[Q&A] Michelle Parker Speaks Out on a Season of New Challenges

[Q&A] Michelle Parker Speaks Out on a Season of New Challenges

Featured Image: Ming Poon, Courtesy of Red Bull

Legends are hard to come by. Today’s media-flushed world gives us a plethora of influencers and rising stars to choose from, but many of those names will be gone in a blink. We’re so peppered with faces that it’s easy for us to forget what truly makes a person memorable in their field. No matter how many people we are exposed to, the test of time still stands. It’s not just a person’s actions that cement them as a legend. More often than not, it’s their character. How they conduct themselves and how they’re known through the community is what really inspires others to pass on their name. There’s no better example of this than Michelle Parker. Her actions in the world of freeskiing are obviously historic. As one of the best big mountain skiers in the world for over two decades, there is no questioning her passion or talent. But it’s her character that sets Parker apart and truly makes her a legend.

This is what drew us to ping her line during the winter of 2024. Through social media she had been publicly sharing about the “beautiful dance,” as she phrased it, between personal and professional life. Specifically between helping care for her father, Greg, and keeping her ski career thriving. He had been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia last January, and there are no words that accurately capture the toll that such a disease can have on a person and their surrounding family. Parker has been a glimmering beacon of hope to all those dealing with similar tragedies. Her consistent public comments are encouraging and uplifting, a constant reminder that the present is a gift and that living in the here and now can benefit all of us. This winter has clearly been a change of pace, as she has stayed closer to home and found new ways to continue the dance. FREESKIER sat down with Parker to talk about what this unusual and inspiring winter means to her.

Thanks for talking, Michelle. What’s one word you’d use to describe your 2024 winter so far, and why? 

It’s really hard to nail this down with one word, as this season has been filled with a dichotomy of experiences and emotions, but if I had to land on one, it would be soulful. Entering this year, I made spending time with my family a priority, particularly my dad, who has Dementia and Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed last January. The timing coincided with getting the green light and funding to direct a film with Arc’teryx. Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate last year and am really proud of how I showed up as an athlete, a daughter, and a director. 

Going into this year, I knew that I wanted to prioritize staying local and helping to care for my dad. It’s been a massive adjustment to my previous life on the road, filming, creating and skiing as a profession. I’ve pitched local projects and am constantly finding inspiration here, but my schedule circulates around taking care of him. Every day is a new day and I adjust to how I am feeling each morning. It’s been both incredibly beautiful and incredibly hard at the same time. Being in the mountains has been deeply healing and grounding. Being with my dad is also healing and grounding in a different way. While it’s a huge mental adjustment, making turns for myself has a very new meaning for me, thus soulful as my choice word.

Where has your favorite day been this season? What made it so special? 

I went down to the East Side of the Sierra last week and got out in bigger mountains with a very alpine vibe. It wasn’t the best conditions. There was still a lack of snow, and it was windy like no other. We all laughed and said it was good training as we were getting thrashed on the mountain. Those bigger human-powered adventures fill me up and teach me something new about myself and the mountains every time. 

You recently posted a few stellar photos by Aaron Blatt on Instagram with words from author Suleika Jaouad Batiste about shifting perspective. How has that been a theme in your life, both on and off the hill lately? 

Every day I wake up, I take note of where I am at mentally and what feels like the best thing for me to do that day. Helping out with my family and seeking harmony with work and relationships is a constant adjustment for me and I know that it will take time and not always feel just right. I have to give myself grace, accept what is and make the best of it so that I can show up for my dad. She likened the shift of perspective, (which is the title of a big speaking gig I did at the start of my season,) to looking through a kaleidoscope and turning it gently to see something in a new light. That is what I am feeling and experiencing on the daily. I have to turn the dial and remind myself of the beauty in my life right now. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives as that brings me down. I allow myself to feel all of the emotions, but I’m constantly turning the knob on the kaleidoscope to see through a new lens and light. 

Michelle Parker & Greg Hill at the 2024 Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy | PHOTO: Jenna Mahaffie

As you mentioned earlier, your dad is currently battling Lewy Body Dementia, a neurodegenerative disorder. You’ve been vocal about your experience of helping him while also taking care of your career and life at large. What have you found the most challenging and the most rewarding throughout this endeavor? 

The most challenging aspect for me has been finding my place as a professional skier with confidence. Taking time to care for my dad is very clearly an important priority right now in my life, but that means that I can’t be on the road chasing my dreams like I used to. Generally speaking, I am in love with creating, and it’s a change not to be working on a project that I am very deeply involved in. Right now, I don’t have the bandwidth to direct another film or manage a big project, so I’m adjusting to what that looks like and means to me. I know that what I am doing is right for me, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. I so badly want to have a big expedition planned, some lofty goal, or a segment that I am working on, but that’s not really in the cards right now as I shift my focus in life. 

