Wendy Fisher grew up in Squaw Valley, Calif., where she cultivated her love for freeskiing and started her career in ski racing. By 15, she would make the cut for the 1992 Olympic Winter Games. But her passion for racing would transform over the years into a love for freeskiing, instruction, and all things powder.
Last season, Fisher signed on as one of the instructors for SKI’s new online education course, “Go Deep: How to Ski Powder,” filmed on location at Fernie Alpine Resort, B.C. We sat down with Fisher to find out how her four-decade ski career has evolved.
On Burke Mountain Academy
At 14, Fischer left home for Burke Mountain Academy, a small ski academy in northern Vermont. Of her time at Burke, Fisher gives tons of credit to the institution for helping shape the type of athlete and racer she would become.
“I’m a full-on Burkey, 100 percent. I tell my parents that was probably the best decision we made, my time at Burke is still my fondest memories besides growing up in Squaw… I loved being on campus with a bunch of kids who were all working hard.”
Her Olympic Career
Fisher made the U.S. Ski Team at age 15 and began racing in FIS World Cup events. Feeling immense pressure to make the team, Fisher put up middling times—in some races even barely getting down the course—before coming in second place in a slalom race, securing her a spot on the 1992 Olympic team. Fisher credits her transformation to her coach at the time, Rob Clayton.
Once she finally arrived at the Olympic Games in Albertville, France, things did not go to plan. “I was the one who ate royal sh*t in the downhill and got a live interview with Greg Gumbel. I think I was the only one on the team,” Fisher recalls. “You either have to be on the podium for an interview or you have to crash really bad. I got the crashing interview.”
Transitioning to Freeskiing
After retiring her race suit, Fisher decided to spend one last winter skiing in Crested Butte, Colo. before giving up the sport. There, she found herself looking up at the Freeskiing Extremes competition area and running over lines within the zones reserved for female competitors. Her first run was “fine,” she recalls, and landed her in second place. When she watched the guys come down, she turned to her friend Shane McConkey—with whom she grew up in Tahoe and also attended Burke Mountain Academy—and asked him “Can I do that?”
“We’re watching guys come down and go to these lines I didn’t even know existed, hitting all this gnarly stuff with not-so-great technique,” Fisher recalls. “And I’m like ‘This is where my ski racer background kicks in.'” For her second competition run, Fisher took a line never before skied by a female athlete and blew the crowd away, securing a victory. Fisher recalled turning to McConkey after her run and saying, “‘Alright that’s all I have to do?’ and the rest is history.”
After that day she went on to win all the Freeskiing Extreme comps that year and secured two Freeride World Tour overall wins.
Her Adopted Hometown of Crested Butte, Colo.
Her legendary career has taken her to insane ski resorts, mountains, and backcountry. But through it all, her favorite mountain is Crested Butte, where she moved to in 1994.
“Crested Butte is in a unique spot because it’s hard to get to, the winters are long, and it’s small,” Fisher says. “It is kind of this little nook where you have to know where to go and then it’s challenging. It has this dynamic where you’re not going to find the open bowls here so if you’re that kind of skier, it’s not for you. It is its own little niche.”
First Ski Film Appearance
Fisher’s success on the freeride circuit rightfully caught the attention of several film houses, including Matchstick Productions. The crew sent her up to Alaska to ski some of the steepest big mountain terrain in North America.
“When I first started filming in Alaska, I didn’t understand sluff,” Fischer recalls. “I didn’t understand powder in the same way as resort powder. Resort powder is different than when you are on an Alaska face and the snow just starts coming down, chasing you. I got my a** kicked, taken out by my own sluff on that trip. I am a good technical skier, but I had to learn a whole new skill again because I didn’t understand that kind of powder and that level of skiing.”
Fear in Skiing
Fisher’s technical background and decades of experience give her the confidence to shred some of the gnarliest lines out there. But throughout her time skiing, Fisher has never lost the nerves, anxious jitters, and pure excitement before runs,
On Creating the ‘How to Ski Powder’ Course
Fisher has many years of experience teaching people to ski all kinds of terrain, but powder skiing is her passion.
“Powder is so rare, it’s once every few months that you have a great powder day,” she says. Once it does roll around, Fischer says the trick to skiing the fluff is to “stay calm [and] be patient. The main thing with powder is that it is a very relaxing thing once you figure it out. It’s actually easy to ski once you know how.”
Get powder-skiing tips straight from Fisher this season in “Go Deep: How to Ski Powder,” SKI’s new online course dropping on Oct. 12. For the five-part course, SKI teamed up with Fisher and Professional Instructors of America’s (PSIA) instructor Ann Schorling to teach best practices for skiing deep powder safely and successfully. From choosing the right equipment to the anatomy of a good powder turn, you’ll learn pro tips and tricks that will get you skiing the deep with confidence. Check it out here.