Category: Uncategorized

Addressing Rumors

This week, I’m in Telluride, CO for Mountainfilm. I’m incredibly honored that my short film, Follow Through, will be showing at the film festival. I’ve always wanted to tell my story and I’m proud at how my film turned out. Yet even with all the success of the film, I’m shocked that I still have to address rumors and heavy criticism that undermines my competency in the mountains.

This fall, the week before the film was released, I received a text message from another prominent ski mountaineer in the Wasatch. It said, “Hi Caroline! Top of the morning. Bunch of folks hitting me up about you and The Chuting Gallery project. Quick question, did you pay or trade to be guided on some of those lines? Got some guiding buddies that say so and it looked that way from some of the post. Just thought I’d ask and know instead of listening to rumors.”

It was hard for me to even read the message. I could feel the anger and tension rising, my heart rate quickening. I’ve spent over a decade honing my steep skiing skills, and I spent half a decade working on the project, equipping myself with the technical tools to be a confident leader on rock, snow and ice. During the project, I wore a lot of hats, not only deciding when to ski each line and how to do it, but also coordinating with ski partners, videographers, the production team and sponsors. I worked in a team, yes, but I was the leader—because it was my project. This ski mountaineer’s assumption otherwise was deeply insulting.

I took some deep breaths and typed a response. “I skied a handful of the lines with friends who are guides but they were with me as partners, not guides, and were not paid or traded. We did use a paid guide one day to help with some of the rigging for the videographer.”

On the single line where we did have a guide help with the rigging for the film team the guide initially put the rope up, I followed. And then I re-led the pitch. Every pitch of ice and rock, I led. I might add that it’s standard practice for mountain guides to run safety on ski films. This was not a typical ski film and I was in charge of my own safety and risk management.

In one way, I’m grateful that this man texted me to set the record straight. But frankly, I’m frustrated that I even have to address these rumors about “guiding buddies”, rumors that are simply a way to invalidate my accomplishments in the mountains.

The misogyny and sexism in the Wasatch backcountry and ski mountaineering community is real. I’m sick of it.

But I will not be defeated.

Before I met my friend Liz Daley in 2012, I had no idea that mountain guiding was even a profession. I didn’t know about the American Mountain Guides Association and the process to get certified. Liz opened my eyes to this world. Skiing with her, I learned about the amazing skills that mountain guides possess. I loved being with her in the mountains as an equal partner. And I wanted to find more friends who had her same level of technical expertise.

I realize that ski mountaineering is one of the most dangerous sports you can undertake, so I want to do everything to stack the odds in my favor. I also want to keep growing my knowledge base. I’ve taken courses in Avalanche Level 1, 2 and 3; Rock Rescue Level 1 and 2; and Ice Rescue; have a Wilderness First Responder certification; and do regular crevasse rescue refreshers.

I also make a conscientious effort to recruit partners who take their technical training as seriously as I do. Why wouldn’t you do everything you can to stack the odds in your favor?

On another international trip, I hired a local guide to help us with some of the trip logistics. Because of the difficulty of the ski line I was attempting, I had to clarify, in writing, that the guide was joining us as a climber/skier, not as a guide, and we were each individually responsible for our decisions to continue or not. She was compensated a modest fee for her time in pre-trip logistical organization. She did join us on the mountain, and since that trip, has become a good friend and mountain partner. Again, international ski mountaineering expeditions are dangerous. Why not equip yourself with information from a local guide to help set you up for success?

I wish I didn’t have to write this statement, to address these lies that people are spreading. They don’t just frustrate me, or hurt my feelings; they hurt my career. Last winter, when I took my Avalanche 3 course, one of the pieces of feedback I received was: “If you want to make the transition from pro skier to mountain guide, stop hiring guides and traveling with others that make decisions for you, put yourself in situations where you are required to put it all together, apply these skills and observations and form your own opinion everyday, don’t just regurgitate the opinions of others.” I have no idea where the evaluator got the idea that I was skiing as a guided client. These lies had become so pervasive that they were part of the reason I didn’t pass the course, and they are simply untrue.

When I wrote about this encounter with bias, a woman sent me a note sharing a similar story. She had received equally unprofessional and unhelpful feedback from an instructor during an exam. She said, “Your implicit bias post is a big part of the reason I stopped guiding.” My situation is far from unique.

The reason I’m writing this is because I want to get to a place where women’s accomplishments can be accepted and celebrated without bias. I want female mountaineers to get the same recognition and credit as their male counterparts. The way these local guides have fabricated a story about the style in which I climbed and skied the lines in The Chuting Gallery illustrates the kind of toxic masculinity that runs rampant in our culture.

