Last Frontier Heliskiing - What Dreams Are Made Of

In October 2015, I got an email inviting me on a trip to Last Frontier Heliskiing in Canada. A lifelong dream was coming true, at the most unexpected time. Turning a cheek to the heli as it blasts snow after a drop!

Life has a way of giving you exactly what you need when you need it most.  So for me, it was in the midst of a mild depression last fall (October 2015) that I first learned about the opportunity to go heliskiing with Last Frontier Heliskiing.

I was in New York City for the Women's Sports Foundation's Annual Salute when I saw an email from photographer Ashley Barker looking for a male and female athlete to take on a marketing trip to Last Frontier Heliskiing. Figures it's upon "retirement" that my first chance to go heliskiing finally presents itself... The Women's Sports Foundation event that I was attending was hosting its first annual Athlete Leadership Connection. My day was busy planning my post-skiing life, digging, grasping, and searching for the "next" chapter. At this point in time, what I "wanted" was falling to the wayside of what I "needed" and what I really needed, was a job, not a heliskiing trip.

What Dreams Are Made Of

As a young kid, I had always imagined going to the Olympics. First, that dream was for mogul skiing but once I found a halfpipe, that dream morphed. The competitive nature of skiing was enticing to me because of its simplicity - show up, compete, and see where you place. But creativity and expression were always a core element for me. The dream of heliskiing, however, was a far off one - an idea that seemed nice, but not a goal that I was actively pursuing.

As my competitive career was winding down I began seeing so much value in the film and photo side of the sport, purely from the joy, excitement and aspirations that people get from seeing stunning images. I had hoped to transition into a full-time film and photo athlete, but timing and sponsor alignment never came together. Begrudgingly, I let go of the dream and tried to find a job.

The Transition

When I got home to Utah from the Athlete Leadership Connection, my husband, Chris, and I continued conversations about my career prospects. Fortunately, he pointed me toward a job with an affiliate marketing company in Park City called AvantLink. My eyes grew wide. Suddenly, all of the pieces seemed to be falling into place. After a few emails, a phone call and a successful interview, AvantLink offered me a job. I had found a company that allowed me to apply my knowledge of marketing and had a boss that appreciated my love of skiing!

Finally, I could ski for fun and make money elsewhere! I'm sure that this sounds like a silly "revelation," but I had been doing what I loved for a living since I was 17-years young. Passion, purpose and profit were all wrapped up in one neat package. Until now. And the Last Frontier Heliskiing trip, would actually be possible. So I called up Ashley and committed.

The Trip

After months of working a desk job, the March trip to Last Frontier Heliskiing was a very welcome one! Our travels north were quite smooth. Despite the select few flights from Vancouver to Smithers, we were put up in a Hilton in downtown Vancouver the night before our flights. It was a short, but incredibly scenic flight from Vancouver to Smithers. Skimming over the Canadian Rockies' peaks was the perfect way to build anticipation for the skiing to come. Upon arrival in Smithers, were greeted by the crew from Last Frontier. Our bags were loaded into the tour bus as we piled into our seats. No detail was overlooked and we were fed gourmet boxed lunches as we settled in for the 4 hour drive to Bell II Lodge.

On the final day at Bell II Lodge, all of the guests enjoyed a bonfire in the center village and released paper lanterns carrying their greatest wish.

Evenings were filled with beer and wine and sing-a-longs.

When we pulled up to the lodge, Bell II wasn't entirely what I was expecting. This was mainly due to the ease with which we arrived and its proximity to the infrequently traveled road... But once inside, the lodge had that wood-burning stove coziness to it, and the faint scent of hot apple cider. This wasn't a sterile hotel, but a home-away-from-home. A place to come together with strangers to celebrate over a common bond - snow.

The Heliskiing

Weather was a bit challenging for our first day at Bell II and periodically throughout the trip. If we were there simply to ski we could've spent all day on the hill, but we needed light to capture the images we were after. Staying hunkered down in a lodge certainly wasn't our objective, so we made quick use of the ping-pong table and bow & arrows.

Hunkered down

Alas, on day 2 we were able to fly! I've been in helicopters before, but only in Afghanistan on a USO trip, so this was an entirely new experience! What incredible, powerful, maneuverable machines! With all of the camera equipment that we had, we just about maxed out the weight limit, but our pilot, Sean, was not deterred. I peered out of the windows in awe of the vast mountain expanse that were the Canadian Rockies.

Reviewing our surroundings on a map before one of our first runs of the trip.

There's an interesting dichotomy at play with heliskiing - the man-made sound and flight of the helicopter intertwined with the serene and all-powerful presence of the mountains. It was strange, at first, to find the balance of appreciating both sides of this. Climbing into the helicopter after an intimate mountain experience, only to put on headphones that help drown-out the whir of the blades. But to me, it felt like the ultimate celebration of humanity - these man-made developments were enabling the deep exploration of our natural world.

Finding the light and dancing down the mountain with our bird.

It hadn't snowed much leading up to our arrival, but we got enough of a dusting to keep things interesting. When skiing terrain like this, sometimes the freshness of the snow is not what matters, but the pure, virgin nature of it. I haven't skied so many untouched lines ever in my life. Still, there was a deep surface hoar that kept us away from enticing areas but our guide, Michael, was on top of it. The possibilities were virtually limitless as long as we were conscientious of existing avalanche terrain.

Skiing one of the most exciting lines of the trip. Unfortunately, a small wet-slide released above me to the lookers right and I had to wait out the snow before skiing through my narrow exit.

Doing my best to replicate Callum's ability to play along the shadow lines.

Our final day at Last Frontier Heliskiing truly delivered! The rain in town had us a bit concerned, but sure enough, the precipitation laid itself down as snow up high. I did my best to take in every moment of this trip as if it would be my last heliskiing trip ever. All I could think about every day was how excited my dad would've been to hear about this trip. I can't tell you the number of turns that I took that had me grinning ear-to-ear with a warm feeling of joy in my heart. I am so blessed and was so fortunate to have had this opportunity. So thanks again to the folks at Last Frontier Heliskiing (pilot Shawn, guide Michael, head of marketing Mike Watling, filmer Grant Baldwin , photographer Ashley Barker, all the staff and of course, my fellow skier, Callum Pettit) for making this happen.

