Caroline is a professional ski mountaineer and adventurer based in Salt Lake City, UT. You may have seen her on the cover of Powder, Backcountry or Ski Magazines or in Warren Miller films. You may also have heard her as an athlete voice for numerous environmental advocacy groups like Protect Our Winters, HEAL Utah, Tree Utah, and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. She recently returned from New Zealand and has given us some post-Aoraki food for thought on female mentorship, protecting both public lands & national parks in the US, and Sour Skittles:
MM: You just got back from a trip to New Zealand to climb and ski in Aoraki National Park. What were the major objectives you were tackling during this trip?
CG: My main objective in New Zealand was to climb and ski Aoraki, the highest peak in the country. But I also wanted a challenge, and the Southern Alps of New Zealand definitely provided that. International ski mountaineering challenges can be so tricky, they provide an important opportunity for growth and progression.
MM: Speaking of growth and progression, you mentioned in a recent Instagram post that you've dreamt of this trip since you were a little girl! Who or what do you believe motivated you to pursue this goal & your ski mountaineering career in general?
CG: When I was 7, I went to New Zealand with family - my 3 brothers on a business trip with my parents. My parents both worked a lot when I was growing up, but they would often take us kids with them on their international travels. While we were there, we took a flight over Mt. Cook/Aoraki, and that's when I first saw it. Growing up with 3 brothers, I always had an adventurous, rowdy spirit. I loved being in the mountains so much. I believe this early exposure to the outdoors formed the foundation for my interest in ski mountaineering. Sometimes, just seeing an image of a mountain will make me want to climb and ski it. I also think that part of the draw is the togetherness that you feel with your partners on a ski mountaineering trip - it's all those in between times that make the best memories!
MM: In addition to your parents and brothers, who have been the most important teachers in your life?
CG: When I first started my ski career, my parents hired former professional steep skier, Kristen Ulmer, to coach and mentor me, to help me learn the business of being a sponsored athlete, and to help me learn how to ski dynamically for the camera. I learned so much from her. As an adult, my friend Liz Daley was one of the most important mentors in my life. She and I traveled all over the world to ski (she splitboarded). She was also training to become a mountain guide. She introduced me to the guiding world and showed me what was possible for a woman. I spent many years of my career training my fitness and technical skills so I could keep up with her and be a good partner. Just like seeing the image of the mountain makes you envision what it would be like to climb and ski it, seeing Liz as a guide and splitboard mountaineer gave me a vision for what I wanted to become. She was killed in an avalanche in Patagonia two years ago, and I miss her so much everyday.
MM: She sounds like an amazing mentor and friend. Similarly to Liz, you are a role model to many yourself. How do you hope to inspire your fellow outdoorswomen?
CG: I hope to inspire my fellow outdoorswoman to get outside and learn how to get on the sharp end! To tie in with other women and take the lead up the mountain. Growing up with three brothers and working in the male-dominated snowsports industry, I spent much of my life feeling excluded... But at a certain point, I had to carve out my own space where I felt invited and powerful. I took responsibility for the mountaineering skills I wanted to learn so I could be the trip leader instead of depending on someone else to invite me. I want to help create a ski mountaineering and outdoor culture that is inclusive, so people of all sizes, shapes, genders and cultural backgrounds feel invited to participate.
MM: You are a prominent voice in conservation and environmental advocacy through your work with Protect Our Winters, Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, HEAL Utah, etc. What is your take on the future of national parks under the current president-elect and the land transfer movement? What kind of work needs to be done to protect public land in the US?
CG: That is a very difficult question - my take on the current state of the environmental movement is that we have to start branching out to find common ground with the many Americans who feel angry and upset about the world we live in. We have to get out of our little bubbles and interact face to face with the people who elected Donald Trump. In order to protect the future of the national parks and public lands, we must get more outdoor people to show up and speak up at public meetings and legislative hearings. We also need to work on showing people in rural American why these public lands are worth protecting - that they are more than dollars for mining - and that will take going to those places and hosting outdoor outings and other events. I must stress that it's really important that we show up and interact more face to face, because online communication seems to further divide us. It just isn't the same as talking to some in person.
MM: Can social media play a role in motivating change like this? Or promoting women in the outdoors? Your Instagram speaks to both of these efforts, it's awesome.
CG: Thanks for the props on my Insta. Sometimes it feels like a lot of work to update, but overall, I'm very grateful for the amazing community on Instagram and other social networks. It's a powerful tool, and can be harnessed positively. What I love about social media is that it's allowed me to tell my story the way I want to tell it. In the past, pro athletes were often dependent on magazines and media outlets to write stories about them, but it's nice now to be able to write our own stories, so I think for women in the outdoors, it's a very positive, powerful tool for promotion.
MM: Do you see an opportunity here for adventurers, environmentalists, and feminists to come together for change in the coming years?
CG: I see a huge opportunity for adventurers, environmentalists and feminists to come together for change, but we're going to need to think even bigger than that to combat the challenges the future administration holds. We must find common ground with hunters, dirt bikers, coal miners, anglers, ATVers, and others - we might not all agree on the specifics of things, but we need to sit down, sort out our differences and find a way to go forward, together.
MM: On a less serious note, Sour Skittles: under or overrated?
CG: Never tried sour skittles! I do have a sweet tooth, but I try to avoid too much processed food (of course everything in moderation). TBD on sour skittles!
Caroline has recently written a useful guide to citizen activism - well worth a read if you're interested in getting involved in environmental protection. Peruse her website for more updates on her adventures and some wicked photos. Thanks for chatting with Mountain Mentors, Caroline!