Tag Archives: Ingrid Backstrom

Mountain Girl Power: A Day on the Slopes with the SAFE AS Crew

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Saturday was an extravaganza of girl power. Between spending the morning with the K2 International Woman’s Ski Day posse and the afternoon with the S.A.F.E. A.S crew, I was brimming with female superpowers.

Me and Lel Tone at the Summit of Crystal

Me and Lel Tone at the Summit of Crystal

Ingrid Backstrom said it best yesterday during our beacon training session led by Lel Tone. After spending several days with these amazing women, her communication skills were “well honed.” Women like to talk to each other. We like to check in with each other, and as these women demonstrated, we are pretty inclusive.

S.A.F.E. A.S. stands for Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety and is led by some amazing women. In addition to Lel and Ingrid, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso and Elyse Saugstad offered Crystal ladies an amazing avalanche awareness clinic designed for women. Not only did I get to join Lel in teaching the field session in the afternoon, I also had the chance to ski with these women the past few days at Crystal.

SAFE AS group photo

SAFE AS group photo

It wasn’t merely an estrogen overload. Nor was it the testosterone fest that usually fuels any group of skiers–male or female–that love to ski hard and fast. These ladies charge hard, but know how to manage risks. As Elyse says, it’s not just about charging hard today. It’s also about getting to go back out and do it again tomorrow. We all love to ski hard, to find that smooth line of snowy perfection and leave our mark on the mountain, our faces freezing into cold smiles. But it means nothing if you don’t make it back alive.

On Friday, we headed to Southback to find some untracked snow. With 3″ of new over a wind packed base, we hoped to find some nice turns. Even though we Crystal skiers are lamenting the slow start to the season, these professional skiers were thrilled. Michelle Parker called her two days skiing at Crystal the best of the season so far. Enthusiasm is infectious, and soon I, too, was caught up in the thrill of new snow, an all-girl crew, and the fun of rampaging around my local hill.

In all my years of skiing Southback, I have never discussed the conditions so much as I did with this group. Elyse asked specifics. Was this true backcountry we were headed into? Had the avalanche conditions changed? How was this terrain managed? She turned her beacon to receive and checked us all as we headed through the access gate.

At the summit of the King, we talked about rocks that I’d seen the day before hidden now by a mere skein of snow. Ingrid pointed to Brain Damage and we talked about where photographer Re Wikstrom should position herself. As Lel would say, the north side of the King is still at low tide. Rocks line Pin Ball, and shark teeth still poke out in various spots along the chutes. Instead of blindly charging into a line, these ladies asked questions, took their time and encouraged each other. It was safe, but fun. Careful but still exciting.

Elyse Saugstad dropping into Brain Damage

Elyse Saugstad dropping into Brain Damage

I followed Ingrid and Elyse into Brain Damage, while Michelle and Jackie dropped into Hourglass and Appliances. The chute is still a bit narrow at the top, and my heart raced a little hoping not to embarrass myself in front of two of the best skiers in the world. In the end, I held my own and embraced the camaraderie and high-fives at the bottom of the chute. Next, Re set up to take a few powder shots of the professionals. Journalist Megan Michelson and I held back while the others found their positions. Ingrid insisted Megan take the next line, and for a moment we all laughed. Megan reminded Ingrid that Re could sell a photo of her skiing powder and Megan and I would find another way down. But we both appreciated the gesture. For Ingrid, she wasn’t pretending. It really was about the skiing. “We’re all girls skiing today,” she said. And it was true.

These women are leaders in the ski industry. Not only do they ski with power and grace, beauty and fluidity, they also model how to do so prudently. This balancing act requires humility and honesty. For these women, it isn’t an act. They walk  their talk. And do so with passion.

The S.A.F.E. A.S. clinics conclude today with the final one at Stevens Pass. For Elyse, the lessons she learned during and after the tragic avalanche accident that took place near Stevens two years ago come full circle. I spoke to her Saturday night about her willingness to teach others through her own tragedy. She wanted to give something back, she said. She hopes that through teaching women to make prudent choices in the backcountry, they can enjoy the mountains and live to tell about it.

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Ingrid Backstrom: Girl on Fire

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Listen now

Listen now

Ingrid Backstrom in Chamonix

Ingrid Backstrom in Chamonix

Ingrid Backstrom is one of the most influential skiers in the world. But you would never know it if you met her.

Kind, humble and exploding with integrity, Ingrid never boasts or brags.

In fact, if you ran into her at the bar after a day on the slopes, you’d never know she probably spent the day ripping the biggest, gnarliest lines on the hill.

