Katherine Donnelly | 06.18.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Steph Jagger. 

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a lady-crush on this Woman In The Wild. You may know her from her writing and from her record-breaking ski trip around the globe, but what stands out most - as you'll see in her interview - is her astoundingly contagious attitude toward life and self-love. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Carly Butler.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Steph Jagger is.

Steph Jagger: I’m a storyteller, author, speaker, record-smasher, and coach with a side serving of provocateur and a dash or three of court-jester. 

I live in the woods on Bainbridge Island (AKA Jurassic), and I believe purposeful living doesn’t happen with one toe dangling in, but that we jump in, fully submerge, and sit in the juice. Think pickle, not cucumber. 

In 2010 I began a journey that found me walking that talk, or perhaps a better way of putting it would be “skiing that  talk.” From July of that year to May of 2011 I chased winter around the globe and wound up breaking the record for the most vertical feet skied in a year. Post-journey I penned a memoir, which was released by Harper Collins in 2017. The book is called Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery.

Currently, I run a program called The Great Big Journey and (pinch-me) get to partner with brands like REI – all with the goal of helping women live a life of adventurous doing AND adventurous being.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Steph Jagger: I don’t think this really hit me until I was in my mid-30s, well after the ski trip and the writing of Unbound. I’ve always loved the outdoors, always wanted to spend time in nature, but it’s never had a bigger urgency and importance for me than now. This has everything to do with the the slow, excruciating, and ongoing loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s. 

Somewhere deep inside I believe that the shoes that my mother is leaving vacant are being, and will continue to be, filled by Mother Nature. Because the only mother bigger than my own is Mother Nature. Because I still need someone to point me in the right direction, and if it can’t be my mother I choose the ocean tides and shooting stars. I choose the wind and rain. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Steph Jagger: It tells me it loves me and I say it back.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor storytellers and authors should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Steph Jagger: Number one: I am not a conservation or protection of public lands expert. It’s not that I don’t believe this is important - it is very important - it’s just that I don’t believe becoming an expert in this arena is the best and highest use of me. Number two: I don’t really like telling people what they should do. Add number one and two together and you’ll come to the realization that I’m not going to answer this question in a direct way. 

I will say this: I am a firm believer that the role of outdoor storytellers and authors is to continue to tell and write outdoor stories. Full stop.  

Also...and this is a big also... there is another question within this question, and it has less to do with the role of “outdoor storyteller and author” and more to do with “who else do you want to be.”

For example:

  • If you happen to be an outdoor storyteller and an activist, your responsibility is to activate me through your stories. 
  • If you happen to be an outdoor storyteller and an educator/expert, your responsibility is to educate me through your stories. 
  • If you happen to be an outdoor storyteller and a provocateur, your responsibility is to move me through your stories. 
  • If you happen to be an outdoor storyteller and a lover, your responsibility is to make me fall in love through your stories. 
  • If you happen to be an outdoor storyteller and an artist, your responsibility is to make me see something new through your stories.

Every outdoor storyteller and author has a role to play in the evolving conversation and landscape around the protection and conservation of public lands, but the only “should” I see is for us all to: know thyself, choose thyself, and make shit happen. In other words: Find the unique power of your voice, say yes to using it, then holler.

Look at examples like Caroline Gleich, Ambreen Tariq, Amanda Sandlin, Georgina Miranda, Shelby Stanger, Brianna Madia, Meghan Young (and I could go on), and you’ll see what I mean. All are storytellers, all have a role in this exact conversation, all are doing it in a different way, and never ever will I "should" them into doing it differently.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Steph Jagger: This is a combo of my answers from questions five and eight. I’m inspired by every woman who knows herself, loves herself, and is at least attempting to stand in that loving and that knowing on a regular basis. There is a long list of women who have done and continue to do this, and I am inspired and gather strength from each of them.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Steph Jagger: This is simple. Adventure is being and doing anything that is just outside your comfort zone. That’s different for every person.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Steph Jagger: A badass is someone who says, “Fuck it. I love you but I love myself more.” Then they choose a route that suits them best, hurtle themselves down it at speed, break some or all of “the rules” along the way, and look back only so they can invite others to do the same. Also, they do their best to harm nothing and no one as they hurtle. This is not a guarantee, but they try.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Steph Jagger: Know thyself. Choose thyself. Make shit happen.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Steph Jagger: It looks wild, and free, and sacred. It is a place not to be conquered but to be with. There is to be a balance between the protection of it and accessibility to it. It is not a place for us to own but a place that encourages us to own ourselves. Imagine a non-denominational place of worship where everyone is encouraged to know themselves and love themselves and play like children play. That’s what the outdoors looks like to me.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without? 