Continuing to Dream

It took a lot of work to retrain my brain how to dream of a life I wanted and it took a lot more to begin living it. I used to live by the Henry David Thoreau quote "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." But as my halfpipe skiing career came to a heartbreaking close, dreaming again felt impossible. Day after day I'd have small conversations in my head, asking difficult questions like, "If you removed all barriers about what you thought was possible, what would you choose to do with your days and how would you want your life to look?".

These questions are a constant for me now. Not a day goes by that I don't dream of being able to ski whenever and wherever I want, but I also value the freedom that the inflexible stability of my job provides. My competitive nature continues to fuel me and I still feel that I have more to give on my skis. I also recognize the challenges that athletes are facing these days for funding and there's a part of me that feels it's a selfish pursuit. I see a life ahead of me filled with future adventures and endeavors on my skis and bike, but also in starting a family with my new husband and finding different ways to contribute to this world.

The one common thread for me has always been writing. But when I ask myself these tough questions, writing is always a piece of the answer. I'm working on breaking down the barriers that I've created surrounding my ability to make money through writing, skiing and biking. I dared to dream once before and it led to 11 of the most-memorable and exciting years of my life. So now it's time to dream again.

 See a full gallery of the trip below!

Monte Cristo Directissimo- The Mountains Are Mirrors


My head spins with irrational fear. The weight of past mistakes, falls onto my shoulders, collapsing my core. I feel vulnerable, scared, but I'm lying safely in my bed, tucked under my down-comforter as my fiancee changes out of his work clothes before crawling in beside me. He's suggested our route for tomorrow: Monte Cristo Directissimo. In Andrew McClean's The Chuting Gallery: A Guide to Steep Skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, he cautions against getting stuck on this route too late in the day, as warming can cause wet-slides which could quickly turn a skier into a "corpsicle." We'd made that mistake just a year before, narrowly avoiding such a dreadful fate, and the thought of choosing to return, was daunting.

Sweet Dreams

I slept surprisingly well that night, albeit only for 5 short hours. Sometimes I feel that my dad visits in my dreams. I think he came to see me that night to remind me that these experiences are what life is about. Have many of them, as many as possible. And he's right. You can be safe, you can calculate your every move, and you could still be gone tomorrow, without ever having left the house.

My mind seemed to settle at rest, to sort out fact from fiction (or fear). The day would be cool, not likely to be above freezing until noon and there should be some cloud cover for most of the day. Last year we were inexperienced, and naive to dangers outside of a typical slab avalanche. Wet slides caught us off-guard, but we've learned so much since then. We know our route, are aware of the snow conditions, and have the proper gear. Not to mention, my lungs are screaming for some extra blood flow and my legs feel strong and ready for use.

So, I rolled out of bed to get ready for our day. My morning routine can't be altered even if I have to leave the house before dawn. Breakfast- a balance of carbs and protein, coffee, with a little cream, and a LOT of water before piling into the car. I used to strongly dislike the drive from Park City to LCC, but now I embrace it. I know that I'll feel good once my ski boots are on and I start the ascent.

Panorama of Alta & Snowbird across from Mt. Superior.

The Approach

The sun was beginning to rise when finally got our skins on and started our approach. There were about 10 other skiers on similar programs that morning, but we all found our own rhythm and naturally spaced out. As we worked our way up to the south edge of Toledo Bowl, Chris and I wondered if we should have brought our ski crampons after-all. Cross-hilling was challenging as there was a small dusting of loose snow atop a bullet-proof layer of ice, but we pressed on.

We reached the ridge in due time and after another 30 more minutes of precarious skinning, we started the bootpack. This is probably my favorite part of the ascent. For some reason skinning feels like torture, but bootpacking on a knife-edge ridge and stair-stepping to the top of the universe somehow feels fun...

The Summit

We reached the summit around 11:30 am and were content with our timing. We could take a moment to enjoy the summit, but still had enough time to descend before temps would become dangerously warm. There is nothing quite like standing atop a mountain like this. It's not huge in the grand scheme of alpine terrain, but Monte Cristo still rises over 11,000' and with views down to the Salt Lake Valley floor, the 7,000' visual drop feels significant.

It's the smallness you feel while standing up there that is compelling. The city seems small, the houses tiny, and the people microscopic. Our problems: nonexistent, yet we so often let them rule our lives. Somehow we all co-exist, not always harmoniously, but seamlessly. We push and pull, lift and drop, hope and dream, and the world turns.


Slide for Life Skiing?

We settled in about 10' below the summit to shelter ourselves from the wind while we ate lunch. I couldn't eat much, my shoulders were tensing up and my bladder was extremely full. All I could think about was the descent, which was shrouded in a cloud, making visibility a challenge. The variable conditions began to concern me. We would we now be on slide-for-life ice above a cliff that we need to rappel down? My nerves started to fire rapidly, uncontrollably, [somewhat] irrationally, once again. This is where I'm grateful for the man I'm marrying and why we all benefit from a solid life partner.

"Jen, let's just take it one step at a time. If we don't like the conditions we can divert around. We're still a long way above the rappel. Besides, this open bowl is so wind-blown, the couloir is more protected and won't be this bad."

Chris has a way of simplifying things, sometimes too much so, which is what got us in trouble last year, but I tend to overthink things. We allow our dialogue to continue in this push-pull manner until we arrive at a safe and probably very rational decision to ski. Chris went first and found an island of safety below some rocks (not that a slab avalanche was remotely of concern today, but it's good practice to reinforce the right habits). I proceeded to ski into the couloir and nestled behind a large cliff at the start of a separate couloir that would divert around the rappel, should we decide not to complete this route. Once I was safe, I called to Chris. He skied down to the top of the first cliff to set up our initial rappel.

As I sat there, I could see and feel the wet slide that took place just over a year ago in that exact location. We didn't know exactly where we were (fail #1) and got caught out too late in the day (fail #2). I had skied all the way down to the top of the first rappel when I realized we were cliffed-out. Chris was above me, trying to see if we had another option out. He watched as a wet-slide powered through the couloir down the exact path that I had skied only moments before. I was fortunate enough to be able to tuck behind a small rock outcropping while the slide moved through, but I was out of Chris' site. For all he knew, I'd been swept over the cliff...


