The Show Must Go On: Jess McMillan

The Freeride World Tour Champion has won more freeskiing comps than any other skier, and has been a regular fixture in WME films since 2011.

If Jess McMillan weren’t a professional skier, she really has no clue what else she would be. So it’s a good thing the whole professional ski bum thing worked out.

Jess McMillan: This was my first time skiing Denali. We’ve all heard of Denali, and we think about it as a place to test your mountaineering skills, test your limits and summit one of the highest peaks in the world. So to go there and ski tour is just  so special. There’s no trace of people. It’s just mother nature, huge peaks, and raw beauty. There’s a true sense of wild.

When you’re in a place like Denali, you can look at photos, but you never know what peak or snow conditions are going to be like. At night we would gather and say, ‘OK, let’s do this tomorrow.’ We would plan and try to estimate our time, thinking a skin might take four hours. When we started skinning it just felt like the closer we got, the bigger the mountain got. We had to take a step back and realize that instead of four hours, this was going to take us eight hours. 

That’s one of the biggest things I didn’t realize when I first started skiing for the camera: how long the days are. It’s not like you’re out there for two hours and then hop in for a cocoa break. When you leave and move into the field, you’re going to be there for 8 to 10 hours.

One year when I was competing on the Freeride World Tour, I didn’t have anything set up as far as lodging between stops. This is kind of standard for me, just the way I roll. And this time I had my mom and husband with me. But I thought, no problem, we’ll find a hostel or something along the way. When we stopped, it was late at night, everyone was tired, and the locals at the bar we stopped at told us there was no lodging anywhere nearby. We ended up taking the skis out of our ski bags and sleeping in the bags on the side of the road. My mom was not impressed. She booked us a very nice hotel for the next night.

Originally published in the November 2018 issue of SKI Magazine.