Words: Ryan Dunfee
Michelle Parker's been on the roster for a long time. First picked up as a precocious park skiing teenager, Parker was one of the early generations of women freeskiers, and spent a stretch of winters as the headlining female skier for K2, Orage, and Scott. Three years ago, a knee injury took her out for the season. Last year, her boyfriend Danny Toumarkine suffered a traumatic brain injury snowboarding, and Michelle spent most of the winter in the hospital and rallying support for him on Dannyisthebomb.com. Now, she's on the other side of the tunnel, filming, switching up her sponsors, and riding with her boyfriend again, whose recovery put him back on the slopes of Tahoe in January. We caught up with Parker to see what she has in her sights.
You just swapped some very long-time sponsors of yours: Scott to Smith, Orage to Mountain Hardwear, and now K2 to Atomic. What prompted you to end those long relationships?
I wouldn't say that I ended these long relationships. After I was injured, K2 was moving in a different direction so we parted ways. Orage and I had a great relationship, but times changed. Same goes for Scott, I suppose. I have the most respect for all of those companies. I was changing as an athlete, found my true passion in skiing, and decided to follow that passion.
After being on the periphery of the scene for a few years dealing with injuries, you seem to have regained momentum. Have your goals changed at all?
I took a year off from skiing after my knee injury, which was three years ago now. Getting back into it I started filming with Warren Miller and felt as though I had truly started to connect with why I ski. Filming was the natural path for me. That is where I feel alive and that is where I get the most out of my skiing. I always knew that, but I never really had the chance to explore it to the fullest potential until this year.
What was it like reuniting with Matchstick this year and filming with them?
A dream come true. Like I said before, I've never had this opportunity. It was amazing and I am so grateful for the experience and the new friends. I learned so much this year it was crazy.
It's been almost a year and a half since Danny had his traumatic brain injury. What kind of changes precipitated in your own life because of that?
Going through this injury with Danny had a huge effect on my life and still does very much to this day. I now wear my helmet every time I am on my skis no matter what. In the bigger picture though, it has taught me so much about life and about friendship. As far as relating this injury to my skiing and my ski career goes, I think I just realized how important it is to appreciate life and not to take it for granted. Life can change so quickly.
This year, when Sarah Burke died, we lost a hero and leader for women's skiing. Besides being a dominant competitor, Sarah was a good role model for young skiers because of her leadership efforts in getting women's skiing onto a bigger stage and into the Olympics. But now there seems to be something of a leadership void in women's skiing. Who is going to fill her shoes?
I don't think that any one of us could fill Sarah's shoes. She made it possible for all of us to be doing what we do. She made me realize that I could become a professional skier. She had such grace and I couldn't have ever asked for a better role model than her. She has inspired me in many ways, but I don't think that I could fill her shoes.