I’ve had to let go of those personal desires and expectations that I put on myself as a professional athlete, it’s a process. I’m learning a ton about myself and how to maintain a healthy headspace throughout this all. I’m also currently being given an opportunity in life to see through the lens of someone who has limited time. It’s made the sky more blue and the powder seem deeper as my appreciation for the mundane is amplified. I joke that it’s my superpower right now, and something that I hope I can hold onto forever.

What have you learned from what you referred to as a “beautiful dance” in an interview with Arc’teryx when it comes to balancing family and career? 

I no longer seek balance. Balance was something that I had been striving for for the majority of my adult life, and I have found it to be somewhat unattainable. Harmony is what I am after. Things can be out of balance while you still have harmony. One day, the focus is climbing a mountain, using all of the skills in your toolbox, pushing yourself mentally and physically to the max and coming home exhausted. Then it’s time to shift gears and care for my dad the next day where I have to utilize all of the patience, empathy, and understanding that I can. There are both beautiful days and hard days, but the dance between them has become an exercise in meeting myself where I am and showing up in both instances as my best self. Both of these days make the other sweeter…that’s the dance, and it’s the dance of life. I’d rather dance through life than be a wallflower right now, so I am participating as best I can and each experience has complimented the other in ways I would have never expected. 

What do you hope people gain from hearing your family, your own and your father’s story?

I hope that people know they are not alone. Neurological disease is on the rise in our country, but we don’t really talk about it that much. It’s painful, heartbreaking and a very slow grieving process. When I first took my dad to his neurologist and we got the diagnosis, I found it really hard to relate to people. People just didn’t seem to understand what that looked like or what that meant. Since then, I’ve spoken up about it because, more often than not, I felt really alone, and I didn’t want others to feel that way while caring for a loved one. I’ve since had several people come up to me and tell me their stories. I also follow some incredible writers who are going through similar stuff, and reading about their experiences helps me to process everything. I want there to be more understanding of what this disease does to a person so that people can understand how to interact with affected individuals who should not be forgotten or dismissed. 

Since you’ve been spending so much time at home, what’s your favorite run to go find clarity and joy on at your home resort of Palisades Tahoe? 

Pretty much anything off of KT-22. I love that chair. It is such a great training ground and provides an introduction to reading terrain and executing a vision. It’s also just incredibly fun!

Peak Skis has been an innovative and inspiring brand since its inception a couple of short years ago. What’s the best part about working with the brand? Have they supported you through this chapter?

Peak made really good skis right out of the gate, and it’s been nice to be a part of this team and family. Bode [Miller] is like the F1 driver who built his car and won the race. He’s good at engineering skis. While I would still love to develop a twin tip freeride ski with Peak, these skis are great in the turn. They have made me fall deeply in love with carving. When you set an edge and see the turn through, it feels effortless, stable, and solid. I look around at all the skis in the lineup at the resort, and I am amazed at how many people aren’t on a more traditional-shaped ski that arcs a damn good turn. I think that’s what the majority of people should actually try skiing on because, let’s be honest, a very small amount of people are actually skiing backward. To have a solid ski under your foot that you can arc turns on is so ridiculously fun, and the Peaks do just that for me. It’s been a bit mind-blowing, to be truthful. 

With so many talented filmers, photographers and skiers out there today, who catches your eye? Which would you love to work with in the future? 

On the filmer front, I’ve been really impressed by Brandon Kuzma. While I’ve never worked with him before, I think he is super talented and sees our pursuits through a different lens. Leslie Hittmeier is another person with whom I would love to work more. I’ve seen her process and work ethic in action, and I just think the world of her. She’s the one hiking the line alongside you and getting these shots that not a lot of people are capable of. It’s such a thrill to share those moments with Leslie in the big mountains. 

On the photography front, I am totally biased, but for good reason. I love working with Aaron Blatt, my fiancé and long-time favorite photographer. Aaron’s talent is beyond, and brainstorming with him on specific projects is so much fun. 

Do you have any projects that you’re cooking up this year we should keep an eye out for? 

I have a couple of personal goals and projects that I haven’t really spoken about but am currently training for and working towards. They are mostly local with a fun goal oriented aspect. Other than that, I’ll be working on Chris Benchetler’s new movie, but it’s been on the DL, and I’m not at liberty to say much more. I can’t wait to share these with people, and I hope they inspire anyone who watches them to get after it however they can.

To hear more from Michelle Parker, tune in to her talk titled “A Shift in Perspective” from the Alpenglow Sports Winter Speaker Series in 2023.

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