Ski mountaineer Liz Oakes was born into the ultimate powder fantasy-she grew up in Aspen, and her dad was a Snowmass ski instructor. But early on, she abandoned inbounds for off-piste. "Resorts always just seemed so controlled and confined," says the 24-year-old, somewhat sheepishly. "I mean, you have to
in certain places and ski specific
, and it just seemed like there were an awful lot of
involved."To avoid those bothersome restrictions, Oakes took to the backcountry, a world where "you can ride that fine line between life and death." Over the past five years, she's done just that in Alaska, the Himalayas, and the French Alps, where she tackles big-mountain classics like Chamonix's Glacier Rond and the Pan de Rideau. Yet Oakes seems supremely uninterested in carving a name for herself. She's never competed in a randonnée race and has yet to claim a first descent. Instead, she's focused on attempting to complete the brutally intensive regimen to become the youngest of only four American women certified by the American Mountain Guides Association (the U.S. arm of the International Federation of Mountain Guides), which applies rigorous European guiding standards. This spring, if she passes the test, she hopes to guide skiers in Europe and, though she doesn't have a specific job lined up, "help them to experience their passion for skiing in a totally new way."
THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR
WEIGHT: 135 lb.
HOME MOUNTAIN: La Grave, France
SECOND OPINION: "She's calm and mellow in the steeps, and has zero ego. Liz's love of climbing and hiking enabled her to get so good so fast. Plus she just tags along with some of the best extreme skiers." -Doug Coombs, legendary ski mountaineer