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Women of Skiing: Snowbird

Published: 03/31/2011

Snowbird is the home base of some of the best skiers in the world. Here are the women who are pushing the progression of skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon including Utah's newest movie star, and the only female ski-BASE jumper in the world.

Rachael Burks 

I'm mesmerized. It's an early December night and I'm cozied up inside a cabin atop Snoqualmie Pass switching my anxious attention between the wet, fat snowflakes submerging the deck outside and Rachael Burks stacking and taping 14 beers together end to end. Her male counterparts in this drinking game called "Wizard Sticks" are lagging nearly a half case behind in count. That was my first encounter with Rachael, and much of what I've read about her in ski magazines has profiled her ability to out 'man' the men in skiing, but what I've learned about her, from that day five years ago until now, is that that feat was merely an effect of Rachael being an intensely passionate woman, incredibly loyal friend and ultimately a person ready for any challenge that captivates her interest.

Rachael's passion for skiing is so grand it goes beyond self-satisfaction. Although her guttural laugh and wide smile that erupts at the bottom of any cliff or line will tell you how skiing creates so much happiness for her, she hopes to radiate that stoke to future generations of females. If the future turns out the way she envisions, the world's socks will be blown off by the progression of women skiers. Rachael's compassion for friends has led her on global navigations for short visits and causes her to weep at the mere notion that one of her friends might have a traumatic injury. When it comes to challenges Rachael doesn't see barriers but rather a way to better herself. Once, she decided it would be a formidable test to work on a vineyard in France and learn a language with which she was completely unfamiliar. Of course she came out triumphant, and of course it was with an ear to ear grin. -Elyse Saugstad

Grete Eliassen

Grete Eliassen has been on the road twice a week this fall promoting her all-female ski movie "Say My Name." The film features Grete and a crew of other women dropping backcountry lines and hitting huge jumps everywhere from the Wasatch to Washington, D.C.

At one stop, a little girl came up to her and told her how inspired she'd been, and that she wanted to be a skier when she grew up.

That was the whole point of the film.

"That's been a dream my entire life," Grete says. "This is actually something women want, and finally now the media is taking a look."

Grete's accolades in the ski world are a tick list of X Games medals (back to back Superpipe golds) and world records (highest hip jump air by a women), but pushing women's skiing in to the spotlight just might be more important to her.

"I was at the point in my career where I could get my sponsors to do this project, and now other girls have that opportunity, too." Grete says. "It's crazy what you can do when you get the ball rolling."

It's not surprising that she was the one to roll that ball. "She's so in love with skiing and so dedicated to becoming an all-around skier," says Suz Graham, who has known Grete since they lived in the same freshman dorm at the University of Utah. "She's crazy well rounded, and the hardest worker."-Heather Hansman

Suz Graham

Suz Graham is the only active female ski BASE jumper in the world, which is kind of like being Sarah Burke circa 2001: hard core, ballsy, and, whether you like it or not, a role model for girls coming up in the skiing world. Soft-spoken, and a self-described nerd, Graham downplays her role in the sport, but stresses that it's important to do it safely. "Ski-BASE jumping is just like skiing," she says. "As long as you keep it together I think you can do it safely, you just need to be a good enough skier and BASE jumper." She's logged a ton of time in the air since she saw a crew of Salt Lake locals ski-BASE jumping across from Alta almost four years ago. "I hung out with them and learned as much as I could," she says. "I got obsessed." That's not to say she's been slacking in the skiing department. Last year she dominated the Red Bull Cold Rush by throwing a huge double back flip, and now that she's done with school-she graduated from the University of Utah last spring with a degree in health promotion-she can really focus her attention on skiing. I'm excited to pick up and leave when something cool comes up," she says. "I'm lucky." Without school to hold her back she's planning to travel, put together a series of self-made video edits, and probably ski-BASE off some more cliffs. "Skiing off the end of the world is pretty much the most incredible feeling," she says.-H.H. 

