It's hard to take Sierra Quitiquit seriously as a professional skier. The 26-year-old Park City native's web edits overflow with giggles, hula-hooping, yoga, furry animals, and skateboarding in short shorts. Her segment in Warren Miller's 2014 No Turning Back was a love story with a bathing suit scene. The year prior, starring in her first ski movie, Sweetgrass Productions' Valhalla, Quitiquit played the bewitching and ethereal part of Ayla, but she didn't ski in the film. Rather, she spoke of spirituality around a psychedelic fire, stared hypnotically into the camera, and enticed the men with her long hair and sinuous limbs. Two years later, Quitiquit hasn't shed Ayla. That's who she is.
Unlike Ayla, however, Quitiquit is a skier. She grew up racing across the West Coast. In Warren Miller's 2013 film Ticket To Ride--the first movie she skied in--she ripped wild Icelandic peaks. And last winter, she took on Alaska.
"Sierra is going to ski whether or not she's in the limelight," says Chris Kitchen, director of a new documentary recounting Quitiquit's past, titled, How Did I Get Here? "If it was up to her, she'd ski her life away."
When Quitiquit was 4, her mother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurysm. Then, in 2004, her older brother, JD, died in a car accident. Soon after, her younger brother, Cole, began struggling with a heroin addiction. Quitiquit survived the tragedies in her family by escaping to the mountains. She focused on what made her happy: skiing.
In 2011, Quitiquit began modeling, selling her beautiful, barefooted, free-spirited image to both retail and ski brands. But she isn't using her marketable style to land opening film segments or win awards. She's using it to stay in the mountains and hold on to her happiness.
We get a chance as athletes to be the keepers of stoke. You know, "This is awesome, this is rad!" But it feels one-dimensional. Life is a full spectrum of emotion. My story has been littered with emotions on either side.
There was no real sense of normalcy as a kid. One time we went to a ski race in this van that we lived out of a lot of times, and we just didn't come back for three months. By then, they'd un-enrolled my brothers and me from school.
JD was my best friend. He was the classic older brother. So nurturing. Losing the person that provided the most support and stability for me has defied all the other challenges of life.
I was kind of the party captain at 15. I can't say that I was pointed in the best direction. JD's death was a good slap in the face. I looked introspectively and forced myself to choose and pursue my life. There's nothing like a good dose of heartbreak and suffering and misery to make you want to chase down happiness.
My younger brother Cole's battle with addiction was at the epicenter of all of our lives for the last couple of years.
It's been so beautiful to walk this path next to him. He's made an incredible, remarkable recovery. To know that my brother is at home safe and not on the street--the amount of peace that gives me every day is indescribable. It's still terrifying. The statistics of relapse are so high.
The American dream of saving up for tomorrow is bullshit, because there is no guarantee of tomorrow.
One of the best moments of my life was when I got to shred this 3,000-foot face out of a helicopter in Iceland in this heinously ugly '80s retro swimsuit for a Warren Miller shoot.
The pictures got sent around on the Internet and this huge conversation started around sexual exploitation of the sport. It was right at the start of my career, and I wanted to cry. I wanted to explain myself: "Sorry, no, that's not what I meant!" I was just trying to have fun.
It's always the same attack: I don't ski as well as other athletes because I'm a model. It's nothing original. I'm taking ownership by asking myself if I'm working hard and skiing the best I can. I'm letting that voice be louder than all the others. And yeah, I am. I am skiing really well.
I make a lot of money modeling, to be honest. If it didn't pay, I definitely wouldn't be doing it.
I know that I would have a ski career if I wasn't a model. Anyone that's troubled by my summer job should probably find something more important to concern themselves with.
We all live a really privileged existence as skiers. I've lived out of my car, like, "Oh, I'm just such a bum!" It's so glorified in our communities. It's purely out of choice and not a socio-economic position we've been cornered in.
Girls that look like me don't do much, according to society. I don't take it personally. I get a kick out of it now. I just sandbag everybody. "You know, I'm kind of scared. These mountains are big. Wow!"
We've created a standard of beauty that's so incredibly narrow. I think it's making our society sick. Skiing has provided me with so much beauty. The people that interact with nature and have that deep connection are such beautiful people.
Photo: Forest Woodward