Chris' voice snapped me back to the present moment.

"We're good. You can come down to me."

No wet slides today. No confusion. No thoughts of nearly losing someone you love. I carefully skied down to Chris and clipped into the anchor.

Rappelling With Skis On My Back...

There are fixed anchors on this route, which made our setup pretty straightforward. Chris descended first. I watched him ease over the edge and waited until he confirmed that he was secured to the next anchor before I maneuvered the rope into my rappel device. Now it was my turn.

I always loved climbing as a kid. My dad and his colleagues were avid rock climbers and I was fortunate enough to tag along on many of their adventures. A few of my favorites were climbing out of a canoe somewhere in the Gunks, working my way up the [former] Old Man of the Mountain and climbing one of my first multi-pitch climbs in the Las Vegas Red Rocks when I was 12. Rappelling was always one of the most enjoyable aspects for me. A celebration of completing a physically demanding feat, you could spring your way down the wall.


While rappelling with skis on your back and ski boots on your feet is a bit more awkward than the rappels of my youth, it still felt celebratory and fun, and it's certainly easier than climbing with skis on my back! Once I rejoined Chris at the foot of the cliff, we prepared for the second, larger rappel. This one topped out at about 100' and gave me a few butterflies (the good kind, the kind where you know you're safe, but it's exhilarating anyway).

Halfpipe Couloir!

My feet planted softly on the melting snow and I sank into the upward pull of the rope to get some slack. I unclipped from the rope. We had made it down two pitches and we now had the remaining drainage to ski back to the road.

The couloir fills in in a halfpipe-like manner, making for a playful descent and oddly familiar terrain. Some roller-balls were forming due to the predicted warming temps, but a smile found my face and a full-breath filled my lungs. The mountains are mirrors for what's in our hearts.

This is life. This is what we're here for. Small progressions to move past previous limitations, comparing yourself to no one other than who you were yesterday.


A few of my favorite deals:

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute


Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute is a rite-of-passage for any Wasatch backcountry skier. The chute, located off the south ridge of Mt. Superior stares at you from Alta and beckons you to ski it. About this time last year, I watched a video of Angel Collinson and Erik Roner skiing the iconic line. It looked magical and certainly planted a seed with me.

Rise and Shine

It's still dark outside when a familiar twinkling sound softly causes me to wake.  I hear this sound every morning, letting me know that my slumber has come to an end and it's time to begin my day. But why is it still so dark? Then I remember. Chris and I decided to ski Suicide Chute before the next snow storm deemed conditions too dangerous to ride for a while. But my bed feels like the coziest place in the world at the moment; I'm warm and weightless in a swaddle of down. Please don't make me get up! Yet I do.

Our gear was all ready to go the night before. Bags packed with essentials. Shovel, beacon, probe. Helmet, goggles, gloves. Even our PB&Js are safely tucked away along with a bottle of water.  Chris begins making some oatmeal as I grind coffee for the french press to take on the road. We're efficient in our silent preparation for our day's venture and are out the door in 20 minutes. Skis and poles are thrown in the back of the truck, boots are up front with us to stay warm.

No more than 45 minutes later we pull into the upper parking lot at Snowbird. We were surprised at how quickly we made it over to Little Cottonwood Canyon from our home in Park City. When the roads are clear, the drive is smooth. Maybe too smooth. The caffeine from our coffee doesn't seem to have done much for me as we turn the engine off. I would much rather close my eyes and take a nap than step out into the cold to put hard plastic boots on my feet and a heavy pack on my back in order to climb a mountain. But, of course, I do.

Initial Approach

Before long, the alpenglo begins to illuminate our skin track. Headlamps are no longer needed to light our way, and I feel my body begin to wake up. And then... I see the mountains.

Jen Hudak Skinning Up to Suicide Chute

The last time I saw Mt. Superior covered in snow was last March. I had been a guide for Kristen Ulmer's Ski To Live camps, one of the most life-changing, perspective-framing events of my life, and was inspired to FaceTime my father from atop High-Boy at Alta. For some reason I felt that my father might never see those mountains again, and I wanted to give him the chance to see them one more time. So I called, and he answered. A lot of the time I resent the conflict of technology interfering with one's appreciation of nature, but that day I couldn't have been more grateful for the geniuses behind the internet and the iPhone. It turned out that my hunch was right, my dad passed away the following month.

Now, here I am again. Alive, and seeing this mountain shrouded in snow once again. I get to climb it and ski it. Who needs caffeine? Chris and I are the only ones on this mountain and suddenly I'm lit up with excitement and appreciation for our day. Who knows how many thousands have seen Mt. Superior before us, and how many thousands will after us, but this mountain, blanketed in this exact snow, is for our eyes only. It is changed as soon as we glide our skis across its surface and place a boot-pack in the newly fallen snow. The mountain is generous and welcoming. We are lucky to be here to enjoy its offerings.

Jen Hudak at the mouth of Suicide Chute

The Boot Pack

The approach up the apron was short and sweet. In just over an hour we began removing our skis and strapping them to our packs. Crampons went on our feet and our ice axes came out of our packs.  The boot-pack would be the brunt of this climb, so we were glad that the initial approach was so gentle.  Making one's way up Suicide Chute varies in technicality depending on what time of year you're making the approach. It's still mid-December and we haven't quite seen the effects of El Nino just yet... For us, this means that the entrance (and later, the exit) to the chute has a small ice fall (no more than 10 vertical feet) that we need to maneuver before the straight boot pack begins.

Despite some fresh snow, our feet easily find the icy surface below. Crampons were a great decision. The ice axe however, was debatable. At one point I told Chirs that I wished I had a whippet, and he replied "I wish I had another ice axe!"  The discrepancy could be due to the fact that I was using a 50 cm ice axe and his was 60 cm, but given that he's at least 10 cm taller than me, I'm not sure that reasoning is valid. Still, I had to bend over pretty far in order to find a firm surface that my iceaxe would plant on and I really didn't need to use the pick end of the ice axe at all.

