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Ski Resort Life

Alison Gannett on Freesking, Farming, and Conquering Your Fear

At 46, Alison Gannett is a world-champion freeskier, organic farmer, Crested Butte Mountain Resort ambassador, expeditioner, environmental consultant, ski film star, and activist. Not bad for a former chubby math geek.

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SKI: You’ve been skiing since you were 18 months old, had a brief stint as a racer, and became a professional freeskier and ski movie star as an adult. How has your relationship with the sport evolved over the years?

Alison Gannett: As a child, skiing was a way of life for our family, not a career. And while I loved to ski everyday, I was actually a chubby dorky math geek who discovered my inner athlete and cliff jumping as an young adult. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to become a world champion big mountain freeskier.

SKI: Who are your mentors (in skiing, environmental activism, organic farming)?

AG: Yvon Chouinard is one of my biggest heroes for walking the talk. Lance Sweigart for farming, as he has grown all his own food and saved all his own seed for over 25 years on only one acre. In environmental activism, I admire Amory and Hunter Lovins.

SKI: What are your goals for 2011/2012 ski season?

AG: I’m heading to British Columbia, Silverton Mountain, and Wintergreen Virginia for my KEEN/Patagonia Rippin Chix Steep Skiing Camps, and plan to get as much powder and adventure skiing as I can. I hope to pioneer some new human powered ski routes out of my farm, and am planning many first descent ski expeditions in the Andes Mountains of Columbia.

SKI: What are your biggest strengths?

AG: Intense perseverance and the ability to endure a ton of pain (both mentally and physically), combined with an intense passion to do what I love, and try to make the world a better place. 

SKI: How do you combine your environmental activism and efforts to curb global warming with skiing?

AG: I want to photo document the glacial recession in Columbia’s Andes and compare it to historical photos, like the work I’ve already done in Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, France, Switzerland, Italy, and South Africa. Many of glaciers I skied in the 90’s are now totally gone. The ones here are melting by the minute.

My non-profit, the Save Our Snow Foundation works to show individuals, companies, communities, schools, and governments how to calculate and reduce their carbon footprints most cost-effectively. I spend a ton of time talking people out of solar panels and electric cars, and towards action items that save money such as inflating your tires, LED bulbs, energy audits, public transportation, tap water and local chemical-free food.

SKI: What are the benefits of women’s only clinics like your Rippin’ Chix series?

AG: While I was learning to jump cliffs, I found that I learned differently than the men competitors. I wanted to know where my hands were, where to look, where to bring my heels, when to tuck, when to expand, and why certain jumps required different types of air and why. In response, I got “just go for it”. I started then and there naming these moves, and writing a progression of how to learn these terrifying acts without freaking out, by slowly learning the basics on flat ground first. It worked for me, and I thought, why not teach other gals to overcome their fears, since it was so liberating and life changing for me. When you conquer your deepest fears, it brings a strength to your every day life challenges.

SKI:What’s the most important piece of gear for skiers?

AG: Boots. And the most important thing about getting the right boot is finding a fantastic boot fitter who can look at your feet and find a good match.

SKI: What have been the biggest changes in skiing that you’ve seen in your career?

AG: The ski gear. We can do things on skis now that were not possible before. It has enabled me to expand my comfort zone more than I ever thought possible.

SKI:What scares you (on skis)?

AG: Exposure.

SKI: How do you manage your fear?

AG: I try to distinguish between “I’m-gonna-die-fear” and “I’m-scared-but-can-overcome-this-fear.”

SKI: What are some of your accomplishments as an environmental activist?

AG: My non-profit works closely with ski areas to calculate and reduce energy use.

In 2010, after 20 years in CB, I moved over the pass to a wonderful farming town called Paonia, only 43 miles away, but much lower in elevation. My lifelong quest to walk the talk, by calculating and reducing my carbon footprint (energy use), has lead me down yet another exciting path. In CB I built the world’s first straw home in a National Historic District in 1997. Growing my own food was a natural next step, as the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used to grow our food are mostly made out of petroleum. My brain is exploding from what I have learned in the past year, as we now raise and preserve almost all our own food, except coffee, chocolate and salt. This week I learned how to thresh and winnow our homegrown wheat!

I’m working on a project to calculate the amount of carbon absorbed by soil by ecological farmers, ranchers, and orchardists, so that in the future they may be paid for their ecosystem services. SOS is also working on – an online farmers market run by farmers bringing the farmers market to your computer.

SKI: Why is it so important to raise environmental awareness and how do you keep your message fresh (in other words: how do you avoid sounding like a doomsday environmentalist)?

AG: I think the trick here is to show by example what has worked well and what has failed for me personally – both at home and in my businesses. What solutions have saved me money and reduced carbon, and what have not? I also love to show how big and small businesses around the world have also reduced their energy use and carbon footprint while saving money.