This habitual sexism is part of the reason that only 10% of mountain guides are female, and why fewer than 25% of sponsored snowsports athletes for major outerwear brands (TNF, Helly Hansen, Arcteryx and Patagonia) are female, despite the fact that over 40% of skiers are female.

Also, while I’m speaking about statistics, it’s worth noting that 85% of snowsports fatalities are male in their late teens to late 30s (70%). This is the demographic that on a broader level, engages in high-risk behavior and suffers the majority of unintentional death from injury.

We need more female representation, especially in dangerous sports like mountaineering. It’s not enough to get women outside. We need women to get to the highest levels. At every turn in my career, I’ve battled sexism and harassment. I will not back down and disappear, giving in to the belief that I don’t belong. I will not distance myself from the world of ski mountaineering that I love so much. I will continue to show up and speak up.

In order to change the tides, I believe we need to do two things to start. First of all, the local mountain guiding company needs to consider putting their guides through implicit bias training to understand how to create an inclusive culture that doesn’t automatically de-value women’s skill. It will be a huge benefit to their company.

And my call to action to you, the reader, is to examine your own implicit bias and preferences. This isn’t a battle of the sexes. As a society, we are so habituated to sexism that women are often biased against other women.

Do the stories you tell discredit the efforts and achievements of women in the wordplace and/or in the mountains? Are you part of the problem?

When you hear someone saying sometimes to diminish another person, do you call them out on it?

Use your words carefully, and remember the adage, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

 

Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG) Race Recap

It has been called the most difficult team’s race in the world. The Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG) covers over 13,000’ (4000m) of ascent and 36 miles (58 km) through technical, glaciated, alpine terrain, organized by the Swiss military as a training exercise to make sure soldiers are prepared to patrol the mountainous borders of the country.

What did I get myself into?

We were heading into the coldest, darkest part of the night as we approached the top of the first climb. My hands and feet were starting to lose feeling. It was hard to tell the difference between the trail of headlamps up the mountain and the bright stars, under a new moon and dark, night sky. The climb was relentless. We had been going for four hours, ten miles (16k) and almost 7,000’ (2133m) and I was huffing and puffing as we approached 12,000’ (3657m). My team and I were roped together navigating the course and I was grateful to be close. We were on skis with skins and it was steep and icy. Just when I thought we were topping out, there was another false summit, and I had to dig deep to find the courage and energy to continue.

Given my track record for endurance on skis, I thought this race would be easier than it was feeling. But in the US, especially in Utah, there are very few mountains where you can climb up 7,000 continuous feet (2133m) without stopping. I was fit as a fiddle by Wasatch standards, but the Swiss Alps represented a whole new challenge.

Finally, we topped out and were greeted by soldiers and some of our friends from the Swiss ski brand I am sponsored by, Movement skis, who roped me into doing this race. Our friends fed us sugary soda and candy. They helped me put my jacket on. They were volunteering to come out here in the middle of the night, to wait at the top of a cold, windy mountain at high altitude, to help us. Thinking about their sheer generosity still amazes me. Race day brings out the most radiant expressions of the human spirit – I love the random acts of kindness and the way it brings us all together.

For much of my career as a mountain athlete, I didn’t understand racing. I thought, I go to these remote places in the mountains to get away from people. Why would anyone want to do a race with so many people? I worried about the environmental impacts of races. The erosion from so much foot traffic. The carbon emissions from the helicopters that stocked the aid stations at the PDG.
But in those moments, where two random strangers climbed up a crevasse ridden glaciated mountain in the middle of the night to give us aid – food and nourishment and encouragement – I understood what it was all about. It made sense to me. That having a race that exposes people to these places gets them to be fierce advocates to protect these types of experiences. To be good stewards. And as far as the carbon goes – the Swiss military was going to burn that carbon in the helicopters to do their training exercises no matter what. Why not provide a benefit to the people and give them the experience of the race? Why not celebrate their national pride?

The PDG happens every two years and the iconic course covers parts of the Haute Route. It’s a single day event where racers start in waves in the middle of the night to avoid the dangers of avalanches and falling into crevasses that come with daytime heating in the springtime.

