"The beauty of someone's achievements is in the struggles they've overcome to get there and the inspiration behind a female role model is in not being afraid to expose your hard work and the path that put you in a position to be inspiring." Molly Baker
With the world premiere of the new Sweetgrass Productions' film Valhalla coming on September 13th, 2014, Backcountry Skiing Canada is releasing more Behind the Scenes Interviews. This time we have athlete Molly Baker who along with her Tiny House home make appearances throughout the film.
Molly Baker is a 29 year old professional backcountry and freeskier from Tuolumne, California which is just north of Yosemite. Along with boyfriend Zack Giffin, Molly travels around the USA and Canada in the Outdoor Research Tiny House. living the life of a Gypsy. This coming season will be year 3 of the Tiny House Series. I caught up with Molly this summer to talk about filming with Sweetgrass Productions, women in the ski industry and epic crashes.
Did you ski much growing up? Where's your home mountain?
I didn't ski much as a kid. I mostly just played a lot of soccer. I skied in Tahoe when I joined the UC Berkeley ski team while in University. I skied a lot at Alpine Meadows.
How did you end up filming with Sweetgrass for Valhalla?
I met Nick Wagonner and Ben Sturgelewski at the Banff Film Festival a few years back and thought they were all right guys. I live in a tiny house, gypsy around, and love the mountains. They spend a lot of time in the backcountry and travelling, so I think there was some synergy there. Glad I got the opportunity to get in front of their lens.
Do you relate well with the guys at Sweetgrass Productions? Seems like you might have a lot in common in the way that you both like to tell stories and share your adventures on film?
I would say so. Often Zack and I tell stories of our travels with video. As an example when we went to Cerro Castillo, Chile we documented the story of our trip to the mountain base camp on horseback.
Our mission was to ski the mountains near Patagonia's Northern Ice Field, the source of run-off for Chile's southern rivers. Someday soon these rivers could all be transformed into major hydroelectric projects. Last spring, the multi-national energy company Enel initiated plans to dam the Baker River. Within 10 years, the dams will flood over 11,000 acres of Patagonian land and require 1,500 miles of transmission lines to generate hydroelectric power for Chile's mining industry.
We were down there because we wanted to explore near the Rio Baker which is Chile's largest river. There is a plan to dam the river and we wanted to bring exposure to this area and its prestine natural condition before it was forever changed by a massive construction project. This area is very wild, very few cars at all. We shared the video with the ski community so that other skiers in the world could see what we saw and hear some of the stories that went a long with the trip.
I guess it's also nice to have an archive of your life stories…a digital journal of your experiences.
What sort of camera do you use for your videos?
Zack and I use a Canon Rebel T2i when we shoot our own content.
What's the secret to all your published photos last winter?
Lot's of hard work and great photographer friends.
Molly likes to ski in the backcountry and sometimes likes being on the cover of Backcountry Magazine.
How many languages do you speak fluently?
Two, English and Love
During this last winter, while filming in Alaska you had a big crash that ended your season. What was up with the snow that week?
We struggled with a lack of snow and a deep instability in the snowpack on the trip to Alaska. The last week we were there, a big wind event came through and blew all the snow to the Yukon. We decided to get in the heli on the last morning. It was -25C, the snow was blown away, but we managed to find a hidden treasure, a section with decent snow. Piers Solomon had a great line, but he got on the radio and warned me there was a significant crust on some aspects.
I dropped into my line, muscles cold, made a few turns, went to race a sluff. I was caught off guard that there was a sluff because the snow was hard and firm. I ended up on an aspect with bad snow. My downhill leg wavered a bit, and boom, my ACL gave away, ending my season.
As a result of that fall, I had to get knee surgery to replace my ACL and remove 50% of my miniscus.
Have any knee photos I can share? I think that would be awesome to have a pic of your gruesome knee scar after surgery.
I am happy to share as many real parts about myself as possible. My cheeks flush really easily, so at a young age I learned that even if I wanted to there wasn't much I could hide from others.
The knee a week post surgery. It's my second ACL tear on this knee. It's easier to look at the second time around.
Feasting on king crab the night before I tore my ACL. The company, food, and spirit definitely made it feel like the last night of the trip. Little did I know I still had an ACL to tear at this point.
Was that fall while filming for Valhalla or another project?
Mostly for some other projects, but a bit for Valhalla too. Part of our reason for being in Alaska was to film a video for Atomic, one of my sponsors. Of the 18 days or so that we were there we only had a handful of ski days.
I think we got some shots, but it was the kind of trip that makes you leave Alaska with unfinished business
Are you going back to settle things when you recover? Give Alaska a chance to win you back?
Yes. Fortunately, I speak the AK language too.
So three languages…
Yes, that I am fluent in these days.
This coming winter is Tiny House Season 3 and we're trying to make it up to Alaska with the house.
So did you ever stay in the Sweetgrass house? Or did you live in the Tiny House when you were in Nelson?
We stayed in an upstairs bedroom for a few nights, I stayed in Nick Waggoner's basement abode, and slept on some mattresses downstairs. I never got the race car bed though.
Who was hogging the racecar?
