Giving back: Queenstown's Pete Oswald plants a mangrove tree in Madagascar in 2017. PICTURE: SOPHIE STEVENS

Queenstown professional freeskier Pete Oswald’s putting his body on the line for a lofty goal of getting thousands of trees planted in Madagascar. He tells GUY WILLIAMS about a fundraising project that’s helping to save the world and a people

For every vertical metre Pete Oswald climbs under his own power in pursuit of skiing, he’s
asking Joe Public to dip into their pockets and pay for one tree to be planted in an impoverished African island nation.

Since May, and mainly at Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, he’s been ski touring, walking or biking uphill before turning around and letting gravity do the work.

‘‘It’s anything to get to the snow under your own power.’’

Every cent of every donation is going directly to Eden Reforestation Projects, a charity he and wife Sophie have been supporting for the past four years through sales from their paper products company, Little Difference.

Oswald says he first pitched his ‘Ski for Trees’ concept to a sponsor in January, but the arrival of Covid stymied the plan.

Reluctant to let it go, and with the blessing of an expecting Sophie, he decided to open it up to public donations.

After setting an initial goal of enabling 20,000 trees to be planted, he achieved the mark in three weeks.

Raising his sights to 30,000 trees, he knocked that off in two more weeks, so set himself a
‘‘super-stretch goal’’ of 100,000.

To achieve that, he reckons he’ll need to climb 50,000 vertical metres.

Provided his body holds together and he can keep juggling three-month-old daughter Tula
and work responsibilities, he hopes to tick off that goal by the end of next month.

So who’s Pete Oswald anyway?

He grew up in Marlborough, but spent his final high school year at Wanaka’s Mount Aspiring
College after hearing about its outdoor pursuits programme.

He spent his first winter in Queenstown in 2009, and after meeting Sophie in the resort the
following year, the couple have based themselves here while spending summers overseas.

Since then he’s earned part of his living from writing, photography and filmmaking while
skiing and travelling.

He and Sophie founded Little Difference in 2016, and although they only use recycled paper, they were determined the business would generate a ‘‘net positive benefit for people and the planet’’.

Little difference: Sophie and Pete Oswald with their daughter, Tula, three months. PICTURE: TOM POWELL

They decided to start a ‘‘one card, one tree’’ initiative for the planting, raising and protection of one tree for every product they sold.

Their research led them to the Eden Reforestation Projects charity and its work in Madagascar.

In 2017 they decided to ‘‘see it for ourselves and understand what was happening’’, spending two weeks on the island.

‘‘We didn’t understand how serious the problem was and how massive the difference it was
making by planting the trees.’’

Madagascar is where Ski for Trees can get the biggest bang for its buck, he says.

One of the poorest countries in Africa, 90% of its forest’s gone and the rest ‘‘hangs by a thread’’.

Native animals and plants rely on the remaining forest to avoid extinction, and the local population needs it to avoid environmental collapse and starvation.

‘‘Poverty and the environment are intrinsically linked in Madagascar.

‘‘The deforestation is driven by poverty, and the poverty is driven by deforestation.

‘‘We came away from that trip super-pumped — it was so encouraging that what we’d decided to do was working.’’

The company’s sales have already enabled the planting of more than 90,000 trees.

Oswald says his freeskiing career has been exhilarating and rewarding, but is a ‘‘privileged and narcissistic’’ existence.

Because it’s gained him an audience and some influence, he wants to use that to make a ‘‘real positive difference to climate change’’.

‘‘I’m a firm believer that if you can help, you should.’’