A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with a true inspiration of mine, Caroline Gleich. Caroline is best known as a professional skier, but those of you who follow her Instagram posts, or are fortunate enough to know her personally, know that her passions, skills and abilities far extend just that. From the mountains, to lakes, sea, and land, if there is adventure involved, you can bet Caroline will be getting after it! Check out my interview with her below:
(SB): Who influenced you to start skiing?
(CG): Growing up in Minnesota, winter sports are an inherent part of the culture. Even though the state isn’t home to the best ski hills, the landscape is covered in snow and ice for a large part of the year, so most people find ways to enjoy it. My mom wanted to be sure my brothers and I all learned how to ski – my grandma was an avid skier (how she loved it), and my grandfather was a ski jumping champion at the local hill. When you grow up in such a harsh winter climate, you learn to love the cold and snow. You learn the fundamentals of layering at a young age so you can walk to school or go sledding with your friends. You wear a facemask so you don’t get frostbite. You wear ski goggles on your sled so you don’t freeze your eyeballs out. Since Minnesota is also the land of 10,000 lakes, I learned how to ice skate at a young age and played ice hockey when I was growing up, and the skills from skating translate well to skiing. The fundamentals of edge control and the muscle groups you use for balance and strength are very similar.
(SB): Did you come from an adventurous family?
(CG): Yes and no. I’ve never really thought of them as adventurous but now, looking back on my childhood, I see they are quite adventurous. My parents both put themselves through medical school, so early in their careers, they didn’t have much money. They used to sew their own tents and sleeping bags and down booties to go camping, because it was the least expensive vacation they could do! When I was little, we would always take trips out West to Salt Lake City and Jackson Hole to ski, hike or backpack. One of my mom’s sisters lived in Salt Lake so we would often visit her and another one of my mom’s sisters lived in Anchorage, Alaska, and I have fond memories of visiting her. My uncle was a salmon fisherman and he would take me fishing. We would also pick muscles on the beach and take them back to eat. Every summer, my dad would take my brother’s on a week long backpack trip. When I was ten, I was finally big enough to go. My happiest childhood memories are on these trips, walking many miles through the Wind River Range, Sawtooths and San Juan Mountains. On these human-powered trips, I learned about wilderness and the fundamentals of leave no trace recreation. I learned how to live simply and find a quiet rhythm. Only now do I realize how much these trips affected me and shaped me into the person I am today. I realize that, despite the headaches of planning or traveling, I am chasing those same feelings of quiet solitude and simple living. Sometimes, it seems, climbing and skiing are the easy parts. It’s getting there that’s the battle.
(SB): What are your current top 5 favorite pieces of gear?
(CG): -DeLorme Inreach Explorer – it is a two-way satellite communicator and GPS. Last summer, my mom bought me one so she could track me during my long local training hikes in case my cell phone died or I was outside range. I’ve used the device worldwide on my travels, from Ecuador to Chamonix to Alaska for everything from white-out navigation to communicating with my mom to let her know I was all right. As much as I like to educate myself on self-resuce and mitigate risks, I believe it’s good to have a backup plan and understand the realities of rescue. With the DeLorme device, you can communicate specific needs to rescuers via text. And the battery lasts up to 100 hours so I have it with me long after my cell phone is out of juice. Also, I like carrying my own device in case I get separated from my partners. Having a backup/rescue plan is part of responsible recreation.
-Goal Zero Switch 8 – One thing that almost always comes with me on my adventures is a switch 8. With it, I can recharge all my USB devices- headlamp, GPS, SteriPen, iPhone or GoPro. If you’re going to rely on battery powered devices for navigation and communication, you better bring a backup battery. The Switch 8 is durable, lightweight and easy to use.
-All Good/Elemental Herbs lip balm and sunscreen – I spend a lot of time in the sun and the elements. Whether I’m alpine climbing in the Sierras or snow camping on a glacier in Alaska, I always have my lip balm and sunscreen close by. With those kinds of exposures, lips can become chapped and cracked so easily! It’s not only the aesthetics, it’s super painful to have cracked lips – plus, UV rays can cause skin cancer. My mom is a dermatologist so she always stressed good skin care. All Good/Elemental herbs products are my favorite because they are thoughtfully sourced with ingredients that are not harmful to you, or the environment. Their non-nano-particle sunscreen’s active ingredient is titanium dioxide, which works by forming a physical barrier between your skin and harmful UV rays. It’s coral reef safe. The company is a certified B Corporation and a member 1% for the Planet and is independently owned by a lovely couple, Caroline and Rich, who grow some of the herbs in their balms on their family farm in California. Not all sunscreens and lip balms are created equally, and I feel good about the sourcing and quality of their products.