Steph Jagger: The idea that if I keep my eyes wide open I might just get to witness magic, that I might bump into something or someone that makes me sit for a moment or more in wonder and awe, in curiosity and not-knowing.

Also, my phone...'cuz when the above happens, I usually want to write it down (type it out in my notes app) and/or take a picture of it.

OP: Let’s talk gear - What are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Steph Jagger: I don’t have much of an opinion on this other than the following: If you’re designing women-specific gear, make sure there are some f*cking women on your team. 

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received and what’s the story behind it?

Steph Jagger: Love yourself. There’s no specific story here, but when I think back on my life and the people who have influenced me the most (both positively and negatively), what comes out is: Love yourself. Just learn to love yourself like a motherfucker. If you can do that,  everything’s gonna be okay. 

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as a writer, what would it be?

Steph Jagger: Write. If you want to be a writer, sit your ass down in a chair and start stringing words together. Don’t analyze it. Don’t tell yourself you don’t have an MFA so you can’t. Don’t believe the hype about the publishing industry being full of jaded rejectionists. Don’t worry about answering questions like how will I get this published, and what’s the perfect title, and who’s going to read this, and what will my sister think about it. Those are what I call down the line questions (as in you answer them later...down the line). If you try to answer those now, you’ll never start writing, and if you never start writing, you won’t ever have to answer those questions, so you’re pretty much stuck in the feedback loop from hell. So...just write. Start there.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Steph Jagger: Social media is the best tool we’ve got when it comes to creating authentic connection...besides, you know, authentic in-person connection. It’s all in how you use it. I like to think of social media as an in-person event. Would you walk into a party and make that statement as a way of introducing yourself? Are you attempting to create some sort of engagement, or are you doing all the yapping? How are you following up with the people you’ve met? Are you just moving along or do you DM new connections in order to start conversation and/or to invite them to take part in something you think might interest them? I think a lot of folks think of social media as a straight-up megaphone, when in fact it’s more like a networking bbq - a place you can meet a lot of new people if you show up as yourself, as well as listen to and tell great stories. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Steph Jagger: Ooooooooh, this gets me pumped. Here’s my “what’s next” list:

  1. Going for walks with my husband and dog.
  2. Writing a second memoir about a journey I took with my mom. She has Alzheimer’s. It’s a very Thelma and Louise meets Still Alice type deal, and all I want to do is sit in the juice of that story.
  3. Keep growing my biz, which includes an amazing team of coaches and community of women who turn my brain (and heart) into confetti on the daily. I run a program called The Great Big Journey and I love it, and I love everyone in it, and it’s like I can see the whole thing growing legs so it can run into the future like a glorious queen.
  4. More walks.
  5. Press repeat this summer (pinch me now) on my gig with REI Outessa as their emcee/lead camp counselor.
  6. More walks.
  7. More speaking and storytelling and truth whispering.
  8. Walkies.
  9. The unknown.
  10. Naps.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Steph Jagger: Unbound. Sorry...easy plug.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Steph Jagger: My dog. Her life is so f*cking bomb.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Steph Jagger: I write memoir for a living. People basically know everything. Ha! A lot of people don’t know that I played the tuba in elementary and high school. And there are only a handful of people who know that my very small friend, Sarah, used to climb inside the tuba case at lunch break so we could play a game called “human luge bomb.” She was a badass. 

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Steph Jagger: Love yourself. Just learn to love yourself like a motherf*cker. If you can do that,  everything’s gonna be okay.


Video by Gretchen Powers, words by Steph Jagger. Featured photo by Erica Chan.
Learn more about Steph on her website, by reading her awesome book Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery, and by following along on her adventures through Instagram


I love this interview. Thank you for being such an inspirational badass and sharing your stories.
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