Featured The Ski Life

Life as a (Barely) Badass Skier

By Josette Deschambeault

Like I’m actually going to ski in Alaska, I thought sarcastically as my buddy talked me into moving north for a summer. It’s not that I don’t like skiing—I love it—or that I can’t ski—I can. But places like Alaska and British Columbia and Japan are for badasses, and I am no badass skier. Nevertheless, I strapped my not-so-lightweight Salomons on top of my buddy’s truck, wrapped in my father’s ski bag from 1986, and thought I’d only take them out once, if I were lucky.

Skiing’s poster-children are the athletes who charge the hardest, from pros to your buddy who backflips in the backcountry. The rad folk. They power the adventure media machine, so naturally they ski in the coolest places. But what about those of us who crave adventure skiing over resort hot laps but lag on the skin track? Or get stuck in deep snow. Or struggle with kick-turns. Or take it slow on rollers that friends launch off. Is there a niche between being a badass skier who goes places and a ‘regular’ skier who doesn’t?

backcountry skiing alaska
Alaska’s White Pass offers a buffet of accessible backcountry terrain. PHOTO: Stasia Callaghan

Here’s the thing: snow and mountains don’t care if you’re the strongest, fastest, or raddest. You still get to ski down.

As a youngster, I skied mostly because my friends did, and definitely because my father did. But growing up in Colorado charged my passion for the sport. College eventually saw me spending more time in the mountains than in class. I slept on couches more nights than my mother would care to read about (friend of friend equals friend, right?). I saved money to explore new resorts by working as a ski instructor, slinging espresso at a coffee shop and recommending soft-shells at a gear store. Solitary Wednesday mornings in buttery back bowls fueled the addiction.

barely badass skier japan backcountry
Someone’s gotta bring up the rear on the skintrack. PHOTO: Josette Deschambeault

When I upgraded to a backcountry setup, I held those babies like a prom date, making my mother question my relationship goals. To my liftline-oriented friends, my life had skyrocketed into badassery. Appearances deceive, though, and when people expect you to ski a certain way, it’s a quick way to suffocate passion with self-induced pressure. All of a sudden I cared a bit too much about being impressive.

Humility hit, like when I battled to free myself from a thigh-deep post hole on my second ski tour, making my backcountry teacher laugh hard enough to pee herself. I realized why I ski. It’s the feeling of untouched snow—floating, free, confident.

My first foray up north was in early May. We set off at 10 p.m. to a fading sunset in the boreal confluence of British Columbia, the Yukon, and Southeast Alaska. Jagged nunataks emerged from thick fog the next morning after we skinned for five hours past blue pools and scrambled over lichen-covered boulders. We descended a wide-open glacial bowl, avoiding steep, sketchy slopes. I could barely see the yellow jacket skiing in front of me through the mist, but the soul turns I arched back to base camp made me feel giddy.

skiing white pass alaska
Skiing Southeast Alaska take you into desolate glacial terrain. PHOTO: Nicole Kovacs

I bounded back in November after deciding to brave a whole Alaskan winter. Then multiple times in December. Then every weekend in January until I’d skied twice the number of backcountry days in the Great White North as in my home state.

Did I ski anything to write TGR about? Absolutely not. Most of the places we skied were close enough to eyeball truck drivers as they sped down the Klondike Highway. But the turns were dream-makers for me—knee-deep, creamy, with glaciated peaks dominating the backdrop. Skiing in Alaska was something did. 

Then, this past January, I skied Japan for 12 days.

One product of the last year of adventure travel? A confusing Instagram. Scrolling through my feed, you could feel lost. This girl says she’s not a good skier, but she’s skied Alaska… and here’s Canada… Colorado, and, good God, Japow?!

japan powder skiing
The author found Japan powder this January. PHOTO: Tom Callaghan

Turns out, not being a badass skier doesn’t mean you can’t ski badass places. I never planned to ski Alaska, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and Japan in the same year. I just found opportunities to do something I love and took them.

And if a barely badass skier girl can make it happen, so can you.

Need some tips for teaching a buddy, teen, significant other, or kiddo to ski? Start here.


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