Conditions were pretty easy for our approach, all-in-all. Neither one of us had serious issues with our gear, just minor details we'd like to improve upon. Jen Hudak entering Suicide Chute hike

Jen Hudak Boot-packing Suicide Chute


Working my way the chute! Slow & steady...

It didn't take long for Chris to move well in front of me on this part of the approach.  I wasn't moving slowly, but I wasn't about to win an Olympic medal with my performance. So, I did my best to settle-in, something I've found very useful for my bouts with racing mountain bikes. Granted, I realize this chute is child's play compared to what's out there in the world, but it was still hard-work. The sound of my feet pressing through the snow and finding the ice below, served as a metronome for my thoughts. Day-dreaming about the skiing to come, reflecting on my past, letting go of my former-self step-by-step. My glutes were burning and I was sweating, but I could see the top. I could see the top for so long, and I just kept lying to myself, saying "you're almost there, Jen." My body seemed to believe me as I pressed on. Eventually that lie became truth and I stepped out of the couloir onto the saddle overlooking a view of the Salt Lake valley below.


View of the Salt Lake Valley

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

The ski down always goes too quickly, yet somehow it makes the uphill well worth it. The further we worked our way up the chute, the more filled in it seemed to get.  This time, we seriously lucked out on conditions.  The skiing was a blast!  There is something that feels really exhilarating about chute skiing, even when the pitch isn't super steep. (Suicide Chute is also known as "Country Lane" because it never gets over 40 degrees). But charging between rock walls, and visibly seeing the valley floor getting closer, makes you well aware of your surroundings and your speed.

Skiing Utah's Suicide Chute

There was significant powder the entire way down, until the exit. Due to early season conditions, the chute wasn't entirely filled in. You had to be precise and calculated in your turns to avoid some rocks hidden just beneath the surface. Keeping speed under control was key.  The trickiest part was working our way through the choke at the exit. We side-stepped our way down and each did a quick jump-turn in order to straight-line the choke. It didn't exactly go as planned for either one of us, as the snow on the apron we exited onto was not ideal, but we survived. Then we got to enjoy some sweet and soft low-angle turns on our way back to the car.

I highly recommend skiing this Wasatch classic line. Be safe, get educated and only ski with partners that you know and trust. The mountains should never be taken for granted!

Gear Used:

Petzel Glacier LiteRide Ice Axe 50 cm

Under Armour Women's Nimbus GORE-TEX® Shell

Under Armour Women's Nimbus GORE-TEX Bib Pant

RAMP Sports Skis, Beaver

Backcountry Access Float 27

Black Diamond Neve Pro Crampons

POC Lobes Goggles

Backcountry Access Float 27 Tech Airbag Backpack - 1650cu in

Being Thankful After Loss


I suppose I'm a few days late on my post, but Thanksgiving (the being grateful part, not necessarily the eat-til-you-pop part) is a way of being that I aspire toward as much as possible, so consider this the start of a movement.

The last few years have been particularly brutal for me. I've experienced more consecutive loss than I ever imagined possible, I've felt less control in my life, more confusion, and less hope. Losing my father was by far the worst experience of my life. It did, however,  help to put the other "losses" of my life into perspective. Honestly, sometimes, the greatest loss is the quickest way to make you realize what you do have. As someone wise once said, if you can't learn to be happy with what you have, you will never be happy once you get what you want.

FullSizeRender (1)

The Depression

Early in the fall I found myself in a deep depression. For weeks I had inescapable feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt. Feelings of missing my father and needing him more than ever completely overwhelmed me. In hard times like this I am so grateful for sports, not just for the endorphin and adrenaline-releasing aspects, but for the lessons I've learned through competing, from setting goals and failing (not succeeding) to reach the desired outcome.

Everyone talks about how valuable participation in sports is, and there are many tangible reasons that partaking in physical activity is beneficial to one's health. I don't think "experiencing failure" is one of the reasons mentioned often, but of all the things sport gave me, resilience was by far the greatest gift. If we aren't exposed to failure, we cannot prepare for it, we cannot become comfortable with it, and we cannot let it move us forward.

A competitive halfpipe run takes somewhere between 30-45 seconds to complete. and in that time I probably make a million decisions. If I make a mistake, there is no time to dwell on it, if something happens that is out of my control, I cannot sit back and feel bad for myself, I need to recover and move forward, adjust my plan along the way. It was one of my strengths as an athlete, I never gave up on a run, I always finished if I was physically able, attempting to get the highest score I could, even in the face of a mistake that I knew would cost me the win. After years of this practice, I would so seamlessly adjust in the face of adversity that many people didn't even notice that I had made a mistake.

The Loss

After losing my dad, my attention had been shifted to all that I had lost, not just in losing him, but all of the disappointment in my ski career and its impending end. This put me in a downward spiral, spinning out of control. I was forgetting to just continue moving forward, even if I would need to change course again, even if it was a mistake that would need to be corrected later. Instead I just let the thoughts of what I didn't have and of what I had lost and what I would lose in the future pull me into the darkness.

In life, we are tortured by time. We have so much TIME to think about what we should be doing with our time, that we drive ourselves crazy. I think that's the nicest part about sports: they're time-bound. Your win or loss is in a finite moment and then you move on. Adapting this into my daily life has been much harder than applying it to sports, but lucky for me I have some pretty amazing people in my life who help get me navigate these murky waters.

What I Have

Once I shifted my mindset from what I no longer had to making the most of the scraps in front of me, my scraps started turning into something substantial. Soon enough, I was guided in a new direction. I was able to see how I wanted to be living my life, and I was much happier because I was now focused on all that I did have: my health, a supportive fiancee, an incredible family held together through love that deepened when we had to say goodbye to my father in April, I had a roof over my head, I was in school, I was still finding ways to pay my bills and I was alive.  I remember thinking in the final days of my dad's life, that the only positive about the discomfort he was in was that it meant he was still here, his heart was still beating, I could still hold him in my arms. I'm glad that he is finally at peace now, but when life gets hard, try to remind yourselves that the pain you are experiencing simply means you still have a fighting chance to create the life you've always wanted.

