The annual POWDER Poll – now heading into its 14th year – honors the top 10 male and top five female skiers in the world. But with hundreds of talented skiers out there, how to narrow it down? How to squeeze the absolute most deserving 15 people out of the ski industry fray and onto the stage on Dec. 6 in Salt Lake City?

Enter the first-ever POWDER Poll Expert Panel.

This group – which was not allowed to vote for themselves – included the following and many more: groms Logan Pehota and Nick Goepper, current pros Tom Wallisch, Cody Townsend, Chris Benchetler, and Ingrid Backstrom, long-time pros Seth Morrison and J.P. Auclair, media savants Mike Douglas and Greg Stump, and several photographers and cinematographers like Level 1's Josh Berman and POWDER senior photographer and Red Bull photo kingpin Christian Pondella.

The panel chose a group of 40 skiers from which the top 10 men and top 5 women will emerge. It's now up to you, the reader, the skier, the bro, the shop employee, the fellow pro, the mom, the old college buddy, to cast your vote. Do you think the panel missed someone? Use the write-in option to choose your own ski hero. And to sweeten the deal, if you vote before Nov. 6, we'll enter you into a drawing to win a GoPro Hero3 and POWDER Magazine gear.

Over the next two weeks, we'll also profile several members of the inaugural POWDER Poll Expert Panel. To kick things off, let’s catch up with one of skiing's current elite women, Elyse Saugstad.

Elyse Saugstad researching for POWDER Poll in Austria. PHOTO: Ian Coble

Elyse Saugstad researching for POWDER Poll in Austria. PHOTO: Ian Coble

Interview by Abbie Barronian

Saugstad is one of the most well-rounded women in skiing. In her seven years as a professional skier, the Alaska native has filmed with the likes of Warren Miller and Salomon Freeski TV and seen success in the competition circuit, taking the overall Freeride World Tour title in 2008. She's a strong voice for women in the ski industry, and lately has worked to increase avalanche awareness and backcountry safety.

Here, she talks about what she thinks makes a skier POWDER Poll material:

Right now I'm working on the S.A.F.E.A.S Clinic, it's an introductory avalanche awareness and snow safety clinic that I organized last year with Ingrid Backstrom, Michelle Parker, and Jackie Passo. We did one day this year at squaw and it went really well. We're expanding it this year, doing a day at Crystal, two days at Squaw, and a day at Stevens Pass.

I just did a TED talk last week, and it was pretty awesome. The topic I talked about was fear. Essentially, fear is something that as a professional skier, we come face to face with on a daily basis. And fear for a lot of people is something that they shun and try to shy away from. So I discuss fear, and talk about how, if we embrace it, it can help us accomplish great things, like what we do in skiing.

It's hard to say what exactly will work out during the season. I just follow the snow with my snowmobile in tow. I plan on putting some effort into filming for the Pretty Faces movie. It's nice to have an open schedule because opportunities pop up as the season goes along and it's really fun to say, "Hey, that works out, lets go there."

I'm as passionate about skiing as I was from day one. Sometimes, when you're a professional skier, because it is a job, it can really kind of suck the blood out of you. The fact of the matter is, I still love skiing so much. Trying to get across this whole message of female skiing, how positive it is, and hoping to get the industry to pay more attention to us women—I'm still as excited about it as I ever was.

For the POWDER Poll, one of the criteria I have is how relevant are they right now, what have they done in the last bit of time. Not only their performance, what are they doing, are they throwing down, how creative are they, etc., but also how they are interacting in the ski industry. There are some people that do a lot of cool things that might not be as visible in the movies, but are doing proactive things to make an impact in our industry.

I really respect Ingrid Backstrom, Michelle Parker, and Rachael Burks. For men, I know it may seem obviously biased, but my husband Cody Townsend. Even though he didn't have a movie segment come out this year I still saw a lot of great footage for next year's movies. He's involved in the industry and has a really good personality, which I think is important because sometimes our sport gets too serious.

I also think Pep Fujas is doing an amazing job this year. He seems to be all over the place and his skiing is off the wall. I was really impressed with Ian Macintosh's comeback this year. His skiing was phenomenal, after what he went through the last couple of years. When I watched his video segment in TGR and in Sherpas, he blew me away. It's like he didn't even skip a beat.

I love the collection of all our buddies [at the POWDER Awards]. There are a lot of really awesome people, and during the wintertime, you get to cross paths with some here and there, but you don't actually have everyone come together.

Favorite après drink…I went gluten-free this last year, which negates the whole beer thing. Which is a real bummer, because it really is the best. I would say a Moscow Mule, in honor of Jim Jack and those boys.