Angel Collinson

When your father is the assistant director of snow safety for Snowbird, chances are, you'll learn to ski. If you grow up in employee housing at the base of the resort, it's pretty much guaranteed. Her mother homeschooled the seven kids who lived in Little Cottonwood Canyon, so Angel Collinson got her ski legs during recess at of the world's best ski hills. Her race career began at eight years old, but it plateaued at 18 when, despite her most successful season yet, the US Ski Team didn't add her to the roster. But if you've cut your teeth in the Wasatch, you're tough. Undeterred, Angel signed up for all the big mountain competitions she could think of. At 19, she took third at the Freeskiing World Tour's first stop in Revelstoke as well as the tour's stop at her home mountain, all while amassing enough points to win the overall title. Entering the freeskiing scene as a nobody is rough-after a lifetime of establishing her name on the ski racing circuit she had no sponsors to pay her way (Black Diamond and Smith just floated her gear). But she turned enough heads to win the Young Gun award and this summer, she won the Freeskiing World Tour stop at Las Lenas, Argentina. But there's more to Angel Collinson than family heritage and a successful career in skiing. She's snagged a full-ride academic scholarship to study environmental studies, international studies, and philosophy, with the goal to attend law school. She plans to defer her scholarship until the spring, though, because, "there's nothing worse than missing a powder day because you've got homework." -Sally Francklyn 

Hannah Whitney

Hannah Whitney is really a woman of Alta, rather than Snowbird, but she got there by way of Crested Butte, and college at Western Sate University, where she got hooked on the freeskiing comp scene after an experimental entrance into the Extremes her senior year. "I decided to ski Body Bag, even though I'd never skied it before," she says. She double ejected, didn't place, and decided she needed to do the entire tour the next year. Since then, she's moved to Utah, podiumed at multiple freeskiing comps-including winning the Telluride Freeskiing Open in 2008-and become a board member of SheJumps, a non-profit that works to help women become confident in the outdoors, particularly through skiing. Now, her focus in the skiing world is two-pronged. Through SheJumps, she's working towards getting women and urban kids into the mountains in Utah and around the country, and she's also putting her environmental science degree to work. She started Earth Day at Alta, and she's working to limit the footprint of all the companies she works with. She says skiing and environmentalism are inextricably linked. "If we want to be in the outdoors it's important for us to be conscious of our interactions with our environment."-H.H. 

Caroline Gleich

I first met Caroline by chance on a road trip to Colorado to do some ski testing. Through our adventures of bubble gum blowing contests, old school ski tricks, and random hot spring mud baths I quickly learned that there is much more than meets the eye to this girl. She is smart and quick-witted, well versed on just about everything, (especially medical journals), and an outspoken environmentalist. Her most recent gig was a summer internship with the environmental adviser to the Governor of the State of Utah. And she just graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor's of Science in Anthropology with high honors. On any given day you can find her blogging about random adventures that no one else thinks to do, but everyone should. Her passion for the little things and her attention to detail is easily apparent in her lifestyle choices. Her energy is contagious, her smile infectious, and her laugh memorable. She has brought new meaning to what "skiing like a girl" really can do to validate women within the outdoor industry. Whether it is cruising the farmers market for fresh produce, knowing the next storm cycle, or making the perfect hat to accompany each outfit, she is your girl. If you plan to ski with her bring your enthusiasm, charisma, and big skis. Otherwise you will be left at the top wondering how you just got smoked by the hottest girl on the slopes. But don't worry, as an avid carpooler she will wait for you at the end of the day to take you back to your house. -Iris Noack 

Jenn Berg

Tough is probably the first word that should come to mind when you think Jenn Berg, but you could also go with compassionate, or fired up. Berg, who has been a big-name big mountain skier for years, is a contrast in terms. She un-ironically calls herself a straight-up sledneck, but says she misses the tight-knit crew of women, like Ingrid Backstrom and Jess Sobolowski, she skied with at her former home hill, Squaw Valley.

A one-time ski racer, Jenn dominated the freesking contest scene, including winning the U.S. National Freeskiing Championships at Snowbird in 2002, before quitting competing to focus on filming-she's been in multiple Warren Miller movies, shooting photos, and working with gear companies like Mountain Hardwear.

After skiing Squaw for 10 years she transplanted to Snowbird because of the snow and the opportunities to get into the backcountry. "The thing about Utah is that everyone's got toys, and there's a lot of land to go play on," she says.

Now, she's shifted her focus to snowmobiling, big mountain skiing and mountaineering around her home in the Wasatch and abroad

"In the near future I'm heading back to Chamonix to scare myself," she says.-H.H.

 

 

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