This holiday season I am so thankful for all I have, for this community built around the written word, for skiing, for my family, my dogs, the mountains, bicycles, fresh air, hot chocolate and love. It keeps the world goin' around.


UA ColdGear Infrared Vailer Jacket | UA Storm Queen Pant | Hestra Fall Line Mitten | RAMP Sports Shebang | Salomon X Pro 120 Boot


Sex And The Female Athlete


Sex And The Female Athlete

In light of a recent article posted on featuring the "Ten Hottest Women In Freeskiing," I'm compelled to address an issue that has been discussed time and time again.  Last year around this time, the Bleacher Report posted an article on the 25 Hottest Female Winter Sports athletes (in which I was included) which prompted me to write me to write my own article on the 25 Hottest Male Winter Sport Athletes.  As entertaining as it was to write this article and as enjoyable as it was to look up photos of attractive men on the internet for a few hours, I really wasn't targeting the root of the problem.  I was taking my frustration out (albeit in a humorous way) on men, who are deserving of attention for their athletic accolades, not their physical appearance.  And therein lies the problem.  Female athletes should be acknowledged for their success in their athletic pursuits, not for how "hot" they are.

I'm guilty myself of falling into the trap of using my sexuality to gain exposure.  As a 17 year old girl (at the time of the photo shoot, not of the publication) I was asked to be a part of Freeskier's "Women of Freeskiing" issue.  The magazine came out in the fall of 2004, I believe it was the 3rd annual issue, and I had just turned 18.  The previous winter I landed on the podium of the US Freeskiing Open in Vail, CO and followed it up with a 4th place finish in Whistler at the World Ski Invitational (WSI).  Back then, I was known for having "man-sized air" as one article noted, and I burst onto the scene with so much motivation and enthusiasm for what would lie ahead.  Little did I know that my first chance to be in a ski publication would have more to do with my good looks than my skiing talent.  I posed in a bubble bath.  A bubble bath. And I don't even like baths!  At the time, I thought it was great.  I actually really enjoyed the photo shoot--I love sports but I've always loved being a girl too, I love to get dressed up and I'm really not shy in front of the camera--but my 17 year-old self didn't realize what I was allowing to perpetuate.  Thank heaven the internet wasn't as prevalent back then, or when you google "Jen Hudak" today, an image of me sitting in a bubble bath would be the first image to come up.

The Real Problem

That is the real problem.  These sexy images of female athletes live on forever and can actually do the athlete disservice.   The more attention that is paid to a woman's looks, the less attention gets paid to the woman herself, her accomplishments and her athletic achievements. She just becomes another piece of eye-candy.  You see that with Danica Patrick right now!  Danica consistently gets criticized for having bought her way into NASCAR for her marketability (ahem, hotness) and not for her driving ability.  The fact of the matter is, that woman is fast behind the wheel of a car.  (You can read more on my assessment of Danica Patrick here).  But because of how much she has allowed her appearance to be exploited, people actually lose sight of how talented she is.

For example, recently Elena Hight became the first woman to land a double in the halfpipe on a snowboard (and only one of 3 people, male and female alike, to do that particular double) and subsequently this summer she posed in ESPN's Body Issue.  ESPN usually does a terrific job at showing off athlete's bodies in their unique sizes & shapes and displaying the strength of the women through the photos, so I understand Elena agreeing to do the shoot.  Elena is an amazing woman, athlete, and spirit- she cares greatly about health and fitness as you can see from her website and blog, but I worry about the effect of these photos.  Elena's accomplishments on her snowboard may get lost in the shuffle because of the images that ESPN released.  But how much control is given to the athletes during these shoots? What kind of artistic direction, guidelines and limitations should be set?  It can get really frustrating as a female athlete to put thousands of hours into your craft, and not get deserved exposure for it.  At a certain point, it feels that these opportunities are the only way we can share what we do!

So  Who's Responsible?

It is hard to pinpoint where to place the blame.  Is it the media's fault for covering women in this way, or is it the fault of the men who want to read these articles over other articles pertaining to women's athletics, or is it the women themselves who are to blame?  When a specific photo shoot is in order (like the one I did in 2004), I would say the women that partake have some responsibility in it, but in this case, it seems only Freeskier is to blame.  This issue has been debated before, but this time around it has been different.  I've seen men engaging in the conversation, men who are just as frustrated about this kind of exploitation as women. That takes a different tone.  Perhaps the biggest issue with this most recent list is the fact that it was posted from Freeskier.  Freeskier's focus should be on the "skiing."  There are plenty of other publications out there whose soul focus is on attractive women: FHM and Maxim to mention a few, so perhaps we can leave the objectification to them.

So where do we go from here?  Freeskiing is still fairly young in its roots but it does have an aging audience.  I've been doing this sport professionally for over a decade now which means that the guys who were 17 when I was 17 are now 27 year old men.  Perhaps they would be interested in seeing some skiing out of these women who are acclaimed to be the "hottest" things in freeskiing.  I know the women are up for it, they're living it and doing it every day.  Maybe we don't have front flips off of 100+ foot cliffs, but 60' ain't too bad, is it Rachael Burks?

photo by Blake Jorgenson

Perhaps we don't have triples on jumps, but we've got girls doing doubles (ahem, Lisa Zimmerman, Jamie Crane-Mauzy, Tatum Monod and others...).

Lisa, making the Nine Queens jump her own!

And maybe we haven't gotten the dub 12 in the pipe yet, but 1080s are pretty cool, right, Brita Sigourney, Anna Drew and Roz G? (Oh, and maybe me too [insert blushy face]...)

Riding my favorite pipe at Park City!

What these ladies do on the hill is more than most men in the world can do and that deserves some attention.

(Now, just for curiosity's sake... go ahead and Google images for Danica Patrick, Kristi Leskinen, and Lindsey Vonn. Now google Jimmie Johnson, Tom Wallsich and Ted Ligety.  The images that come up are a little different aren't they?)

When Your Dreams Begin To Haunt You...



Most kids are taught to dream big.  When we're young, we bravely think anything is possible. But as the years tick by and we see failed dreams all around us, we begin to doubt the truth in that. Society begins to beat us down. Eventually, those dreams begin to haunt us.

