Leading Out: A Message from New Executive Director, Chris Winter

Climbing offers us a special kind of fleeting magic that inspires us year after year to test ourselves in some of our most beautiful and sensitive landscapes. For me, the most memorable experiences often involve elements of risk, venturing out into the unknown with an uncertain outcome, in a stunning and remote location. With commitment and focus, we can hold it together above our pro and unlock the crux, opening up a pure line to the top.

Chris Winter leading out on the East Buttress of El Capitan. Photo by John Connor, President, Yosemite Climber Stewards

Those magical moments of joy stay with us for the rest of our lives, inspiring us to become climbing advocates and stand up to protect the places we love. These are the moments that have inspired me to take the reins as Access Fund’s next Executive Director. I am honored to be offered the opportunity to lead the premiere organization that protects our climbing landscapes, and I am so excited to serve our community.

This moment in time is critical for Access Fund as we transition to new leadership, but it is also pivotal for climbing itself. Our sport is exploding in popularity with the growth in climbing gyms across the country. Our community is diversifying quickly. Many new climbers are transitioning from gym to crag, and our special places are facing challenges from overcrowding and resource damage. Hardware is aging. Meanwhile, land managers are facing budget shortfalls and public lands are coming under political attack.

It is natural for us to resist change as we try to hold on to what we know. But we have to look forward and plan for the future. The growth of our sport presents some challenges, but think about the positive impact we can share with a new generation of young people who might not have any other way to connect with the outdoors. Our increasing diversity has enriched our community and strengthened our collective voice. Look around and see how rural communities and economies have blossomed when they promote outdoor recreation and protect public lands. And then envision all of the new climbers coming into the sport finding that same inspiration to protect our special places and become advocates for our climbing landscapes.

At Access Fund, we are working towards that positive vision every day, with a clarity of focus on conservation and climbing that has served as a foundation of our work for almost thirty years. To get it done, we will continue to partner with and support our local climbing organizations around the country. We will work hand-in-hand with land managers and private landowners. And we will forge new relationships in the outdoor and conservation spaces. To preserve access, we will continue to build a vibrant and diverse community of climbing advocates and partner with organizations dedicated to conservation.

I hope you will continue to support Access Fund in the coming years and become more engaged with our work. I am bringing to the table 20 years of experience protecting our public lands as an environmental lawyer. The dedication and expertise of our staff is unparalleled—they are all unsung heroes working in the public interest day in and day out. Our Board of Directors is strong and unified, and we have a deep base of community support. All the pieces are in place for us to venture into the unknown and take a few risks, and I’m honored to help lead the way. If you have thoughts about our work or ideas for the future, feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Chris Winter is Executive Director of Access Fund. He provides strategic leadership and manages organizational health, working with the board of directors, staff, and partners to fulfill on Access Fund's mission to keep climbing areas open and conserve the climbing environment.