My background as an athlete isn’t in racing. I considered myself more of an adventure focused ski mountaineer, wanting to explore places off the beaten path that take technical expertise and endurance to reach. After doing this for several years, I was left at a decision point in my career. Do I keep pushing the boundaries of trying to ski steeper and steeper lines, where a slip or fall ends in death? Or do I find another focus? I was delighted when my ski sponsor asked me if I wanted to compete in the PDG this year. I had secretly been intrigued by skimo racing. I had never had the confidence to pursue it before. With the sponsor putting together my team and providing the equipment, I had a chance to explore a part of my sport I may have never delved into. It was a way for me keep progressing, to keep finding my edge, without taking on more and more risk.

So, I got the skinny skis. I adopted the equipment of skimo racers – the packs with quick carry, the cross country inspired poles, the lightweight, breathable helmet. And I put my mind to training all winter, logging as much vert as I could, week after week. I was focused and determined. And the PDG was my goal. I competed in a 3-day skimo race at the end of February – US Nationals – and my teammate and I took first place in the female team category, and I took second place in the combined. I felt it was good preparation for the PDG.

I was wrong. After the first climb, we had to ski 7,000 ft down in a single descent, roped together. Again, it is difficult for an American to train for a ski descent of this length because there are few places in the lower 48 where you can consistently access mountains that are this long. By the end of the first climb and descent, my legs were hurting. The skiing was steep, icy and technical. It was chaotic – our team was strongest on the downhill, so we were passing many teams. I was worried our ropes would get caught.

Once in Arolla, it was a relief. We were back at a more normal altitude and we took some time to refuel and warm up. I was relieved that the coldest parts of the course and night were over with. We were halfway done, and I thought we would breeze through the rest. I was wrong. We started climbing again, and the snow was frozen and the terrain grew steeper and steeper. People were falling on their skins all around. You had to have perfect technique. The course was relentless. Where it wasn’t steep, the terrain was rolling. Sometimes, it was unclear whether to skin or skate. My teammates spoke French as their first language and communication was difficult. Being the lone female, I felt an added pressure to perform. Spending time in Zermatt prior to the race, I felt frustrated by some of the local’s and their perceptions of me. No one believed that I was going to do the long race. In the pre-race meeting for the long race, there were very few woman (I estimate fewer than 5% of the competitors were women – more women compete in the shorter race that covers half the distance, but it’s still under 20% female). I had just met my teammates and I couldn’t help but feel like an outsider. Competing in a team of three adds an extra challenge. Two allows for more nimble teamwork. Three is a crowd and when you aren’t in sync, it can be mentally very challenging.

My boyfriend, Rob Lea, an accomplished triathlete, shared with me some of his race day wisdom. He said on a big race like this, you only have a certain number of matches. You want to be mindful when you burn a match. Being on a team of three, it was difficult to pace myself properly. I felt we went out too fast from town (the race begins in downtown Zermatt and you run in ski boots or running shoes for one mile on the cobblestone street before getting to snow-I never get blisters, but I did get blisters from running on this surface in my ski boots in the warm temps). There were times when I didn’t use my energy efficiently. And the fatigue of traveling through Europe for the 3 weeks leading up to the race didn’t help. The week of the race, I spent too much time on my feet in Zermatt. Hauling my large duffel bag to the race start was a chore. Doing this kind of race is crazy, it was even crazier to do it internationally.

As the night turned to day, I started to see a bigger picture of the race, and it was unbelieveable, how many competitors were marching up and down these huge mountains, like a line of ants. The best parts were all the spectators who came to cheer us on and the support of the soldiers at the aid stations! At every pass, and every transition, there were soldiers stationed to make sure people were ok, not too delirious or sick. When it was time to put on sunscreen, a soldier doled out the perfect amount of sunscreen into my hand. They refilled water bottles. Skimo racing is a big deal in Europe and I’m so grateful I got to experience it.

Once the sun came out, it started to get so hot. The race suit performs well in most conditions except on the extreme ends – if it’s too hot or too cold, it leaves you desiring layering options…

As we got to the Rosablanche, I started to run out of energy. I’d burned too many of my matches earlier in the race and I was out. My teammates families started to greet them at different passes and I started to get emotional that I didn’t have any family or friends there. I could feel myself starting to spiral into a dark place. I cried. I tried to rally.

Luckily, my teammates helped. They stuck with me. We worked together. The descent into Verbier was again one of the longest ski descents I’ve done. My legs were screaming. I had to focus on engaging my core. I was worried I was going to crash and tear a ligament. When we crossed the finish line, I’ve never been so relieved. I was bawling. I called my boyfriend (even though it was three am in the US) and my mom. I was in disbelief that we actually finished.