It Starts With A Dream

I have wanted to be an Olympian since I was 12 years old.  Initially I thought it would be in mogul skiing, but when I found a halfpipe in 2002, I found my true calling.  At the time there were no Olympic Games for halfpipe skiing. It was so impractical to become an Olympic Halfpipe Skier that it made the dream easier to have.  In essence, I couldn’t be accountable for “failing” to go to the Olympics, if there were no Olympics.  There were so many external obstacles that could make this dream impossible.  So, I focused on all the other contests as potential stepping-stones for what I ultimately wanted to achieve. All the while, I was softly focused beyond those goals.  It was like Les Brown says, “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” 

As I began to achieve these smaller goals, one-by-one, I found a deep satisfaction with my ski career.   Sure, there were ups and downs, but gradually goals were being crossed off my list of “to-dos.” Win a world cup, check, win US Open, check, win WSI, check, win X-Games, check.  But this one goal always remained: win the Olympics.  When the sport officially gained acceptance in 2011, my dream suddenly began to feel daunting instead of motivating and I couldn’t understand why.

Having the Olympic dream as my larger goal, made all the smaller goals easier to achieve. They never overwhelmed me, because they paled in comparison to what I was really trying to accomplish.  But now this is it. We are getting down to the wire. There is a clearly defined timeline of when I need to be performing at my best, and my best suddenly needs to be better than a lot of other amazing skiers.  What is bigger than the Olympics?  How can I reach the mindset that I had when I was younger with this one last dream of mine? Perhaps I need to dream bigger, not just dream of being an Olympian, but reinstate my dream of being an Olympic Gold Medalist.  To do that, being an Olympian will have to happen, so I will begin to see myself as an Olympian, before I even get there. 

The Haunting Begins

When you get close enough to realizing your dreams, when you can visualize yourself standing atop that Olympic podium, national anthem blaring, grinning ear to ear, proud before the millions of people you’ve inspired - that's when the stage is set.  As we get closer to the Olympics, I look around the US Ski Team gym and realize that every athlete in here is aspiring toward that same goal.  Suddenly, I can see that person on the podium being someone else entirely - not me.  What makes me so special, what should I be the “chosen one?”  A sinking feeling in my gut overtakes me. 

I start to imagine myself on the sidelines watching another person realize my dream. The future that was supposed to be mine now belongs to someone else.  And that was when my dream began to haunt me.  It was as if my mind was preparing to deal with the potential “failure,” that might ensue.  “Disappointment management” I like to call it.  My father does this all the time, while watching sporting events on TV.  Towards the end of a game, if my his team is down, he’ll say, “That’s it! It’s over...” even if there is a reasonable chance for a comeback.  He’ll prepare himself for the disappointment that he might feel if his team does loose. But if they win, he’ll be that much more elated! 

To take this approach as a spectator is one thing, but to do that as an athlete, is another.  If you think you’re going to lose you will, more than likely, lose.  So, as scary as it is to see yourself as the winner because of the possibility that you will fall short of your expectations, that is the only way to achieve your goals.  See yourself where you want to be.

Look Beyond Your Fears

In moments when your dreams feel overwhelming, your mind begins to play tricks on you.  It will attempt to minimize your goals, “What do the Olympics matter anyway?” It will actually try to convince you that your dream is fruitless and superficial, “you’re a fool to be attached to such a lofty goal because there is so much luck involved.”  Yes it is true that timing can be everything—so rarely does an opportunity like this come around.  But we can’t be afraid to dream. 

If I never dreamed of being an Olympian I don’t think I would be able to say that I am X-Games Gold Medalist or a World Champion.  It was the courage to look beyond what was directly in front of me that carried me so far.  It’s like climbing a ladder. If you're only looking at the rung directly in front of you, it’s not overwhelming, but as soon as you look behind you and realize how far you’ve come, how high you’ve climbed, the thought of falling becomes very scary.  The closer I inch toward my Olympic dream, the closer I get, the deeper the wound will be if I don’t make it.  There is much further to fall now than when I began this journey as a wide-eyed, naïve teenager.

Pressing On

The last few years have been extremely humbling. Many of my worst fears came true, and somehow I was still okay.  I know that I want this, I know that it is worth the fear and the doubt to continue in this pursuit.  I hope to rise to my potential in time for the Olympic Games, to have my comeback moment occur when it matters most, but I also know that what is meant to happen will unfold.  This is my path, and I must believe it is the right path—I will follow it through the brush, until it ends.  From there I will find my way. 

"Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it."  Bill Cosby

I'm Not Done Yet

The alarm went off at 6:15 as it has every morning for the last week and a half.  It’s dark outside- winter’s dawn won’t be for over an hour.  My bed feels too hot, and I struggle against the tightly tucked layers of sheets and blankets, to free my left leg and expose it to the crisp air.  Ahhhh.  At first I forget that I don’t need to be awake; it’s finals day for the New Zealand Winter Games, and I failed to qualify.  But my roommates and teammates, Anais and Anna, need to get up, as does our coach Elana.  We are sharing quarters for the month down here as we train and get ready for the biggest potential contest of our lives, The Olympics. For the last week we have been on the same schedule: 6 a.m wake up, slow crawl out of bed, immediately turn the electric kettle on to boil water for our French Press coffee, whose plunger is currently held together with medical tape (it’s all we have on the road).  I prepare 2 eggs mixed with a bit of milk; the gas stove in our kitchenette burns hot, so the eggs cook quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them and getting my gluten free bread toasted perfectly by the time my eggs are done cooking is always a challenge.  After a week, I’m beginning to get it down.

My eyes and head feel heavy.  Abruptly leaving behind the long days of summer for the stunted days of winter in New Zealand makes mornings seem darker than usual—we’ve been cut off of our sun addiction cold-turkey.  My 2 other roommates awaken around the same time and we awkwardly dance through the small living-dining-cooking space, as everyone prepares for the day ahead—Anais with her yogurt and muesli, Anna with some toast with an egg, ham and cheese, Elana with a cup of coffee.  Slowly ski clothes find their way out of the bedrooms, ski pants climb their way up our legs, excess coffee is poured into to-go mugs and we tumble out the door toward our cars.

