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Georgina Miranda | 07.10.2019

Kit DesLauriers is best known for being the first person to ski the Seven Summits, the highest peak on each continent, and the first woman to ski Mount Everest. She’s a mother, mountain athlete, author, activist, and role model. She was National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2015, earned two consecutive World Freeskiing Women’s Champion titles, and has pioneered first female ski descents on peaks such as Aconcagua, Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, and New Zealand’s Mount Aspiring. Plus, she’s made several first ski descents of the U.S. Arctic’s highest peaks. Kit has been a member of The North Face Global Athlete Team since 2005.

At Outdoor Project, we've made it part of our mission to celebrate and amplify the voices of women in the outdoors, and Kit DesLauriers is a leader pathing the way for other women athletes in mountaineering and skiing and a personal hero to me. In our third year of Women in the Wild, we are proud to share our platform again with courageous and inspiring female figures who are making a difference in the outdoor industry and the world at-large. It’s been an honor to be a guest editor this year for Women in the Wild, and I am grateful and inspired by all of the remarkable women that I got to connect with and interview. They are shaping a new narrative daily, and they show us anything is possible with tenacity, creativity, and purpose.

 

Believing in ourselves as women who are capable of whatever we aspire to is our most important issue, in my opinion. No one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

—Kit DesLauriers

 

In this interview, we talk to Kit DesLauriers about life as an athlete and mother, choosing to make what you love a profession, how she chooses to give back to places and situations that have shaped her such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and how she lives with a student mindset. This interview has been edited for clarity.

 


Photo by Dirk Collins.

Georgina Miranda: Give us the skinny on Kit DesLauriers. How would you describe your connection to the outdoors, either professionally or through other pursuits?

Kit DesLauriers: The simplest answer is I am of the earth and feel the most “me” when I’m in the outdoors. It’s just who I am. My profession has followed in that I love what I do, and I’d do it regardless of whether I earned money around it. In fact, that’s my answer to people who ask me how I got to be a sponsored athlete. Do what you love irrespective of the outcome. It gets tricky for me since I’m so clear on it, that if we’re on a family trip someplace beachy, like the north shore of Kauai, I enjoy the beauty and power of the ocean, but if the conditions don’t allow for feet-in-the-earth time, then I’m scheming how to go home early!

GM: What initiatives/projects/goals are you currently focused on?

KD: Ever since my first trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the Brooks Range of northeastern Alaska in 2010, I’ve been drawn and compelled to speak up about the importance of protecting that wildly special landscape. There are layers upon layers of reasons that I feel this way, and why the Arctic Refuge is worth standing up for. It gives me the “of the earth” feeling, and it is the most special spot on this earth that I’ve ever known.

GM: Were you always drawn to a life of skiing, mountaineering, and environmental activism? How did your journey get you to where you are today?

KD: As a kid, I did normal activities, like soccer, softball, track, cross country, tennis, swimming, volleyball, even badminton! While I was good at all of them and have always identified as an athlete, I was not exposed to skiing or mountain climbing until I was a teenager. As soon as that happened, it became my plan to make it my life, alongside getting a bachelor’s degree, since I place a high value on education and the freedom of opportunity that it brings.

The environmental activism piece began when I was a student and realized how strongly I felt about justice. Justice in general as well as specifically justice in the natural world. I studied environmental political science in college and then became frightened by the reality of how messed up it all was and is—so I thought about changing my major to a physical science so I could approach the issue from that standpoint.

I soon realized that if I did that, it meant I’d be in school longer than 4 years, so I decided to stay my course and move to the mountains as soon as I graduated. The plan was to live as simple a life as possible. Although I had my moment of living in a treehouse and a yurt, I’m not sure I’ve kept up with the simple part, but I do still live in the mountains and always plan to. Now I see that I’ve come full circle to the environmental politics piece with my volunteer work advocating for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

GM: Where do you draw your inspiration/motivation from? Has that changed over your career?

KD: I’ve been known to say that freedom is my middle name. That isn’t true, but if I felt like changing it, that’s what it would be! That’s the concept behind my inspiration and motivation—to feel free to do what makes my heart sing and to support others in the same.