Overall, we finished the race in 12 hours and 9 minutes. There is no division for mixed gender groups. We came in 49th in the men’s division, which is a respectable time for first time finishers as a team who had met a few days prior to the race. We finished an hour later than our estimated time (tip: always over estimate your time the first time doing a race) and I felt that being at the back of our pack in the beginning was difficult for morale. There are dozens of things I learned, that I would’ve done differently or improved.

And that was the whole point. I was so far outside of my comfort zone, completely vulnerable to a new experience. I pushed myself to do something differently. And it felt I grew by leaps and bounds, mentally and physically. Growth is usually uncomfortable. The end of the race also made me intensely homesick. By being homesick, I appreciated my partner, my friends and family so much more when I was reunited with them.

A huge thank you to my team mates, Eric Gachet and Aurelien Ducroz, to my Movement skis team manager, Vincent Bardy, and to everyone else who volunteered to make the race a reality.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I’m planning to do more skimo races. But first, I am raining to run my first ultramarathon and to compete in an endurance bike race. Stay tuned…

Where Do We Go From Here: How to Become a Citizen Activist

In the past year, I’ve ramped up my efforts with environmental activism, and many people have asked me how to get involved. I’m writing this blog post with the hope that it will serve as a handy starting point – I want to make citizen activism cool and trendy, and inspire the next wave of the environmental movement. We especially need more young people to get involved and show up! Come join me.

Why You Should Become a Citizen Activist:

After the historic 2016 November election, it’s more important than ever for citizens to get involved as activists. Why? Because of what we stand to lose. If we don’t speak up for clean air and water and access to public lands, no one will. The natural resource extraction industries are so well-organized and connected to public policy. Going up against them is going to take a monumental effort, like David against Goliath. But we can do it. I believe in the underdog and the power of passionate citizens speaking up for a healthy environment. Here are some tips I’ve put together to help guide you on your journey to becoming a citizen activist.

First Steps. Start Thinking Like An Activist. Be curious, ask hard questions and have the bravery and courage to find the answers:

Look at your surroundings. Ask yourself, how does power come to my house? How does water get to my house? Where do those come from and what hands and companies touch them on the way? Learn about the systems that bring water, gas and electricity to your town or city. Start a dialogue with your utility provider and ask for renewable options if you don’t have them. Find out what’s in your water – what contaminants exist and how those pollutants are getting there. Do some investigative research. Pay attention to local air quality. Activism happens most effectively on a grassroots level.

One example of the effectiveness of grassroots activism is with Park City deciding to go 100% renewable by 2030. I attended a Park City Council meeting last fall. A bunch of us from the snowsports and outdoor recreation industries spoke, asking for aggressive standards for renewable energy. I argued that if Park City passed this measure, they would show strong leadership for mountain communities. It passed and now they are working with Rocky Mountain Power to figure out how to achieve the goal. A few months later, Salt Lake City passed a similar resolution. Now, that’s becoming a model for mountain towns around the US, and it’s going to radically transform our grid here in Utah.

Attend Public Meetings on Important Issues:

To find out about important local meetings, join a non-profit or even better, multiple non-profits (see lists below). Start by signing up for email alerts and read those emails! Donate time or money or both. I highly encourage you to support non-profits at both the local and national level. The reason is – the local non-profits will ask when they need citizens to show up and speak! That’s how I’ve found out about all the public hearings. They’ll also help you prepare a statement if you want to speak. Pay attention to their calls for action.

Speak at those Public Meetings:

If you decide you want to be a speaker, rad! It’s not an easy job, but I highly encourage you to do it. If you’re going to speak, do some research on the issue. Again, those local non-profits can help guide you, but do some independent research too. I always like to research the opposing viewpoints so I can craft my statement in a way that addresses their main points/concerns. Prepare and practice in front of someone or record yourself. Time it to make sure it’s under two minutes (or whatever the allotted time is). Keep it short and sweet. Including some facts is ok, but it’s best to focus on an emotional or personal story about the issue. The legislature and public policy acts on emotion, plus a personal story is more captivating to listen to. Leave the heavy facts to the scientists or other professionals. If you decide to attend a big public meeting or hearing, be prepared for a long day. Pack food, water and bring a journal and camera to document what happens.