Elana drives the Ford Ranger—it’s 4-door truck with a short bed, but it seats 5.  All of our skis and poles go in the back of the Ranger (11 pairs in total) and 5 people load into the cab.  My car, as I like to call it, is a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado—“The Prado”.  It’s a huge, wide, very American looking SUV.  We have one of the rear seats up, so that we can fit 6 people, 6 backpacks and 6 pairs of boots.  I climb into the right side of the Prado as the rest of the kids fight over shotgun and bitch.  The auxiliary cord gets passed to the backseat somewhere and Lil Wayne begins to sound.  I’m always shocked at how good rap can make me feel before the sun is even up.

We pull out of our drive, remembering to stay left.  Some days Elana is the lead car, and other days I am; some days we try to break ground speed records and other days we try to practice the skill of patience as we sit behind a car going a mere 90 kmh in a 100 zone.  Elana is typically more aggressive on the pavement in the first part of our drive, while I prefer the dirt of the second half.  Getting up to the base of Cardrona Ski Resort takes between 28 and 40 minutes (depending on how we choose to drive) and the pipe is open from 7:30-11 or 10 or 12… New Zealand isn’t the best at creating a consistent schedule.  But, this morning is a contest day, so the schedule will be a little different.  And then I remember, I’m not competing.

Yesterday was the qualifiers for the World Cup.  Going into it I was feeling really good.  My skiing was progressing nicely, training had been on a steady incline and I was prepared to peak for contest day.  My warm-up runs felt solid, and I was done with about 5 minutes remaining of our 35-minute session.  There were 26 girls competing and I felt confident about being in the top 12 to qualify for finals.  The run that I was competing was fairly basic compared to my best skiing of 2 years ago.  Big straight air, alley-oop mute, 540 safety, alley-oop 5, cork 7 tail, switch 180.  That run earned me 2nd place at this exact contest 2 summers ago.

In my first run I landed really low on my alley-oop 5, I didn’t touch the ground with any part of my body and I fought through, determined to stand up and finish the rest of the run.  I was really proud to have skied away from that trick and glad to feel the strength in my right leg after all it has been through.  Last winter, stepping into my binding was a challenge and now I am able to pull off landings that would be tough for anyone of any age, gender, health or strength.  My score was a 68 and put me in 9th.  I was happy to at least be in finals, for the time being.  I made the decision to keep my alley-oop 5 in for the 2nd run- my thought process being that I’m not going to the Olympics without it, and I felt that I will land it better and improve my score from run 1.  Most of that statement was right, I landed the trick better, but still low and somehow felt really slow going into my 720, last minute I thought to do an air to fakie instead so that I could still do a switch 180, but I decided too late and ended up just flailing on a straight air.  I didn’t fight.  My stomach sank, and I felt that I had just made a big mistake.

My intuition was right.  4 girls managed to land better 2nd runs and I moved from 9th place to 13th—one spot out of finals, one short fight away.  But sometimes that is how the cookie crumbles.  My intention for this first event was to do the run that I did.  My skiing is exactly where I had wanted it to be at this time, but adjusting to where that has placed me was tough.  As I said, 2 years ago that run landed me on the podium (granted it was a little cleaner) and now it didn’t even make finals.  It is a proud moment to observe the growth that this sport has gone through, but an intimidating one.  The path that I have laid out for myself has me peaking in December, taking every step, and pausing there for a moment, one new trick in training, one new trick in a contest run; not skipping ahead just for the sake of a competition.

I'm feeling reconnected with the sport that I once loved greatly and drifted away from for a while.  It feels really good to be motivated again, to want to learn new tricks, to be able to focus on the elements that are in my control, no longer distracted by the doings of others. The Olympics won’t mark the end for me whether or not I qualify to compete, so I will just continue look ahead.  I will progress on the timeline that I lay out, not forcing anything based on the looming event that has us all on pins and needles.  I’m not done skiing yet.

Staying focused on your future goals in times when you fall short of your immediate goal is imperative to success.  Know that you have what it takes to get there as long as you are patient.  Often we are only one trick, one day, or one moment away from being where we intend to be, but we give up just before we can see over the horizon.  Do not quit too soon,  “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”  Thanks for that, Helen Keller.

(Side note: I watched finals that morning.  It turned into a one run contest because the fog was so intense.  My US Freeskiing teammate Devin Logan, ended up winning.  It was her first contest back from an ACL tear she suffered in New Zealand one year prior.  My good friend Angeli VanLaanen got 2nd, her first podium at a Platinum level event since her return to skiing post recovery from Lyme Disease treatments.  Anna Drew ended up in 5th after crashing really hard on a right 900 in training (her unnatural way of spinning).  I was happy to see her healthy and skiing.  And Anais did a beautiful 900 first hit and went a little big on her alley-oop 5 resulting in a crash. She ended up 12th, but is skiing really well. On to the next one.)

Wednesday Workouts: Competitiveness and Circuit Training

I have been an athlete my entire life and for the last 10 years I have been fortunate enough to make a living as an athlete.  There have been so many learning opportunities along the way and an area that I have grown to truly appreciate is the work that takes place off the hill (or field, or floor) to be truly exceptional in one's sport or discipline.  The glory of what I do is often limited to a 30 second performance in a halfpipe where a panel of 5 judges decides my fate, but all of my growth and the majority of my happiness comes from the work that I do outside of the halfpipe.  This series aims to provide a little inspiration and motivation into your training goals.  There will be a combinations of workout ideas and some self-reflection thrown at you.  Take it or leave it.  Not everything will help everyone, but I hope you will find something in here to propel you forward! This week I want to first speak about competitiveness and then I will give you a 5-exercise circuit that I have been doing this spring as base-conditioning.


For as long as I can remember people have commented on how competitive I am.  Often times, it would be stated in an almost negative way, as if I'm not having fun because I'm competitive.  Granted, in my younger days, I may have let my competitive nature get the best of me at times, but even today I feel that my competitiveness has been negatively stigmatized.  I've been thinking about this for a while, and I think I've gotten to the bottom of it- at least to the bottom of where my competitiveness comes from and the purpose that it serves in my life.  As for others' interpretations of my competitive nature, well, that's purely speculation, but I'll throw some thoughts to the wind.