Her professional ski career started unassumingly. After ski bumming for a year out of college, Ingrid entered a freeskiing contest at Kirkwood, and placed a very respectable third place. She realized people were actually getting paid to ski, and she wanted to be a part of it.

Her big break came in 2003 when she filmed Yearbook, a Matchstick Productions movie, which launched her career into the stratosphere. Since then, Ingrid has been on a tear, slashing huge lines, appearing in countless ski movies and raking in the awards. At the 2013 Powder Magazine Awards, Ingrid won her 8th Reader Poll award. She has also taken the Best Female Performance Award 6 times, and, in 2005, took away the Breakthrough Performance award, an honor most often given to a man.

Kircher-show-descriptionDon’t miss my guest on The Edge Radio this week, Ingrid Backstrom, as we talk about big mountain skiing, pushing the edge and the ingredients of a perfect day. Her skiing defies logic, and her low-key attitude demonstrates her humility and grace. Tune in Wednesday May 1st on The Edge.

Skiing With Your Idol

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Evelyn in the lead

On Sunday, my step-daughter Evelyn and I had chance to ski with Ingrid Backstrom and her mom Betsy. Our two mother-daughter teams met up in the line at Rex and the Backstrom ladies were kind enough to let us tag along. The four of us headed to Employee Housing, where the still-soft snow was just beginning to get tracked out.

I love that Evelyn looks up to Ingrid as a role model. I couldn’t have chosen a better one myself. Not only does Ingrid rip on the slopes, she’s also one of the nicest people I know. She gets it from her mom, Betsy–both the skiing skills and the inherent kindness. Even though Ingrid was just named Powder’s Best Female Skier, you would never know it by meeting her. She’s humble and she rips. If there are two qualities I aspire to (and would love my daughter to aim for as well) it is humility and skiing skills.

Evelyn and Ingrid on Employee Housing

Ingrid even gave Evelyn a few skiing pointers. She reminded her to point her body and shoulders down the hill and let her legs do all the work. There’s nothing like a tip from a pro skier to help a free-spirited tween improve her skills.

Employee Housing is the longest run at Crystal, and by the time we arrived at the 1-5 return trail, Evelyn was pretty tired. But Ingrid waited for us on the trail, stopping every so often to make sure the hoard of skiers didn’t run Evelyn over. This is on a trail where eye-circling powder hounds rush by for their next lap, poling like mad. Ingrid even complimented Ev on her poling skills, telling her she must have strong arms. I could see Evelyn growing a few inches taller with pride.

Thanks Ingrid and Betsy for taking a slow one with us. Evelyn was beaming all day. It’s not everyday that a girl gets to ski a run with her idol.

Ingrid Backstrom Wins Best Female Performance

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Seven days ago, John and I looked at the forecast for Niseko and thought maybe this would be a good week to go ski the deep Japanese powder everyone has been talking about. Ingrid Backstrom was at Crystal for the week, and we asked her if she wanted to go. In her humble Backstrom way, she thanked me profusely, but said she couldn’t join us. Instead she was supposed to be in Aspen. When I asked her why, she just shrugged and said, “The Powder Awards.”

Oh yes. The Powder Awards, in which viewers get to vote for their favorite performers. I, of course, voted a few months ago for Ingrid. I’ve known her since she was a young racer at Crystal, trying to act inconspicuous in the ski patrol room while her parents worked. In fact, it was Ingrid’s mom, Betsy, who taught me how to run a toboggan with finesse. As a petite woman running toboggans three times her weight, Betsy showed me how to press my hips down onto the handles to get the brake to bite in, allowing me to steer with my arms, rather than my quads. Now, when I teach new patrollers this skill, I always think of Betsy’s soft-spoken smile as she handily showed me the ropes.

This year, for the 5th time in her career, Ingrid won Best Female Skier. Way to go Ingrid. We may have missed a great week at Niseko, but I suppose winning this award was worth it. Check out this video in which Ingrid accepts her award and gracefully dedicates it to Sarah Burke. In case you were wondering, this is what it means to be a Backstrom.

Storm Tracks, Powder Highs and Digging Lows

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The Pacific Northwest has enjoyed wild weather these past ten days. For a while there, the fire hose of the jet stream pointed right at us, bringing enough snow to open Crystal Mountain as well as the other ski areas in the state. We started with a skiff of snow that fell in October and never really left. Followed by cold, dry temperatures, that early snow sat on the ground and rotted out. A shallow snowpack is a weak snowpack, and when it finally snowed a few feet, enough to open the ski resort, we patrollers worried about the bond to that old layer. With widespread whoomfing and unnerving cracking, the snowpack waited for a heavy load to fail.