At the meeting, be respectful and kind to those around you who have differing opinions. Don’t be afraid to be friendly and talk to them to share perspectives. Find common ground you can both agree on, and keep the interactions amicable. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about this was during a trip to Washington, DC with a group of athletes for Protect Our Winters. Senator Bernie Sanders stopped by our table during lunch to give us some words of wisdom. One of the things he told us that I’ll never forget is,

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

This is one of the most powerful, important pieces of advice to remember in your journey as an environmental activist. Remember, it’s not enough to win the battle. We have to win the hearts and minds of other Americans. Most people can bond over a love of the outdoors. It’s something that binds us all as humans. I love sharing stories about my lifestyle and career with the coal miners I meet at public hearings, and hearing about their lives and jobs too. One of them told me he would love to work installing solar panels, and would change his career path tomorrow if he could find a job doing it. Not every interaction is going to go as well or end as positively as you’d like, but it’s always worth a shot.

Finding Non-Profits to Get Involved With:

Below is a list of some of the environmental non-profits I like working with but do some research and support those that align with your interests and values. This is just the tip of iceberg. There are so many non-profits that are working hard and looking for people like you to support them.

Another way I find out about local non-profits is by checking out which ones Patagonia supports through their grant program. Patagonia donates 1% of their profits to environmental causes through the 1% for the Planet program. I’ve learned so much about activism from being a Patagonia ambassador, and they have a dedicated, environmental team who has helped educate and inform me about issues and campaigns. You can use this info too – there’s a detailed list of non-profits for every state and most countries in their environmental and social initiative catalog. Or, use their interactive map tool to find one of their environmental grantees near you.

National Non-Profits

Sierra ClubWilderness SocietyProtect Our WintersNRDCNature ConservancyWinter Wildlands AllianceWildlands NetworkAmerican Rivers CouncilAccess Fund, American Alpine Club, Outdoor Alliance, David Brower CenterEnvironmental Defense Fund,  Leave No Trace, Conservation Alliance, Environmental Working Group

Utah Non-Profits

HEAL UtahSouthern Utah Wilderness AllianceGrand Canyon TrustUtah Rivers Council, Tree Utah, Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Moms for Clean Air, Bears Ears Coalition

Other state Non-Profits

Conservation Colorado, Colorado Fourteeners InitiativeMontana Wilderness Association, Tahoe Fund, Save the Boundary Waters, Friends of the Boundary Waters

 

Give the gift of environmental stewardship: As I said earlier, one of my first memories of being involved with environmentalism was when a relative gave me a Nature Conservancy membership for my 12th birthday. I received a calendar and started getting mail so I could stay involved. Last Christmas, I gave my one and two-year-old nephews river animal adoptions (they come with stuffed animals and with certificates of adoption) from the American Rivers Council. I plan to continue to give in their names and hope it will instill an attitude of stewardship and environmental activism in them from a young age.

Read books:

Some of my favorites – Tools for Grassroots Activists – one of my favorites! Highly recommended.

Canaries on the Rim – required reading for any Utah resident.

The Monkey Wrench Gang

Silent Spring

Vote with your dollar:

Support companies that are committed to social and environmental responsibility. Find companies that are certified B-Corps – these companies meet the highest standards of verified environmental and social performance.

My Thoughts on the Next Wave of the Environmental Movement:

The lifestyle and career I’ve chosen with its flexible schedule has allowed me the time to devote to environmental efforts. Attending public meetings is inconvenient and time-consuming. I believe the whole system is designed to make it difficult for the average citizen. Often, the hearings aren’t announced only days in advance, and then, they will change times and locations at the last minute. They happen during the middle of the week. It takes a lot of time to prepare and rehearse a statement, and even more time to get there, get a seat in the room, get a number in a lottery to speak, and wait for your turn. Don’t forget to pack a lunch, water and food. Then there’s sign making, organizing with non-profits and businesses, and inviting people to come and join you. But these meetings need citizens like you to attend. Last year, I attended and spoke at several big public meetings organized by the EPA and the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. At the first two, I went to, I felt the environmental/outdoor recreation representation was vastly outnumbered by the coal industry. It makes a big statement to policy makers when you can flood a room with everyone in matching colors or shirts. Walking into that is intimidating.

The next wave of the environmental movement is going to take a lot of committed people and companies who are willing to donate time and money. As I’ve stressed, it’s a lot of work and organization to attend these meetings. We need more companies who are willing to lobby and get involved politically to protect their interests in the same way the fossil fuel industry does. They need to send employees on the clock to to public meetings, so they can be compensated for their time there. I’m sure that’s what the coal companies do to get so many of their coal miners to attend. We also need more training for these employees and other citizen activists on how to lobby for their livelihoods, just like the coal miners have learned how to do. It’s starting to happen. At the Bears Ears hearing in July 2016, there was a huge wave of support from outdoor industry companies – Patagonia, Black Diamond and Osprey had great representation. But we need more! So please join us!