-Leki Micro S Carbon Lady Trekking Poles – whether I’m skinning with up a glacier to ski or hiking through endless talus with a heavy pack, I love my Leki trekking poles. They provide stability to lessen the impact on my knees and spine, and make it easier to get a full-body workout on the trails. Plus, all my summer training is really training for ski season, so it makes sense to have poles in my hands.
-Zeal Optics Kennedy sunglasses – Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, these are my go-to sunnies for active adventures. Again, the sun is so intense at high elevations, and in the snow! It’s crucial to take care of your eyes. The Kennedy’s are incredibly lightweight and comfortable and the lens is big enough to protect the delicate skin around the eyes. They have sleek rubber grippers on the sides to keep them on your face when you’re at a hanging belay, on an exposed ridge or paddling a SUP across the lake. They are durable and have impeccable optical clarity. Plus they come in a range of colors to suit all styles.
(SB): As a woman, you are a huge inspiration of mine because of your constant need, desire and ability to get after extreme sports like ski mountaineering and climbing of all types. Who are some of the men and women that motivate and inspire you?
(CG): Thank you! One of the things I love about Instagram is reading about other athlete’s lives and projects and using that to inspire and motivate my own. It’s a learning process and I find my goals in a constant state of evolution and progression.
Brody Leven @brodyleven
KT Miller @ktmillerphoto
Andrew McLean @straightchuter
Kit Deslauriers @kitdski
Kim Havell @kimhavell
Jimmy Chin @jimmy_chin
Conrad Anker @conrad_anker
Emily Harrington @emilyaharrington
Sasha DiGuilian @sashadigiulian
Alex Honnold @alexhonnold
Kimmy Fasani @kimmyfasani
Leila Hurst @leilahurst
Shannon Bennett @shannbenntt
Brooke Gaynes @brookegaynes
(SB): Personally, I find passion to push myself further and harder when people or society imply or tell me I cannot do things because I am a woman. Do you find motivation to push limits from societal strains like those? What deeply motivates your passions?
(CG): For a long time, I listened to people who told me I could not accomplish my goals. But then, I found the confidence to question the status quo and try those things anyway. This was a huge challenge to overcome, because often, I would ask people I trusted if I would be able to climb something or ski a certain line, and they would tell me I was not strong enough or good enough and I would surely fall to my death.
I find my motivation to perform at a high level in the mountains changes. At first, there was a huge drive to prove myself – to silence the naysayers and show the world what I could do. But decisions based on ego can get you into trouble in the mountains. I once heard someone say that pride is the deadliest decision making factor in the mountains. Often, we are too proud to ask for a belay when we think our partners think we should be able to free-solo. It’s good to learn to separate the ego.
While I say it’s good, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy! It can be so hard to walk away from a climb or a summit, especially when you are so close. But then I remember the real reason I do this- to have as much fun as possible. When you think about it in those terms, it’s much easier to lose the pressure, relax and enjoy the experience. Another big motivation for me is photos – I love to capture the beauty of the mountains, the sunrises, the summit views, the magical light! Sometimes, bringing my camera and a creative angle is all it takes for me to get out of bed well before dawn and hike to the summit for sunrise. That, and good partners! Good partners are the best motivation! I love meeting new partners and planning adventures with them. There’s something about making that commitment to meet in the morning that gets me going.
(SB): You mentioned that you like planning for the future. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Do you have any BIG mountain goals?
(CG): My goal is to build a progression of skills so I can climb and ski the highest mountains of the world – the Himalayas. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, and I love framing my trips with the goal of climbing and skiing. I want to continue to inspire others to live a healthy, active lifestyle and chase down their wildest dream. In 5 years, I hope to have a sizable resume of climbs and ski descents, and travel and do slideshows and motivational speaking. I might write a book. I want to continue being a spokesperson for climate change and wilderness preservation. And I want to keep changing the discussions in the ski and outdoor industry about risk and risk management. It’s a constant evolution, but without goals and an idea of where you want to be in the future, it’s hard to make choices to get you there.
(SB): Favorite inspirational quote?
(CG): “The best climber in the world is the one who is having the most fun.” -Alex Lowe
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” -Wayne Gretzky
*all photos used from Caroline’s Instagram account can be found @carolinegleich