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Q&A with pro skier Kalen Thorien

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As a writer, photographer, and skier coming into her own as a professional athlete, Kalen Thorien knows more than a thing or two about succeeding as a woman in the business of adventure.

Pro skier Kalen Thorian. Photo courtesy of Kalen Thorian.
Pro skier Kalen Thorien. Photo by Mark Erickson.

Kalen Thorien became an athlete by accident. In high school, she played hooky and snuck checks out of her mother’s purse to pay for weekday lift tickets. Shortly after, she dove into the ski bum life, working as a wildland firefighter in the summer to fund winter powder skiing. Impressive skiing resume aside, her ability to tell her own stories caught the attention of Salomon, Smartwool, Yeti, and other sponsors. Now, she travels the continent chasing storms in a Land Cruiser named Frances. Thorien pairs the confidence and drive of a professional athlete with all the beer-swigging humor of your favorite adventure buddy. As her star rises, it pulls her into the spotlight. She tells SNEWS what being a female athlete means to her and how women everywhere can be an inspiration.

SNEWS:It seems like professional athleticism just happened for you, rather than waiting for you to seek it out. When did you know that this was going to be a career for you?

KALEN THORIEN: I’d say it started that way–as something I wasn’t seeking out. I never thought I was good enough to make it in this industry. I started skiing late, never had the privilege to race or compete, so there was a lot of trial and error and help from my friends. I didn’t think it would become a livable career until roughly two years ago when I quickly realized I could have made this a career quite a bit earlier if I had only had the confidence. Once I knew I could, it was time to get to work.

SNEWS: Skiing is still a pretty male-dominated industry. Have you ever felt you had to prove yourself? How did that affect your drive to succeed?

KT: I’ve honestly never felt pressure or desire to prove myself to the opposite sex. Honestly, women have more of a tendency to judge other women. It’s something we’ve all caught ourselves doing, and it’s, in my opinion, much more detrimental to our pursuit of growth. Success came and should come from internal desire, the silencing of negative thought, and the pursuit of fun.

SNEWS: Do you think athletes occupy a pivotal role in the battle for gender equality?

KT: Athletes are a vital part of showing the vast expanse of options in this world and telling girls that they aren’t confined to the status quo, that with enough creativity and grit, your life can be filled with so much more. I’m not purposely occupying that role—it’s just how my life has shaken out. I’m me, beyond male or female.

SNEWS: What make a woman a good role model?

KT: To me it means someone who isn’t afraid to push her limits, explore this world vigorously, is humble, and doesn’t mind getting dirty. I look up to women who are passionate and persistent but also genuine—someone who will pursue their goals at whatever cost but also can sit down have a beer.

SNEWS:How do you try to live up to that description?

KT: I try to stay humble. The ease of exaggeration, over-description, and stories without consequence, are incredibly easy to get away with these days since a bulk of our communication is found online and on social media. I’ve caught myself typing a glorious rendition of a slightly average day and quickly hit the delete button. It’s useless. Just be who you are.

SNEWS: What’s the biggest obstacle to getting girls outdoors? How can it be overcome?

KT: The biggest obstacle is ourselves. I wouldn’t even call it an obstacle, more just naiveté. We aren’t aware what we’re fully capable of and the unknown can be quite intimidating. Find sanctuary in a trusted friend, male or female, and take chances together. You can surprise yourself and open the doors to incredible possibilities. Just take the first step.