My Background:

My first memory of environmental activism was when I received a Nature Conservancy membership and calendar for a birthday present when I was 12-years-old. I cherished that calendar, filled with pictures of beautiful, wild places they were working to protect, and it was a gateway to bigger involvement as an activist. I dabbled with some involvement in high school, planting trees with Tree Utah and learning about the work of HEAL Utah, while reading classic environmental literature like The Monkey Wrench Gang and Silent Spring. When I was in college, I did an internship with the environmental adviser to Governor Gary Herbert, Ted Wilson. I learned so much from Ted while working at the Utah State Capitol. Whenever there was a controversial bill or issue, he would bring all the diverse stakeholders to the table to share perspectives. I learned that in order to solve problems, we must find common ground with our adversaries.

 

While I enjoyed my summer internship at the Governor’s Office, I decided that I could be more effective using my platform as an athlete in the outdoor industry to advocate for change, so I decided to focus on my ski mountaineering and my work in the outdoor industry. Since then, I have been involved in many campaigns relating to climate change, clean air and water and access to public lands, while working with a variety of non-profits and businesses to advocate for the environment.

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I hope this was informative! If it was, help me share it by posting in your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or via email. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s a fun process. Let me know if you have any questions. I hope you’ll join me on the opportunities ahead – to continue fighting against climate change, for clean air, water and a healthy environment, and for continued access to our public lands!

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Swallowing Frogs: Impediments and Injuries in the Life of an Endurance Athlete

When I first began traveling internationally as part of my ski mountaineering career, my mom often would help me pack and give me a ride to the airport. As she dropped me off, she’d say, “Don’t be afraid to swallow some frogs.” What she meant with the saying was that there inevitably would be hiccups and unpleasant things that would arise on the upcoming trip. “Swallowing frogs” was a euphemism to help deal with those things that were irritating and perturbing. Instead of “choking” and not moving on or letting a cloud hang over the experience, look beyond the distasteful thing, do a quick swallow, adjust your attitude and realize the next bite will be delicious. The overriding amazingness of the trip would outweigh the intermittent distastefulness. Don’t let those frogs bog you down!
I find this attitude has applicability to many aspects of life, especially when it comes to recovering from an injury as an endurance athlete. When I first started training, the gains were through the roof. Progress came easily. Everyday, I felt so good; I thought nothing would ever slow me down. I could do successive big days, and I never seemed to need extra rest to go on. I strived to be a year-round endurance athlete, and, as soon as the snow melted, I was out running the trails and pushing myself to do more difficult climbs.
I’ve always felt that I was the underdog, the one who people perceived would fail because I’m so petite. I trained extra hard because I wanted to prove people wrong, but mostly, I wanted to quiet the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t strong enough. Throughout my entire twelve-year career of being a sponsored athlete, I’ve been terrified of being injured for so many reasons but a big one is because I didn’t want to appear weak. I’ve worked to the max to become the strong, capable mountain woman I am, and never let any injury or illness get in my way.
Until last May… Years of intense training and over-extending physical limits eventually catch up with the most motivated, best intentioned endurance athlete. I came home from Peru, after a season of back-to-back trips, and I was exhausted. I tried to get back into training, but I wasn’t recovering from my workouts. Eventually, my coach advised me to get some bloodwork done, and I found out I had low ferritin. For all you endurance athletes and coaches out there, here is some great literature on ferritin. Read up and share this article! Iron Depletion
My coach recommended that I take some time off training until I could get my ferritin levels up. But this blog post is supposed to be about my foot, so I’ll get to that.
After two months of chilling, with a lot of iron supplementation, my ferritin levels were back up, and I was ready to rock! I was so excited to run and travel and climb and train hard! I had pent up angst to get out, feelings of inadequacy and weakness to overcome. My life was a whirlwind again with trips and running and climbing. I ran my fastest mile ever while on a business trip to Chicago, did a big trip to lobby in Washington DC with Protect Our Winters, then did some super-steep runs up Broads Fork and Alta through the first snow. All in a week. At the end of my run at Alta, the ball of my foot was aching, but I thought it was a just a normal pain.

Photo Oct 22, 8 55 08 AM

Wearing high heels is a risk factor for this type of injury, and although I always do as much as I can to prevent foot aches, I think it was a contributing factor to mine.

