Paving The Way: Kristen Ulmer

Paving The Way: Kristen Ulmer

Looking back at old ski magazines from the ‘90s and early 2000s, it’s hard not to find mention of Kristen Ulmer. Powder magazine called her“ the biggest icon the ski industry never expected.” She was at the top of her game for a run of 12 years, and was once voted as one of the top ten female athletes most likely to die. In her segments in Warren Millerand TGR films, she was caught in avalanches, jumped off 70-foot cliffs and was the first woman to ski Wyoming’s Grand Teton. Since those days, Kristen has taken a different approach to skiing and now teaches her Utah-based “Ski To Live” clinics, which use Zen Buddhism to help teach students to conquer their fears on snow and get more out of both their skiing and their life.

HOW DID YOU BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SKIER? When I first started, there was no such thing as a professional skier. We were called “extreme skiers” back then. Scott Schmidt started the whole thing. And I started filming movies for The North Face and Salomon and the next thing you know, they are giving me a salary.

But the group that I first started skiing with were ski models. That’s kind of all there were at the time. I started hanging out with photographer Scott Markewitz, who was a ski model at the time. He was showing up in hot pink Zinc lipstick and I had this white one-piece for photo shoots. There was this guy Jake with blond hair who was pretty much on the cover of all the ski magazines back then and that’s how it was. They were more models than athletes.

HOW HAS BEING A FEMALE IN THE SKI INDUSTRY BEEN EMPOWERING?The thing about that language is it suggests that women are not in power, and that they need power. So the fact of the matter is that I, as a woman, didn’t exist in that capacity. I was a man, I was channeling my male nature, my male energy, and I considered it a weakness to be a female. I grew up kind of hating the fact that I was a girl, which really worked for me in skiing. And so by going through that and biting off the head of that dragon for years and years… only then was I able to come out the other side and enjoy being a woman.

SO WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF AS A FEMALE FROM ALL OFTHOSE SKIING EXPERIENCES? I’m still learning. And it’s fascinating. I had maybe twenty near-death experiences throughout my career and the only thing I felt the day afterward was, “Well, that was interesting.” And then I moved on. What I did learn from those experiences now, with some reflection, is I feel like you have some choices when you become a professional skier. You can either get stuck there your entire life and chase after the same thing over and over and over again. And I don’t just mean professional skiers, I can name 50 ski bums up at Snowbird that ski 100-plus days a year and they are miserable but they don’t know what else to do. Or you can move on and create something different.

AND YOU USED YOUR CAREER AS A SKIER TO START YOUR CLINICS? Yes. Being in the ski industry was an amazing experience and it has opened doors to me and still is to this day. And I am grateful for that platform. But I’m glad I got out when I did. Before it destroyed my body.

DO YOU THINK THE INDUSTRY WOULD HAVE BEEN THE SAME WITHOUT YOU? It would have been a little bit different, but I think they would have figured it out. They’re looking for creative new ways to market this sport constantly. If I hadn’t come along, someone else would have come along, it may have been ten years down the road, and it may have been Ingrid, but I think that they know a good thing when they see it. I don’t know that I’ve paved the way that much. But I do know I had a hell of a fun time and made some money along the way.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF WHAT YOU DID AS A SKIER? The memories. I have skied all over the world; I have had so much fun. All we did was just travel around, ski our asses off, and giggle. I have all those memories that are great.


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