Giving Thanks on "White Friday" for the 12" of New Snow

That load arrived last week when we were hit with the Four W’s (wild, wet, windy and wacky). In 48 hours, a thick blanket of wind-packed 36″ of snow fell Monday and Tuesday, then turned to rain. Where skiers compacted the snowpack over the previous weekend, the slides were minimal. Elsewhere, not so much.

Bear Pits and Brand X both lost most of the season’s snow. It started snowing again on Thanksgiving and by Friday, we were back in action, enjoying our second powder high (following Bluebird Sunday) of the season.

Just before it turned to rain

When low pressure systems churn off the coast, moving further south as they approach, they often “dig” into the tropical moisture, and pull that warm air around in their track, bringing rain.

Whenever you hear forecasters calling for a “digging low” beware of warm moisture. This kind of pattern brings a best-of-times/worst-of-times scenario in which one day the mountains are blanketed in light, fresh powder, and the next day the temperature spikes, the wind picks up and everyone’s spirits are dampened.

This is why I love my job

Herein lies the lesson. When it’s powder, ski it. This is why I love my job. Not only do I get to throw explosives onto powdery slopes and watch the weather with the zeal of forecaster, I also learn to appreciate the smaller moments. When Ingrid Backstrom stopped to help me string a rope to close off a rocky section in Northway, I had to smile. I watched her ski away with my husband and friends as I clove hitched the orange and black rope to sticks of bamboo. But that’s okay. I’d gotten my turns in earlier. As I later explained to one of the new patrollers, our job isn’t so much about skiing ourselves as it is about providing that experience to others. Certainly we enjoy our fair share of turns. But it’s not just about the skiing. Joy and inspiration can come at any moment–even when the low digs too far, or friends ski powder while you set up a ropeline. All I have to do is look around me and I find it.

As for the weather forecast, things are setting down. A ridge of high pressure will build across Western Washington, bringing warm and dry days ahead. By Thursday, we expect low clouds in the valleys and clear, warm days in the mountains. Spring skiing anyone?

Book Launch Day

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Today is the day.

The Next 15 Minutes is now IN STOCK and available for purchase. I think I’ll go over to my local bookseller (or two or three) and just gaze at it on the shelf.

In case you’re still on the fence, and aren’t sure if you want to buy the book, have I mentioned that Ingrid Backstrom wrote the foreward? Or that the book opens with a scene of me throwing explosives out of a helicopter.

Just saying.

Here’s what others have said about it:

“When I read memoirs or listen to a speaker, I want to learn and I want to be inspired.  Kim and John’s story does both.  Everyone has a story to tell and Kim tells their’s well.  Kim and John’s lives will inspire all readers and allow us to pull lessons learned from their lives and struggles.  We as reader gains strength and hope through the sharing of their story.” Phil Ershler, AMGA Certifitied Alpine Guide and author of Together on Top of the World

“Kim’s positivity and grace under pressure is incredibly inspirational.  Her story is a joy to read, and it reminds all of us to get outside with the ones you love.” Ingrid Backstrom, Professional Skier

“As a transplant surgeon, I witness the immense physical and psychological challenges facing patients with a life-threatening illness. Ms. Kircher weaves her experience as a ski patroller high in the Cascade Mountains with the current battle against her husband’s liver disease with intense emotion and heart-wrenching detail. As she draws on her prior high-adrenaline experiences to face the current challenge of her husband’s illness and pending transplant, it leaves the reader feeling breathless, as if they are standing on the edge of the mountain with both husband and wife…This book is a fascinating memoir for any reader, and especially one who may be in the midst of or recovered from their own major adversity.” Julie Heimbach, Transplant Surgeon, Mayo Clinic

The Next Fifteen Minutes is a profoundly courageous and honest exploration of Kim and John Kircher’s journey together during John’s nearly fatal battle with liver cancer.  Their lives together in the mountains they love so much are the backdrop, and the lessons Kim has learned as a professional ski patroller give her the strength to make it through a harrowing year.” Dan Nordstrom, President and Owner of Outdoor Research

“In the year leading up to her husband’s liver transplant, Kim Kircher triumphs over the long wait and harrowing diagnosis by drawing lessons from her life in the mountains. As a ski patroller, she witnesses tragedy and triumph, dark storms and sparkling beauty, and learns how to fight for her husband’s life, offering him the support and partnership necessary to weather the storm.” Chris Klug, professional snowboarder, Olympic medalist, liver transplant recipient, author of To the Edge and Back: My Story from Organ Transplant Survivor to Olympic Snowboarder

So get out there and buy the book already.