Words: Megan Michelson
In 2004, at the age of 35, Wendy Fisher was pregnant with her first son (although she didn’t know it yet) when she won the Crested Butte Extreme Freeskiing Championships. A year later, when her son was just a few months old, she competed in the Extremes again and placed second.
Since then, Fisher, now a mom of two young boys, has traded in big-mountain contests and film trips to Alaska for a job as an ambassador for Crested Butte. She still retains some of the same sponsors, but she’s on a different pay scale. “I’m not going to lie and say I don’t daydream about my past,” says Fisher. “But this is a different chapter and it’s very rewarding. That’s the cycle of life.”
The common refrain on sports and motherhood goes something like this: Female athlete has baby, gives up career in sports, while male pro becomes dad and athletic career remains largely unchanged. In skiing, some of that rings true—it’s hard to take big risks and spend time and money on ski trips when you’ve got kids at home, according to the female pro skiers with children interviewed for this story. And for men, pro skiers like Chris Davenport, Erik Roner, and David Wise (see page 136) haven’t appeared to slow down much since having kids.
Elyse Saugstad and husband Cody Townsend are both professional skiers that want to eventually have children and careers that accommodate them, but for now, they’re focused on pursuing skiing.
“I am still pushing my limits in skiing and sleeping on couches more often than not when I’m traveling,” says Saugstad. “Being a professional skier does not lend itself to parenthood, especially when both parents are pro skiers.”
But here’s the catch: Unlike more traditional sports, like basketball or soccer, skiing has many facets and there’s not just one way to play the game. Which means, with some creativity, a woman can find ways to have families and a career in skiing.
Take Jessica Sobolowski-Quinn and her husband Kevin, owners of Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordova, Alaska. They now have a 2-year-old daughter who joins her parents every spring in Cordova. Jessica, once a big mountain movie star, had to give up a lot of filming and traveling after she had her daughter, but she continues to work as a heli-ski guide and leads women’s ski camps. Her sponsors have continued to support her as a guide.
Big mountain skier Jenn Berg had her first son last May. She plans to keep shooting and filming around her home in Utah, and says her sponsors have all maintained their support. “We’re maybe the first generation of pro skiers to really test the waters,” says Berg. “A lot of women are proving that you can be a mom and not feel any setbacks to your career as an athlete.”
The companies putting dollars behind these women say the athletes still bring value as their careers evolve. “There is always marketability in an athlete that was once at the pinnacle of their sport,” says Chris Adams, the director of promotions for Marker-Völkl, which sponsors Berg and Sobolowski-Quinn. “After that, if they’re able to put in the same effort they put in prior to having kids, there’s no reason for the athlete’s marketability to change.”
Last June, ski mountaineer and The North Face athlete Kit DesLauriers and her husband Rob arranged for an overnight babysitter to take care of their kids while they climbed and skied Wyoming’s Grand Teton. On not giving up her lifestyle and career when she became a mom, DesLauriers says simply, “I love what I do so much that I would not be a good parent if I didn’t do it.”