My motivation hasn’t changed, it’s just evolved. While oftentimes my feeling of freedom comes in the sense of connection I get when I’m in the mountains, it also comes from experiencing love, especially the love I have for my daughters. When I’m able to have the two combined, time in the mountains with my kids, that just tops it all!

GM: What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome related to your outdoor pursuits or your career? What helped you overcome those challenges?

KD: Mentioning my kids seems like the perfect segue into answering this question, as having kids was definitely a big challenge. I had to find my own path through. By no means the only one, though.

I intentionally became a mom after skiing from the summit of Everest, and then did it again 18 months later with our second daughter. When I was pregnant with the first, I wondered if I’d ever again feel like going to that deep-into-the-mind space that is necessary in order to do stuff like high-consequence ski mountaineering and ultra-remote expeditions.

I remember I was hiking with a friend shortly before our Grace was born, and I looked over to the Grand Teton and mused out loud, “I wonder if I’ll ever feel like skiing that again?” She wisely said, “It doesn’t matter right now. Just be where you are, and when it’s time you’ll know.” So, in general, being in the moment has been the answer.

About 9 months into motherhood, I approached the president of The North Face and practically begged him to start an infant and toddler product line, since I didn’t know what to dress my baby in when I took her outside in tough weather. I crafted a document of 13 different salient reasons that this was something important for the brand to do and was so grateful when it got approved both because it was the right thing and because it gave me an “in the moment” way to remain helpful to the brand. My kids are now 10 and 11, and they still participate in the youth design process!

One of the hardest things has been accepting that it’s all going to work out however it’s meant to as long as I’m doing what I love. I train hard, I create my own goals and go after them, but for sure I spend less time being an athlete than I used to since I’m a mother. I’ve had to learn how to ask for help, I’ve definitely had to learn lots of self-discipline, and probably most importantly, I’ve learned to believe in myself that I’m not a bad mother for going off and doing my thing. In fact, I know that I’m a better person because of it, and it’s also a gift I can offer my kids to know that life as you know it doesn’t need to come to an end just because you choose to be a mom.

The blend is working out so far, and through the journey I’ve gradually become a little kinder to myself and begun to practice a greater compassion for all. This has all been a blessing that started out as a challenge. We often emphasize the “I” and “me,” aka the ego, in our stories, which causes a lot of suffering. Parenting offers a great way to practice letting go of some of that.

GM: What do you see as the most important issue or set of issues affecting women in the outdoor/adventure space? Where do you see yourself having the biggest impact on these issues?

KD: Believing in ourselves as women who are capable of whatever we aspire to is our most important issue, in my opinion. No one will believe in you, if you don’t believe in yourself. In fact, the universe won’t even believe in you, if you don’t believe in yourself!

I think that, with my achievement of being the first to ski the Seven Summits, I was able to contribute to the idea that we women can do what we set our minds to. It’s funny that it sometimes seems men are the most surprised by that accomplishment, as it’s not common for a woman to do something first, especially in the outdoor world. My impact has probably evolved a bit to show that women can remain strong and relevant in the outdoor industry beyond their 30s, which had been the bar when I became a professional athlete.

Now, as I’m nearing the end of my 40s, I’m seeing that not only is my age and relevancy continuing to surprise people, but also the fact that I’m a mother and willing to prioritize my kids and family while maintaining my career. Many believe that it’s either/or. I guess I’m a lot about “show me a boundary, and I’ll look for a way around if it means more freedom to do what I love.”

GM: What can the greater outdoor community and companies like OP do to better amplify and celebrate the voices of ALL women in our community?

KD: We’re doing it. OP is doing it now. Honest sharing of stories and resources. Drop the judgment and bring the compassion. This kind of evolution is a process of awareness, and without awareness we’ll just let history repeat itself. With awareness, I believe in pure potentiality. 

If we use our life experiences to grow positively as humans, then we’re contributing to the greater good. The answer is love, support, and compassion.

Back when I was first competing on the World Freeskiing Tour, most of the women were really mean to me. I’m not sure why, and it still makes me sad. Maybe it was because I was a newcomer (a much older one at that!), and winning or placing well at every event, so they might have felt threatened. Regardless, the division was painful enough that I had to remind myself why I wanted to be there, which was to share the joy of being with women at the top of their game while pushing my own. I tried to feel compassion and love whenever I was presented with that ultra-cold shoulder.

