There are action figures and then there are action figures—those among us who can dig deep into a well of will power and strength to accomplish superhuman, high-action feats. The ski world has a few of these, including Nordica’s own Rory Bushfield, Felix Neureuther, Dominik Paris, and increasingly, Caroline Gleich.
For 10 years now, Caroline Gleich (rhymes with like), has been on the freeski scene, as a ski model—her face and feats have been captured on the cover of SKI Magazine—as a freerider for Warren Miller films (Like There’s No Tomorrow), and as a champion for environmental not-for-profits—Gleich was the first skier to become an ambassador for the Blue Climate and Oceans Project. She placed her hat in the pro skiing ring when she was only 18 years old and has been at it ever since—driving deep into the world’s most dynamic mountain ranges to ski impossibly steep lines and broad, crevasse-laden glaciers.
IT TAKES SO MUCH TIME TO UNDERSTAND SNOW SAFETY AND
TO GAIN MOUNTAIN INTUITION.
YOU REALLY NEED A LOT OF EXPERIENCE TO NAVIGATE THROUGH BIG MOUNTAINS. I SEE MYSELF
AS FINALLY PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER.
Yet chat with Gleich now, at 28 years old, and she’ll tell you she’s only just coming into her own as a freerider. “I’m just now getting into it,” says Gleich. “It takes so much time to understand snow safety and to gain mountain intuition. You really need a lot of experience to navigate through big mountains. I see myself as finally putting the pieces together.”
Gleich was raised in Minnesota, and like that other dynamic Minnesota skier (Lindsay Vonn), she caught the ski bug early. She skied small mid-western hills to perfect her skills, then travelled to bigger ones in Utah frequently with her family. By the time she was 18, Gleich was telling her parents she wanted to be a pro skier. Stay in school! they told her. Earn a degree! Find a decent job!
Despite their pleas, the Gleich family enabled their daughter’s dreams by hiring her a mentor. Trailblazer Kristen Ulmer hooked up with Gleich in the early days to teach her everything she needed to know to succeed in this precarious ski business. “She taught me a lot about working with sponsors and photographers,” Gleich says. “Sometimes we skied on the mountain, sometimes she’d act as a life coach, sometimes we’d work on the essentials of business—how to approach sponsors, how to make dynamic turns through the crud to look good for the camera... A lot of pros lack professionalism,” Gleich adds. “Kristen taught me to take pro skiing seriously, treat it as a career. By the end of it I was saying: I want to make this my career.”
And make it a career she did, eventually earning a spot on Nordica’s freeride team, teaming up with Patagonia as an ambassador, and appearing in ski descents for high-profile publications, including Powder, Outside, and Men’s Journal.
All the while, Gleich was earning the degree she promised her family, graduating magna cum laude in 2010 from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. Gleich says her anthropology training has helped her with her skiing career in a way she didn’t expect. “Often I’m asked by companies such as Nordica for feedback on graphics or design,” she explains. “To do that, I need an understanding of the tribe—the tribe of skiers. I need to put my research in a cultural context, looking at skiers’ needs, or a product’s functionality. So in the end, in a roundabout way, I do use anthropology.”
Gleich says there’s been a recent shift in her approach to her career. Increasingly she began considering ski mountaineering as her central goal, and she realized fitness and training would be key to success and progression. She began dedicating her time off-snow to rock climbing and hiking in Utah’s Wasatch Range, not far from her home near Salt Lake City. “Last summer I really worked on my endurance,” she explains. “And this summer I focused on my technical rock climbing, which is really good for ski mountaineering. Being able to pull out a rope quickly and efficiently helps you manage your risk. It was a skill set I didn’t have—speed equals safety in mountains. I want be the most competent partner that I can. I don’t want to have to depend on anybody.”
As a ski mountaineer, Gleich has climbed and skied many mountain ranges—her recent trip to Alaska with Patagonia was, in many ways, a first for the young skier—you can read more about her Alaskan adventures here. In future, Gleich hopes her newfound focus and training will take her to some more spectacular, snow-laden parts of the world. On her list: “I want to ski in the Himalayas, the Karakoram Range, and the Cordillera Blanca.
Still, Caroline Gleich says she is just as happy at home in Utah, skiing Snowbird, Alta and Brighton in winter, and wandering through the Wasatch in summer. “I once had this romantic notion I’d live out a van and travel constantly,” she admits. “But I like it here in Utah. Airports are close, I have a house here. Plus, I get to ski the Utah powder.”