Skiing from its early beginning has been a sport dominated by men. A woman’s appearance on the mountain was more important than how they skied. Maybe sometimes they weren’t even expected to ski. But in no way shape or form were they supposed to be better than a man…
Here comes Michelle Parker. She began her professional freeskiing career at the age of fifteen and has smashed that notion into the snow ever since. She has been an impressive athlete in slopestyle competing in the X-Games and U.S. Open, but decided that it was her calling to ski big mountain. She has appeared in a number of films and continues to excel in her sport. She is also a founder of SAFE AS Clinics, a one-day women’s avalanche workshop traveling through CA, CO, and Wyoming.
I was fortunate to catch up with Michelle Parker. Highlights of our conversation are below.
Where does your story begin and how did you end up becoming a professional skier?
It began when my mom took me skiing at the age of one. I was raised in Squaw Valley and skiing was within walking distance from my house. The mountain and this community, aside from my incredible family, definitely played a huge role in my upbringing.
I started out in the Mighty Mights at Squaw and then raced until I was about 15. At that age I decided that I wanted to just free ski so I left the program and was skiing around one day when Jason Levinthal handed me a business card. He owned Line skis. That was my first real sponsor that helped line me up with competing in slopestyle and halfpipe. Once I saw that there were other young ladies out there skiing in the park and learning tricks I was motivated.
I competed in slopestyle and halfpipe for a while, but ultimately my dream was always to ski powder. Thus, my direction in skiing shifted and ultimately filming was the place that I belonged. It is where my passion is and always has been, but I had to start somewhere.
Pictured: Michelle Parker at Squaw Valley. Photo Credit: Dave Nettle
You are clearly bringing a unique style to the table, how would you describe it?
I just try to have as much fun as possible and learn as much as I can while in the mountains. The more I learn the more my passion for the sport developed and grows. Coming from a racing background, I learned how to ski. Then throwing in the park skiing, both styles complement each other while in the big mountains.
Can you tell me 3 skiers that inspire you and why?
Fist off, I’ll have to mention some ladies that really fired me up. Ingrid Backstrom, Elyse Saugstad, Angel Collinson, Tatum Mono. These girls have it going on and are constantly getting me stoked. There’s something about watching other chicas rip that is really awesome and inspiring!
Eric Hjorleifson: He’s motivated, fit, smart, shares his passion with others, and above all he is an absolute charger.
JP Auclair: Always will be an inspiration to me. His love for skiing was growing more and more everyday and it showed in how his direction was ever changing and constantly evolving. I feel the same about skiing and it always keeps it fresh. I love to learn and I think that JP really had that quality too. He was a huge mentor of mine in my early days when I was breaking into filming.
Mark Abma and James Heim: These two guys just have it together. They know how to get it done and are always positive. I’ve learned so much from them and feel lucky to ski with them.
Can you talk about some of the differences you see as an athlete in the ski industry versus more traditional sports?
My life is totally spontaneous and really doesn’t have any sort of set schedule. It’s fun this way, but can be challenging to get into a routine. The ski industry is small and feels really relaxed in comparison to golf or other more traditional sports. There aren’t any rules that I have to abide by and I have the freedom to take my career in many different directions. It’s all about fun for me, not winning! I love that about skiing.
What kind of preparation goes into skiing?
In general I just try to stay as fit as possible year round. Also, it’s important to be safe. Taking avalanche clinics, constantly working on companion rescue, and handling first aid emergencies with the graduates from one of if not the best north york’s top first aid program.
How much of a presence has social media changed skiing and how much time do you have to put into it?
Social media has become a part of our job in a lot of ways. It’s a fun way to be able to interact with your fans and the larger skiing community. It has given them direct access to us and that’s incredibly unique in a professional sport. One thing that is interesting, however, is how athletes are actually getting sponsors because of social media. That has changed a lot. You used to be able to go out there and just ski, get recognized for your talent, but now it is a whole different playing field. Being good at marketing has become quintessential. Personally, I had to really get over the fact about doing so much self-promotion too. It just felt really weird at first, but now I’ve learned to just embrace it and if you are being you then it should feel okay.
Outside of skiing, what are some of your other aspirations?
My two other loves and passions are mountain biking and climbing. I’ve tried to limit getting into new sports and keep it to these three. I love anything to do with the outdoors, surfing is probably next on the list. I can’t get enough! Tahoe is the ultimate playground for all of this too. I consider myself so lucky to have been raised here and now live here.
I also really enjoy photography, cooking, reading, and just being around good people that inspire me. My family is huge and my community is really important to me. I love working with different non-profits, volunteering my time, and just doing things of this nature in general. The strength that I have found in my local community of Lake Tahoe is really inspiring and motivates me to be a better person daily.
In the Photo: Michelle Parker ascends a free climbing route in Lake Tahoe, CA
As a skier, how involved are you in the issue of climate change and sustainability?
It’s something that is very important to me, however I have had a struggle with standing my ground and taking the environmental side heavily. On one hand, I have really strong beliefs and do a lot in my personal life to take care of the environment, but I just have a hard time justifying my lifestyle as I am constantly traveling. It’s hard to do what I do sometimes without the use of planes, trains, and automobiles.
In my daily life I am really conscious of every day issues like water usage, electricity, and living a simple and clean life. I compost, recycle, and am very aware of what I put out there. Often times I’ll purchase carbon credits to offset my travel and I am on it with our politicians about these issues.
I am constantly trying to be a cleaner me and to educate others as well, but sometimes my preaching from my stance is hypocritical. One thing that I really like about doing what I do though is that I hope it inspires other to get outside. I believe that the more people go outside the more respect they will have for our planet and that is a really good thing.
Have you noticed any differences in snow condition these past years?
Yes, I have noticed a general change in our weather patterns and you can directly see that in the snowpack. The snowpack is like reading the weather throughout the winter. It’s all in front of you and you can dig deep to see what has happened. The weather seems to be more extreme. Really warm, really cold, super windy, lots of rain, you can see all of this in the snowpack….or lack thereof in the Sierra Nevada’s.
Is there any advice you would have liked to give yourself when you first started out?
Take care of your body and learn to listen to it. Control the controllable and don’t worry about anything else.