FREE FALLING Caroline Gleich shows off her free-ski skills in Warren Miller’s Like There’s No Tomorrow. “It’s kind of the spirit of skiing,” she says.
CAROLINE GLEICH | BIG MOUNTAIN FREESKIER
YOU GREW UP IN MINNESOTA AND UTAH. HAVE YOU EVER SKIED THE NORTHEAST? I have. I've skied at Jay Peak and Stratton. I really love visiting Vermont and the East Coast for skiing. Like, when I went to Jay Peak, we got so much powder, it was crazy. And I think Vermont is just so charming. It's, like, a totally different aesthetic than we have out here.
THAT'S TRUE. IF YOU GROW UP SKIING IN VERMONT , YOU'RE JUST USED TO SKIING ON SHEER ICE. IT'S WHAT YOU THINK SKIINGIS. The first time you ski out West, you don't even know what to do with all the powder. There are a lot of great skiers that come from both Minnesota and the East Coast. Because I think if you can learn to edge on the ice, than you can probably ski anywhere.
WHEN DID YOU START SKIING PROFESSIONALLY? I moved to Utah when I was 15, and then when I graduated from high school, I started to pursue my career as a professional skier. But I wasn't very good at first. It took me a little while to catch up, do you know what I mean? Because I didn't grow up skiing, like with the race training or any of that stuff.
THAT'S INTERESTING, BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE A LOT OF PRO SKIERS WERE KIND OF GROOMED FOR IT SINCE THEY WERE VERY LITTLE. Yeah, I feel that way as well. When I first told my friends and family that I was going to be a pro skier, everyone thought I was crazy. So I just kept at it for a lot of years, and I skied every day, because I definitely had a lot of catch-up to do with the people who'd been skiing their whole lives.
DID YOU FEEL LIKE THAT WAS A HUGE DISADVANTAGE? At first I did, yeah, but I think that in the long run, looking back now, it was actually sort of good — because to have a career, especially in freeskiing, you have to have a lot of passion and a lot of drive. And so I think a lot of the people who grew up doing it have a tendency to get burned out.
WHAT EXACTLY IS FREESKIING? It's what I was doing in the Warren Miller film [Like There's No Tomorrow]. It's using the whole mountain, and sometimes back country and side country, and there are no gates, so you can just kind of go wherever you want. It's kind of the spirit of the skiing, I guess.
IS THAT MORE DANGEROUS THAN DOWNHILL SKIING OR RACING? It can be, because there's avalanche danger that you have to deal with. So we filmed the part based out of the Cottonwood Canyon ski area in Utah, but a popular thing now is to go into the back and side country, outside the gates of the resort, and so we'd go into the back country as well. And we'd all taken a lot of avalanche courses, and as long as you have the safety gear, and read the avalanche reports, and have taken a class or two, then most people will be okay.
WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO IF YOU GET STUCK IN AN AVALANCHE? Well, the best thing to do is avoid getting into one. [Laughs] Well, I guess they say that you want to swim, you know, to stay on top of it. But if you're fully buried, it's most important that you're with people who have an avalanche beacon, a shovel, and a probe. Those are the three pieces of necessary gear that you really want to have. That way, they can dig you out.
IN THE DOCUMENTARY YOU TALK ABOUT "MOUNTAIN CULTURE." HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THAT TO THE UNINITIATED? I like the word "bohemian." You know the intellectual types that pursue this alternative lifestyle, instead of, like, normal 9-to-5 kind of thing? I'd kind of describe it like that. Because in Salt Lake, there are a lot of people who are free thinkers, and there's this vibrant outdoor community here who have kind of chosen the path less traveled, I guess. So it's just kind of taking our passion and making it into our work. Does that make sense? It's tough to describe, in a way.
ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET INTO THE SPORT LATER IN LIFE? I'd just say to get gear, hit up your local ski shops. There are so many opportunities and deals for cheap gear in mountain communities. I think a lot of people think it's a really expensive sport to get into, but a lot of mountains have discounts for locals. The best piece of advice is to get your own ski boots. Make sure you have a nice snug fit and you're comfortable in them, because you can always rent or borrow skis or whatever, but boots are really important to have. And, really, skiing is just, like, the best way to make the winter. . . BEARABLE? Yeah! Exactly, bearable. For me, that's totally what it was.
Warren Miller's Like There's No Tomorrow screens November 11-12 at the Berklee Performance Center and November 13 at the Endicott College Auditorium in Beverly.
For more information on screenings of Winter, visit skichannel.com.