There is a large spectrum of intensity in life.  We can go for a walk, power walk, jog, run, sprint or we can run marathons in 6 hours or in 2 hours, and if that isn't even enough we can run ultra-marathons.  You get the idea.  Everyone has a different preference and a different tolerance for activity, there is no right or wrong here, no good or bad, just differences.  For me, I enjoy exploring the idea of potential in everything that I do.  If I'm going to run a 5K I'd like to see how fast I can do it, I love living right at the edge of what is possible for ME. I happen to carry that trait into everything that I do, from playing bocce in the backyard, to ringing out groceries at Whole Foods when I worked there, I thrive on the notion of high performance and I examine what that means even in the most mundane of tasks.  It seems to make life more interesting, more enjoyable, and often more efficient.  I love efficiency.

Where the issue comes into play is when others are involved in the game, event, activity, what have you...  I am operating at a high level of intensity, at the reaches of my max.  But it is not to try to be better, faster or stronger than the people I am with, it is to see how good, how fast and how strong I CAN BE!  Sometimes this gets misinterpreted, understandably, and creates conflict.  I don't think that I'm alone in this...  I'm working on being okay with being called "competitive" and not feeling the need to be defensive about it, or to even explain myself .  This is a part of my character, and I'm guessing, a part of yours.  It is what makes us good and lets us experience life fully.

As William Faulkner says, “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”


Wednesday Workouts: Competitiveness and Circuit Training

This is a series of 5 exercises that are to be performed back-to-back with speed and efficiency while maintaining proper form.  Circuit training is a great opportunity to practice the aforementioned concept of trying to better than yourself by timing each round and trying to shorten the duration of the rounds every time.

Once adequately warmed up and stretched out, find a light to medium weight that allows you to complete 6 reps of each exercise back-to-back.  Use the same weight for each exercise.  You can use a barbell as shown in the images or dumbbells depending on your preference and weight selection.  Once the round is completed, spin for 3 minutes and then repeat the circuit for a total of 4 rounds.  At the end of the circuit be sure to spin for 15 minutes and don't forget to stretch and foam roll!

Shop this post!

Women's Studio Headband

Soft fabric construction delivers a lightweight feel with a super-supportive fitBreathable moisture-wicking fabric stays dry & light for all-day ... more info.

Women's UA Studio Capri

UA StudioLux(R) fabric delivers relentless support with a super-soft luxurious feelSignature Moisture Transport System wicks sweat to keep you dry & ... more info.

Women's UA Studio Rave Racer Back

Electric neons. Bold pops of mesh. And unique design lines crafted to flatter every curve. When it comes to our UA Studio Rave Collection, innovation ... more info.

Each Step Must Be Itself A Goal


"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." Henry David Thoreau It has been over a decade since I set out to become an Olympian in the sport of halfpipe skiing. When I began there were only a handful of contests a year, and only a handful of competitors.  There were no Olympic Games for us, just the idea of them.  Many of us take on goals that initially seem insurmountable.  Some of us achieve them, others fall short; but reaching a goal is not the entire purpose of having a goal.  Besides loving skiing, the concept that has propelled me to continue over the years is the process of self-reflection & growth that comes with the journey and the notion of self-actualization.  It is for these reasons that I have been able to come back from several knee surgeries, dislocated shoulders, broken eye sockets, wrists, elbows, and ribs; that is why I am continuing to fight through my current limitations with my knee, to pursue my goal of becoming one of the first Olympians in the sport of halfpipe skiing.

For some time, I got caught up in the winning- the piece of the pie that seems to illustrate one's success.  It was in this time that my experiences had very little to teach me.  Sure, I was acquiring feedback that confirmed that what I was doing was good- more sponsors, awards, and attention, but it only made me temporarily happy, until of course, there was even more of that, which there not always is.  We enter this world with nothing and we are going to leave this world with nothing- material possessions, wealth, fame, and success will all be left behind. So why get caught up in trying to attain such things?  Why allow those concepts to determine our worth?  If we are too focused on the finish line we won't see the speed bumps and pot holes, twists and turns, that may set us off track.  And if we only see them as obstacles in our way, challenges to merely 'get through' because we have to in order to reach our goal, we will likely burn out before we ever cross that finish line.

As I sit here writing this, I am sidelined from my sport once again because of a fractured tibial plateau.  In the year before our sports' Olympic debut, returning from a major knee surgery in 2012, I have yet another obstacle in my way.  But instead of getting frustrated this time, I am loving it.  I have embraced this opportunity for what it is- a chance to be home, sleeping in my bed, going to my gym, eating home-cooked meals, focusing on health and healing.  It is not often in the life of a professional athlete, that we really get to just sit back and enjoy our lives, there is always another goal to be attained, or record to be broken.  But now I have realized that each step is a goal in itself, regardless of what that step may be.  These steps are no longer just inching me closer to my ultimate goal, these steps make up my life.

This is the same for everyone, regardless of what it is he or she is trying to achieve.  For me it has been rehabilitation and time in the gym, for my graduate school sister, it is writing papers and creating presentations, for the aspiring musician it is teaching music not just performing music, and for the photographer, shooting weddings not just landscapes.  But learning to LOVE these other aspects of our journey that allow us to work toward our goals will make all the difference in the world.  Putting these steps into the category of a "goal" themselves is a good start in making each step more fulfilling.

So, get out there. Chase your dreams!  But don't forget to enjoy yourself along the way.

25 Hottest Male Winter Sport Athletes

Yesterday I had the pleasant surprise of being featured on the Bleacher Report's list of 25 Hottest Female Winter Sport Athletes.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about these lists...  On one hand I'm offended that they exist, but on the other hand, I'd be offended if I wasn't included.  There are a few other fellow freeskiers on the list including Ingrid Backstrom, Lynsey Dyer and Grete Eliassen, and though I know each of these ladies is beautiful, it is their skiing that really stands out to me. However, I don't feel like going into a moral escapade over this right now, so I figured that I'd have some fun and create a list of the hottest male winter sport athletes. This way, the men won't feel left out.  Check out the gallery below. Just like the judging in most of our sports, I've rated these men objectively in reverse order, saving the best for last... There is no opinion present.