Then I met Ingrid Backstrom. She was the reigning champion, yet bypassed a bunch of comps that year so she could start her filming career. I was pretty sure that I was only winning the overall title because Ingrid wasn’t always there to challenge me. Standing together at the top of a superfinal run at the U.S. Nationals in Snowbird, Utah, Ingrid and I could see thousands of feet down past the cliffs and couloirs to the judges and spectators waiting at the finish. I was so in awe of Ingrid’s peaceful demeanor and skiing style that I said, “You know, if I deserve to get second to anybody, it’s you.” She answered, “You don’t deserve to get second. Go get it girl.” That’s exactly the energy we should be sharing, whether it’s around women or men. Share those tough moments, that’s what makes us human, and then lift each other up and believe in each other.

GM: How do you keep your pursuits going? How did you get it all to a point where this is a feasible lifestyle for you and your family? How do you support your adventures/passions? Has this changed over time?

KD: Ha! Back in 2007, after I came home from Everest, I started a non-profit called Pursue Balance. It didn’t work out for a few reasons. One, it lacked clear direction, as you might imagine with a name like that. Yet, in general, that’s my gig—pursuing balance. Pursuit is a never-ending effort, in my opinion. It’s different than chasing, which denotes you could actually catch something. I do love language, and don’t get me started on the concept of fear!

In pursuing balance, I let it ebb and flow. Sometimes I ignore the public aspect of my work for a while when I have mountain objectives and family priorities. Wasn’t it just spring ski season? My favorite time of year to be up high! Sometimes I’m focused intently on my professional life and am somewhat physically absent from home life.

For instance, last year, when I had back to back trips that were incredibly important to me, I accepted them both, but then set an intention that was going to be home for a long while and be super happy about it. In general, I won’t travel for more than 3 weeks at a time without the family. That’s a self-imposed rule I started after I had kids. I aim to only do that length of trip once a year, and I have a lot of other smaller trips each year.

Several years ago, I took a solo, last-minute, mid-May trip to Chamonix, as I had a personal ski objective I couldn’t get out of my mind. I felt really guilty about it since I didn’t have to go and upon my arrival I called my family. My youngest was about 4 at the time, and she said, “I really really miss you, Mama.” I felt my heart tear apart and I apologized deeply trying to explain myself, “I know sweetie, I really, really miss you too! It’s just that Mama also really, really loves skiing and I haven’t had enough of it yet this year.” Then she answered, “I know. It’s okay, I just miss you.”

Kids are a blessing in so many ways, including realizing that when we live with pure love, it’s all okay. I spend so much quality time with them when I’m home, which is most of the time, that if I just share the true me and how I love them dearly and how I also love other aspects of my life, then it’s okay.

Believe me, it’s a pursuit, and there is a ton of baggage that creeps in from time to time, including when I try to be a “perfect” mom by doing things like stock the fridge, clean every piece of laundry in the house, then arrange playdates, babysitters, and tutors before I go anywhere for more than a day. I even left a selfie video series with daily gifts for my 2 year old when I went to the Arctic for the first time as a new mom, which my husband didn’t end up giving to her.

In the end, all those ridiculous strivings are my own doing and probably a hangover from the era I grew up in where my mom busted her butt trying to do and be everything, while on TV there was constantly a perfect commercial that showed a woman bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan, and then, well you get the picture. When I worry about being away, my husband likes to say, “You know, I do it all when you’re not here!” Then it’s up to me to try not to judge when his style of doing it all sometimes includes missing the bus and being late to school.

In the end it doesn’t matter, if he can let me be me, then I have to let him be him. And if I’m really growing as a person, well then I might even laugh at it all, which I’m only lately gaining the ability to do. A little backstory is that we met on a winter ski expedition in Siberia, so I like to think he knew what he was in for. 

One thing that has changed is doing public speaking engagements, whereas until about 10 years ago, I didn’t have the training or the platform for it. These kinds of events help support my lifestyle, and in a certain quantity I enjoy them as I find I can share some meaningful ideas with my audiences. Then it feels like a win-win.

