

The organization actively participates in dialogue about climbing stewardship, conservation policy, practices that promote inclusivity for climbers, high altitude safety and medicine, innovation in alpine tools, clothing and survival technologies, and also sponsors expeditions, and investigates controversies in the world of exploration. The AAC has become a powerful and respected voice in the outdoor industry, with publications like the State of Climbing Report and the annual Accidents in North American Climbing and American Alpine Journal to its credit.

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.
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