Mirna Valerio, a.k.a., the Mirnavator, is no stranger to the outdoors. Valerio is close to two decades deep into a running career encompassing over 11 marathons and 14 ultramarathons. The Merrell-sponsored athlete has been featured in—and contributed to—the likes of Runner’s World, National Geographic, and our sister title, Women’s Running. Valerio started a blog, Fat Girl Running, about 10 years ago where she chronicled her experience and adventures of taking up space in a sport where most of the participants don’t look anything like her.
Just this winter, she picked up another sport where most of the participants don’t look anything like her: skiing.
Valerio, who moved to Montpelier, Vt. in 2019, had dipped a toe into the sport before, including one time at N.J.’s Mountain Creek where she had to be rescued by ski patrol.
“I was stuck on my side, it was so icy, and I couldn’t get up,” she laughs. “They took one look at me and said ‘You’re going to take the lift back down.’”
Despite that, Valerio loved everything about being on skis, especially getting to spend the day outside.
“I moved to Vermont so I could train in the snow,” she says. “And learning to ski, it’s another way to use my body, to keep getting stronger. I’m really determined to finally learn this winter.”
So when Coalition Snow founder Jen Gurecki reached out to Valerio after seeing her outdoor-centric feed on Instagram, Valerio knew it was a good match.
“Jen said, ‘We want you on our skis!’” Valerio chuckles. “I said, ‘‘That’s great … but I don’t know how to ski!’” Gurecki signed Valerio to Coalition’s athlete team, got her hooked up with lessons at nearby Bolton Valley and sent her a pair of the women-owned and -operated brand’s all-mountain Rebel skis, and the rest is, well, a work in progress.
“Mirna’s love and joy for the outdoors radiates and is contagious. Yet we don’t see people like her represented or celebrated in the ski world,” says Gurecki on why she wanted Valerio on Coalition’s athlete team. “We wanted to work with an athlete who can help reshape the narrative of what it means to be a skier.”
Valerio is currently four lessons in and has just graduated from Bolton’s bunny slope. She’s loving her lessons and is feeling more confident every time she’s out there.
The hardest part, she says, is learning to trust her body and her intuition. “I tend to want to dissect everything,” she explains. “I’ll ask my instructor to model a turn again and again, but he says, ‘Nope, just trust yourself.’ It’s hard not to feel in control and believe that my skis will turn where I want them to go. But once I started to cede that control, I started skiing, and not falling.”
Like all of her adventures in the outdoors, Valerio has documented the learn-to-ski process on Instagram, sharing her honest thoughts about everything from face planting to keeping hunger at bay on the slopes. She hopes her followers, of which she has 120,000, will see her putting herself out there and feel empowered to do so themselves.
“I want people to go outside and be comfortable outside,” Valerio says matter of factly, “even though they haven’t seen themselves represented. Everywhere in the outdoor industry, no matter the sport, there are voices that say ‘black people don’t do that.’ I’m here to say ‘yes, yes we do.’”
Valerio has been inspired by so many BIPOC outdoor-centric personalities and influencers over the years who’ve informed her intentions and sensibilities. We asked her to share a few of her inspirations, and added a couple of our own, starting with the Mirnavator, herself, of course.
Mirna Valerio | The Mirnavator
The 44-year-old Brooklyn native turned Vermonter fills her Instagram feed with a self-confessed “curated and purposeful” collections of images and experiences documenting her life in the outdoors. Though still mostly a runner, Valerio has recently added downhill skiing, fat-tire biking, and snowshoeing to her winter repertoire. Her underlying message relays body positivity and inclusion in the outdoor space even if you don’t fit into the stereotypical image of the average participant.
Juju Milay | Colour the Trails
Judith Kasiama, also known as Juju Milay, is a refugee from the Republic of the Congo who fell in love with backcountry skiing and the mountains, and has made it her mission to bring inclusivity and diversity to the slopes and beyond. In 2020 she founded Colour the Trails, a community organization that arranges events and trips for people of color to get into the outdoors in the Vancouver area.
Jordan Marie Daniel | Native in L.A.
Native American runner Jordan Marie Daniel uses her voice and platform to tear down racial barriers and fight for the rights of indigenous people and the land that’s rightfully theirs. Her Instagram feed is packed with inspiring posts that both inform and even enrage as she works to educate people about current issues that affect her ancestors’ lands. Topics include the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is operating with a permits and causing a threat to nearby tribal lands.
James Edward Mills | Joy Trip Project
Black journalist and author James Edward Mills’ Instagram feed reads like a history lesson on the impact of BIPOC in the outdoors. He is an avid adventurer and outdoorsman who has worked and played in different capacities in the outdoor industry for the past 20 years, from guide to photographer to writer to recreationalist. His intention with the Joy Trip Project is to examine all aspects of the outdoor industry through the lenses of equality, inclusivity, and diversity. His Joy Trip Project podcast is a highly worthwhile dive into the many personalities that Mills has encountered along the way.
Emilé Zynobia | Curls in the Wild
Half-Jamaican, half-white snowboarder and Jackson Hole ambassador Emilé Zynobia uses her platform on Instagram to claim her space in the outdoor industry and feel at home in her own skin. Her incredibly honest feed is at once both vulnerable and inspiring, which tracks with her overall message that who we are is indeed enough, even though it might not feel that way on the daily. As a grad student at Yale’s School of the Environment, Zynobia also tackles issues of climate and sustainability in her feed.