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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.