One of the runs that led to my demise…
The next day, I was exhausted, but it was Halloween, and I had made plans with some friends to do our annual costume climbing at Bushwhack crack. It’s a crack climb I’ve led many times, and feel very comfortable on, but because I was so tired and it was so hot, I struggled at the beginning. I placed an extra piece of gear, accidentally Z-clipped and stood up on my left foot. All the force of the rope pulling me back went through my left foot, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The foot pain that began after the Alta run was amplified tremendously. At that point, I had to correct the mistake and finish the climb, so I stopped thinking about the pain in my foot. After all my friends climbed and we were hiking out, I couldn’t put any weight on the ball of my foot. I hobbled over the talus to get to the car. I knew something was wrong, but, convinced that I could not have an injury, let alone a serious injury, said to myself, “It will get better in a day or two.”

Photo Oct 31, 4 13 38 PM
I went to a physical therapist the next day to get his opinion, he thought that I had sesamoiditis and recommended treating it as a soft tissue injury-I kept walking on it and trying to do what I wanted to do. After almost two months of energy sapping pain, I finally went to a doctor. I got an x-ray and, sure enough, the sesamoid bone in my foot was fractured.

Swollen Left foot.

Swollen Left foot.

broken sesamoid :-(broken sesamoid 🙁
The sesamoid bone sits on the bottom of the foot under the big toe and is nestled inside the tendon that goes from the toe to the heel. Basically, the ball of my foot broke. Every single step puts huge forces through this teeny-tiny bone. It, undeniably, takes the spring out of your step, but, even standing is painful. Walking is tormenting. Climbing stairs feels endless. Looking down an airport hallway seems like a marathon distance. Every time I would push off my big toe, the bone would stretch apart or rebreak a little. For that reason, and because that part of the foot gets very little bloodflow, it’s a difficult bone for the body to heal.
I have pondered why it took me so long to get it checked out with an x-ray-I think that it harps back to not wanting to admit that I had an injury. I felt that somehow my whole life, my career, my friendships, my goals, my aspirations, my passion – everything has been built around my ability to walk and run and climb in the mountains! After the x-ray, I spent about 6 weeks in a walking boot, only swimming and riding the stationary bike and limiting time on my feet and still not wanting to disclose an injury to anyone other than my close family and friends.
I’m super grateful to my boyfriend, Rob Lea, a former world champion triathlete, for teaching me how to swim. This was a game changer. As soon as I embraced swimming, life got better. He’s the best coach, and swimming together gave me the chance to have the closeness that we have had climbing, hiking and running together. I have to exercise, and swimming became my solution.

Photo Jan 24, 3 46 08 PM

All smiles after accomplishing a mile swim, one of my 2016 goals, early in January! And trying not to be too depressed about not skiing…

 

Note my walking boot! I wanted to post this picture, but the injury was still too fresh for me to be able to talk about.

Note my walking boot! I wanted to post this picture, but the injury was still too fresh for me to be able to talk about.

As the powder started to fly, it got harder to stay off my feet. But I had my eyes on the longer-term prize of being able to ski in the spring. My doctor and PT told me to modify activities, modify orthodics and shoes, adn let pain be my guide. They said I could ease into skiing as pain levels permitted.

So I started slowly, first just spending an hour in my ski boots, then longer. Then, I started slowly easing back into longer days. Ski touring, with its rockered ski boots and soft snow surface, proved to be ok on the foot. Some days would still be painful, but the pain was a more manageable level. It still breaks my heart to not be able to climb and run like I want to, but I’m trying to swallow that frog and focus on other areas I can excel.

Photo Jan 29, 3 33 37 PM

stoked to be on a bike with dirt all over my face!

