A Leadership Supreme
The Kona Supremes: my journey into women’s leadership started in 2016 with this all-female mountain biking group. They taught me how to ride fast and ride big. Along with crucial bike skills, I started to understand how to be a good peer to other women in the outdoor community.
Fast forward a couple of years. I am beginning to be recognised as an athlete in outdoor spaces. People start referring to me (me?!) as a leader. But I experience a falling out with another woman for whom I fail to be a good friend, listener or leader. I am crushed.
Do I really belong in a leadership role?
My response to this early failure was curiosity, and during the 2019-2020 ski season, I began wondering, “What does it mean to be a mentor?” “And a leader?” “What is the difference between leadership and mentorship?” “How do I better support women in sport?” And most importantly, “Do I even have what it takes to lead?”
These questions guided me toward skiing with women of various levels, skills sets and backgrounds. On hut trips into the Sierra and freeride competitions in Alberta, Canada. To two all-female gatherings with Canadian skier, Leah Evans, in Revelstoke, British Columbia, for her Girls Do Ski camps. And to one of the most memorable moments of the season—skiing in Utah’s Wasatch Range with Caroline Gleich, a fast-paced and vibrant ski mountaineer and public lands and climate activist. With each experience was the hope that I’d absorb something from everyone.
What I gathered during the season is that good things happen organically, when both mentors and leaders bring something to the table, and when we can all see each other as peers. I learned that some dynamics don’t work out, which is fine. That it’s important to honor the desires and heart of the mentee. And I saw that being a female leader in a male-dominated space is hard and requires a lot of experience, failure and, ultimately, thick skin.
Putting these thoughts into writing has been challenging because my journey isn’t over. I’m still figuring out how to ski, how to be a good friend and if I really do want to be a leader in this space.
Caroline and I making our way on the skintrack to Chicken Shit Ridge. I was intimidated and excited to ski and spend time with one of my heroes. I channeled my nerves into learning because I knew that I had so much to gain and not much to lose. The presence of powerful women is intimidating, and it’s a big reason why a lot of women don’t meet each other or work together. I reminded myself that I’d come to learn and that Caroline had so much to show me. Wasatch Range, Utah. All photos: Mary McIntyre.
In the backcountry near Brighton’s ski area, Caroline shows me faceted snow deep in the Wasatch snowpack. Caroline’s curiosity for snow was inspiring. She acted like a scientist, asking if the deep persistent layer was faceted or rounded. She took the time to investigate further to see if her hypothesis was correct. Caroline brings this inquisitiveness to every day of skiing; something that I’d like to bring to the snow, too. I don’t always have opportunities to dig pits with people who are experts, so it can be hard for me to use them as a backcountry tool. Caroline showed me that the information pits provide is just one tool to use with curiosity, even though it won’t always factor into my decision making for the day. Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.
Smiling and giddy. I had never skied conditions like this. For me, endless cold powder was a treat in comparison to the hot-pow of the Pacific Northwest that I call home. These flawless and pristine conditions made me feel bad, kind of spoiled and bougie.
Taking up space, one pow slash at a time. Never had I seen photos of myself skiing like this. On my trip to Utah, Caroline took me under her wing, alongside photographer Mary McIntyre. We got some incredible images, and I experienced what it was like to put in and collaborate with creative energy by skiing in front of the camera.
I keep a snow journal to keep track of all my days of skiing. This journey helps me navigate dynamics between other ski partners and my relationship to the snow. During a break in our days skiing, I took some time to reflect on all that I had learned from Caroline. By the end of my trip, I felt like I had made such a special connection. Through our conversations on the commute to the mountains, I knew that Caroline was an ally. She is someone who believes in the truth that I have in myself. A lot of times that is what a mentee needs—someone who sees their dreams as something that is real.
An early start out to Chicken Shit Ridge. I love starting in the dark. These days always make me feel like a secret agent. It was refreshing to be out with Caroline and Mary, who both shared that same excitement. On this day, I was still getting used to the elevation and the fast-paced feel of Caroline’s life. I didn’t mind moving fast though. Caroline and I bonded over both being women with ADHD. Moving fast felt closer to the me that I love and wanted to be.
Let me tell you, Caroline makes skiing look easy. Her style is nothing but majestic. But under all that ease and GORE-TEX layers is some thick skin. Caroline’s path to being a professional skier and leader has been the opposite of easy. I learned from her that having a certain amount of grit is key. The highs, lows and tumbles have gotten Caroline to this point. Being a leader means taking what is difficult and turning it into a learning opportunity. How are others supposed to learn from our mistakes if we don’t make them to begin with?
Every voice counts (even small ones). During a moment of downtime, Caroline invited me to paint signs for an upcoming protest she was organizing. I remember her intentionally prioritizing the voices of young people at this demonstration. Both Caroline and I empathize with what it feels like to be young, unseen and unheard. I felt like this tiny sign was only fitting. Salt Lake City, Utah.
Banner image: The skintrack has a way of healing and guiding us. On an early mission to the top of Flagstaff Peak in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, I cherished the feeling of wind on my face and existing in exposure to nature. I felt like a mountain lady. During the tour, friend and mentor Caroline Gleich shared her struggles of working through injury, challenges with female friendships in a male-dominated space and the loss of her best ski partner.