Cody Barnhill. He's thrilled by novelties.
Totally quoting you on that one…
Okay. I am sure he would agree.
Sunset at Whitewater Ski Resort Nelson, BC. Where else would you rather be?
In the last year, what was the most memorable experience you had in the backcountry.
In December 2012, Zack, myself, a good friend Ben Price and Ian Provo went up to ski Mount Shuksan in Washington. It was a grueling fifteen hour day where we were going up to summit the mountain and ski a face on Mount Shuksan that had only been skied a handful of times. Naturally we started out early in the morning, it was dark but the moon was out. It was the first full moon after the Mayan Calendar's days had run out, the world had not ended. The run down to the valley bottom, where we would start our approach was awesome moonlit powder. We put our skins on and starting hiking towards Mount Shuksan as the moon was starting to sink below the horizon. There was this great light, pink and dark purple as the moon formed a shadow. In the east, the sun was starting to rise with orange and rosy colors. As one day was ending another was beginning. It's hard to talk about without sounding too cliche or heady but it really was a special moment. It marked a pinnacle for us, accomplishing a goal we set for ourselves. At the same time a lot of the planet was going through the thought that the world was going to end. Here we were stepping into this experience that marked a new beginning for us. I find whenever I reach an achievement in life it always leads to a rebirth of self. When you set goals and break new ground you can't help but feel more in tune with the possibilities of the future. This particular moment in a very significant trip definitely left a lasting impression on all of us.
A long grueling day had a reward that we all were chasing and it ended up paying off huge with this very special moment.
My epic backcountry moment. The day we watched the moon set and the sun rise. Mt. Baker seen from a flank of Mt. Shuksan about half-way through our 16-hour day.
A lot of people feel like pro skiers have a dream life and I'm sure that you would agree that you are very fortunate that you get to do what you do for a job. What is something that would surprise people about the life of a pro skier?
There's so many things that people would probably be surprised about and it's hard to narrow it down to one.
I think that the as far as shooting, filming and capturing the skiing that we then share with the rest of the world, people don't realize how much goes into it.
It all comes down to these rare moments of perfect synergy where everyone is doing their jobs well at the same exact time. That can only happen if you work at it, you have to show up, time and time again, and work past mistakes, crashes, weather, and everything else.
The moment that you are trying to capture, the skiing, is a very small part of it all. The larger picture is much more about working with people in the mountain community than it is about skiing. You keep working and eventually you get these small slices of perfection and these are what end up on the covers of magazines and in the movies.
A job as a skier involves the same things that people in other professions do on a daily basis. This includes planning, communication, collaboration, respecting peers, following deadlines and fulfilling commitments. The actual skiing is a fragment of what happens and although it is a necessary skill to have to do this career, there's just so much more to it than most people realize. Whatever skills I have learned by being a professional skier I will take with me through the rest of my life and use in any other job I end up doing.
You know those things you hear about pro skiers having to do that can feel a little like work? Interviewing is one of them. A skill I am still a long way from mastering.
Do you find that it's difficult to be a female skier in a male centered sport?
I think that it can be difficult. The big thing that I think that is different when it comes to any activity where excellence is required is the way that women and men perceive success and failure. I feel a lot of the time, women are used to being good at certain things and bad at others, there's little pressure to really excel at something that is difficult at first. A lot of this stems from how girls grow up. It's very easy for a girl to say, I'm just not good at that…Men on the other hand are more accustomed to working through failure, beating themselves up until they get good at something. As a female skier, I have gone through the mental challenge of getting up after I fall and accepting failure as a part of the process. I crash a lot, it's part of the sport, you challenge yourself and sometimes you get hurt, sometimes you fall. People only want to see the moments of perfection and beauty when it comes to females in skiing. Where as the punishment that men put themselves through to reach mastery of the sport is glorified and reveled in. This can be hard to grasp, I myself have reached points in my career where I thought I didn't disserve to be out there in front of a camera because I would keep crashing but that's all part of the process.
You just have to try, no matter how large the jump.
What's an important image to portray to young women that might see you as a role model. Be it as a skier or just as a person?
I think female role models should demonstrate diligent passion above all else to show that with steady and energetic effort you can train yourself to master anything. The media is going to tell you a story of innate ability and success, but the truth is that we all have to work towards our achievements and a higher self. I remember seeing a documentary on Lindsey Vonn that did a great job of showing the incredible struggles she's endured to be who she is today. Skiing has been her life. Her career was her family's life. I walked away from that film with an immense respect for Lindsey. The beauty of someone's achievements is in the struggles they've overcome to get there and the inspiration behind a female role model is in not being afraid to expose your hard work and the path that put you in a position to be inspiring. Female role models should highlight those parts of themselves that other women can recognize in themselves, which probably isn't being the best skier in the entire world, but being a struggling athlete with an immense passion to be a great skier. That's the difference between a role model and an icon. Role models let people see their whole selves, where as icons are the untouchables, but even the untouchables go through human experience and struggles. There is room for both in this world, you just have to choose which one you want to be.
Once a tiny house girl, always a tiny house girl. Here I am checking out a little abode on Lummi Island, Washington, where Zack's parents live.