By mid February, I was able to ski my first couloir. After that, I was able to ski a number of steep lines in the Wasatch this winter and work on several photo and video projects. I set a new goal to swim a mile in 2016 (which I completed in early January), and a summer goal to ride a century on a road bike. I read forums about people with this injury and some say it takes months, even a year, to heal. I want my foot to have a full recovery, so I’m planning to be conservative this summer and take it day by day and focus on biking and swimming. The pain is a nuisance, but overall, I’m grateful for good health.
I’m striving to be like a Jade plant. When you break off a branch of a Jade plant, it regrows in another unexpected place. I realize now how precious long days in the backcountry are, and I treasure them immensely. I’m learning that an athletic career isn’t defined by the setbacks, but how you react to, adapt and overcome those challenges. I’m keeping a positive mindset, and it’s very healing for me to be able to write about this now. I’m not going to lie. There have been moments over the past few months where I have been nearly despondent, worrying that I’ll never be the athlete I once was. There’s been a great deal of mental and physical discomfort with this injury, but I’m also working to find growth and progression– the opportunity to add something else to what I am. A biker, a swimmer. Maybe a future triathlete? Maybe I’ll learn aid climbing! I’m still in love with mountaineering, skiing and living in the mountains. But my body and life are telling me to step back and make sure my body is healthy. Activities like swimming, biking and maybe triathlon are ways to keep the inspiration going and fitness high. In the end, my heart and soul will always be in the mountains. If my big mountain dreams were easy, they wouldn’t be as satisfying. In the short term, my mind and body need other types of rejuvenation.
It’s hard to live up to personal and professional expectations. Fitness goals take years to reach. Setbacks are normal and OK. One thing I haven’t talked about yet: the culture that congratulates people for over-extending. Social media can make it seem like everyone is a super human, never needing any rest. It’s truly incredibly what the human body is capable of, but it has limits. We are not machines. Let’s learn to recognize and talk about the disease of over-extending. There’s a healthy way to train and recover but it’s easy to push it too hard. Endurance training in any sport can be like a drug. The athletes that have the longest, most successful careers will be the ones who learn how to use the adrenaline and endorphins and other brain chemicals responsibly.
I asked my mom where she got the swallowing frogs expression from. One of her friends told it to her. Everyday, she wakes up and realizes she’s going to have to swallow some frogs, but then she can face the day better. Admit that there are some irritating impediments, but don’t let them get you down. Get over them and move on. It’s not the year I envisioned for myself, but I’m having a ball nevertheless and pushing myself in other ways. I’m learning new ways to prepare those frogs (grilled frogs legs anyone? How about we marinate them?) and am actually starting to enjoy the taste of frogs everyday!

Rob's healing touch on my injured foot.

Heal up little Sesamoid!

How to Become a Pro Skier–Tips to Fund Your Dream

There are many ways to become a professional skier, even if you didn’t grow up skiing competitively. Below, I’ve listed some things that I’ve learned in the dozen years I’ve been pursuing this profession. This isn’t the only way to fund your dreams, but I’ve found it’s what’s worked for me.

-Don’t listen to your parents when they tell you to go to graduate school and become a lawyer, doctor or businessperson. Don’t listen to anyone. They don’t understand your dream. Only you know what’s possible for you.

-Live within your means. Move to a place where you can do that and ski regularly. There aren’t too many ski towns like that left, but they are out there. Don’t acquire debt. Then ski a lot. Find other pros or aspiring pros to ski with. Contact local videographers and photographers to shoot.

-Figure out your personal brand and start building it. Keep your social media pages and websites updated with information that shows who you are. Research your ski idols and figure out how they built their careers. Contact potential sponsors that align with the personal brand you’ve developed.

-Plan to spend some time each week on the computer. Being in charge of a ski career is similar to running a small business. Prepare to learn how to do your own accounting, marketing, advertising, sales, negotiations and production.

-Set realistic goals for yourself. Start working on them. Figure out what your sponsors goals are, and figure out how you can contribute to their goals. Being able to throw a double cork or skiing the gnarliest line doesn’t mean you should get sponsored. Figure out the value you can bring to the companies you want to work for.

-Keep a job with a flexible schedule that allows you to ski during the day until you can make enough skiing to quit your job. Live with your parents (even though you disagree about your career choices doesn’t mean you can’t be agreeable to live around) or couch surf with friends. If you travel, keep it cheap. Offer to make dinner for the hosts whose couches you will be crashing on. Do dishes, keep it tidy. Leave any “base camp” you visit cleaner and better than you found it.

-When you’re not skiing, and you’re trying to make ends meet, Hustle. Pick up odd jobs. Organize and run yard sales for your friends and families to make some extra skrilla. You’d be amazed at how much you can make for piles of stuff people want to get rid of. Get a food sponsor. You gotta eat.

-When you do get that call from the photographer, it’s time to get some shots in the bag. Be professional. Show up on time, with your gear organized. Don’t be hungover. Don’t talk too much, listen to the direction from the photographer. Now you are going to realize that being a pro skier isn’t exactly what you think it is. Powder days are spent moving at snail paces with film crews. Shooting is about finding quality snow and terrain, not how many laps you can get in.

-Develop a thick skin for rejection and public criticism. You will hear a lot of nos, from sponsors, from photographers, from other athletes. Keep doing what you love and persisting. Have fun and be safe. Make sure you have health insurance and consider disability insurance.