GM: What’s been the most useful advice given to you along your journey? What advice do you wish you were given when you were younger?

KD: My mom wanted to be a sports news broadcaster when she was in her 20s, but it wasn’t an accepted career so she never went after it. She used to tell me, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you there is something you cannot do. Especially because you’re a woman.”

GM: Any other tips for women looking to embark on a similar career or path?

KD: Play up your strengths, and I mean the ones that are skill sets you’ve worked for, not the way you might look in a bathing suit, although that is usually a lucky byproduct of being an athlete. I started to get invited on the kinds of expeditions I wanted to do because I had wilderness first responder training and rescue training. I could rock climb and manage rope systems, I could winter camp and ski, I could read maps, and I could work with a team.

Always continue to learn and have a student mindset. I keep taking avalanche courses and wilderness medicine courses even though I’ve been studying and living it for 30 years; there is plenty I don’t know, or don’t remember, or could do better.

GM: At Outdoor Project, we put a strong emphasis on the phrase “adventure like you give a damn,” which refers to putting effort into responsible recreation. How do you “adventure like you give a damn” in your own way?

KD: Our family lives a kind of classic western Wyoming life with a full-size pickup truck to haul around our toys, work on the house, and bring an elk home after I hunt each fall, but we also have an electric car and solar on our house to charge it. I realize it is a privilege that we can afford solar at this point in our lives, but I also feel it’s a responsibility to do what we can.

Ideally, we’re all doing what we can as individuals and carrying it forward to the next phase, which I hope will have a larger scale impact on our earth and climate by speaking up for policies that will enact greater positive change. In that realm, I volunteer for Protect Our Winters as a member of the Riders Alliance. I also serve on the board of directors for the American Alpine Club, as I believe that climbing changes lives for the better. Perhaps the one thing that most resonates with me at the moment is service on the Board of Directors for Alaska Wilderness League, which is my next step in advocating for complete protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

GM: What’s been your favorite outdoor adventure to date and why? What’s on your adventure bucket list and/or coming up for you?

KD: That’s a tough one, but I doubt anything will ever surpass skiing from the summit of Everest and even more particularly, skiing the South Pillar route on the Lhotse Face direct from the South Col of Everest, which is still unrepeated 13 years later.

After that, I’d probably say it was my first expedition to the Arctic Refuge in 2010, where we skied the highest mountains in the Brooks Range and then 60+ miles out across the Coastal Plain to the Arctic Ocean. Jokingly we called it the first complete ski descent of the North Slope.

GM: What is the message you would like to share with the world, the outdoor community, and other women in general?

KD: It’s not about you or me. It’s about how we are part of something much bigger, so find a way to make that place an even better one.

GM: Anything else you’d like readers to learn about you, what you’re working on, etc.?

KD: I just came back from a really cool trip to the Arctic Refuge that was organized by The North Face in an effort to reach out to the younger generation to let them know about the importance of that place for many reasons such as social justice and human rights.

The Gwich'in people in northeastern Alaska live a largely subsistence lifestyle where they depend on the land and the caribou. The existence of their tribe is threatened by our desire to drill for oil and gas on the last perfectly enormous intact ecosystem in our country. If we can remove age and entrance barriers to the conversation about history repeating itself on public lands and with indigenous people, then we’re coming together as humans with pure potentiality.

If you want to hear more from Kit DesLauriers, follow her on Instagram @kitdski​​​​​​. Check out her book, Higher Love: Skiing the Seven Summits, which we featured as part of our Outdoor Woman’s Reading List. Watch her documentary about the Seven Summits, Like A Wolf, on Vimeo​​​​​​. Kit was also featured on MtnMeister​​​​​. And for all of our interviews and articles, head on over to Women in the Wild 2019.

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Women in the Wild 2019

Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments. Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2019 with the help of guest editor and 2018 #womaninthewild Georgina Miranda, adventurer, entrepreneur, mountaineer, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. We're proud to open our platform once again for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews with outdoor advocates, influencers, and athletes to female-focused content from the community, Women in the Wild 2019 aims to amplify the voice of women in celebration of female fortitude, strength, and camaraderie in the outdoors.

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