Wendy Fisher Interview
by Lou Stephens
In 1996, U.S. Ski Team member and U.S. Olympian Wendy Fisher had never seen an Extreme Freeskiing competition. On a whim, she competed and placed third. That competition was the start of years of podium placements for this young California native who grew up chasing her brothers at Squaw Valley.
As one of the best skiers in North America, Wendy Fisher is the star of several Matchstick Productions and Warren Miller films. With the recent birth of her son, Wendy Fisher is still skiing hard and teaching the joy of skiing.
From your girls' camps to women-only clinics, you seem to really be encouraging women to attain a higher skiing ability. What is your motivation for this?
I find so much joy in skiing that I want other girls and ladies to like it as much as I do. My goal is for them to feel comfortable and confident while pushing the level of skiing. I like to broaden their perspective of the sport with what they can do and where they can go with the sport.
I really enjoy my Girls’ Clinic because it is easier to breakdown the fear factor. Fear is not as much of an issue or hang up for them as it is for the ladies. For the girls, my focus is taking them to terrain they never thought of going to before or didn’t realize they could; to show them how to use the mountain as a playground.
For the ladies I find that fear is their biggest hurdle. I try to expand their horizons, but it is more about working with their confidence level. I try to have them look at the fun parts of the ski run rather than the potential hazards. Many ladies focus on the trees and rocks rather than all the white snow.
It is very rewarding for me to see both the girls and ladies progress and have big smiles on their faces at the end of the day because they pushed themselves harder than they ever thought they would or could. They found that they did things on skis they thought they weren’t good enough to achieve. It definitely makes my day when they say that they never thought they would ski something that they did. It happens all the time, but my biggest goal is to have them all leaving saying they had fun. To me skiing is all about having fun.
Beyond the technical aspects, what did you find to be the biggest difference between being on the U.S. Ski Team and freeskiing?
Once I became really competitive in the Extreme Freeskiing competitions, I realized the mental side was similar to ski racing. If I didn’t feel good about myself or was feeling the pressure to win, I would have an awful competition. It made me realize how difficult the brain can make things if you let it.
I felt I had to concentrate a lot more in freeskiing than in racing. With racing I liked to have some spontaneity involved with my run. I would inspect the racecourses, but tried not to over inspect them so I would be quick on my feet and looking ahead during my race run.
For the Extreme Freeskiing competitions and filming, I felt I could never study or memorize the runs well enough. With ski racing you had the colored gates with big flags to follow. In freeskiing – competitions and filming – I hoped that the features I focused on would be noticeable enough and easy to find during my decent. A Polaroid picture of the run became my security blanket. If I did not or could not take a photo of the slope I was about to ski, I would be a wreck on top of the line before my run. This happened to me because most of the time when you get to the top of the run there is nothing to see but the valley floor. From the Polaroid I would try to envision what my key features will look like skiing down. It would also help me look for my safety zones in case of an avalanche. Don’t get me wrong—ski racing was hard and intimidating as well, but it never felt life threatening to me; not to say that people haven’t died ski racing, but the risk factor never felt as strong in ski racing as it does filming and competing.
What advantages do you have over other freeskiers given your U.S. Ski Team and big-mountain background?
I wouldn’t say that being on the US Ski Team was a huge advantage, but having a race background was. At first, I definitely had confidence in my ability, which could have had something to do with reaching the highest level in ski racing, but I quickly realized that there are a lot of talented freeskiers out there and none of them were on the U.S. Ski Team. I could be biased, but I think the strongest skiers come from a ski racing background. Racing suits the body positioning you need to have when skiing big peaks in Alaska or really technical terrain. Although, racers these days might have to tone down their style and loosen up their form when it comes to freeskiing. Aesthetically it looks better to come down a mountain looking effortless, and racers these days have too much aggressiveness in their technique.
Coming into the Extreme Freeskiing competitions and filming from a race background made me feel confident that I was capable of skiing anything. As a ski racer I raced in all the disciplines, which I think helped me adapt to all types of conditions and terrain. My Downhill and Super-G background helped with not being afraid of speed or air because I love going fast and feel comfortable when my feet leave the ground. My Slalom and Giant Slalom background helped with the very technical areas I would get into, narrow chutes and tight trees.
This January you were again named one of the top five female skiers in Powder Magazine's Reader Poll. What keeps you at the top after such an extensive skiing career?I am honored that I am still being voted for and considered one of the top female skiers. I am not sure if my love and enthusiasm for the sport keeps me in that position, but whatever the reason, I am grateful. I have not been in the spotlight as much in the past few seasons, yet I made the effort to have a few quality appearances in the magazines, so maybe that helped. This year it was hard to get any exposure because I gave birth to my son, Aksel, the day after Thanksgiving. Dropping out of the ski scene was not my choice though. I was back skiing just a few weeks after I gave birth and did my first Girls’ Clinics three and four weeks later. I might not be able to go on as long of ski trips, but I still hope to stay in the skiing world. There is nothing I love more than to go on ski adventures and to push the level of women’s skiing. I still feel like I have a lot to give to the sport. To still be named one of the top five female skiers in Powder Magazine's Reader Poll makes my day. It is nice to see that the people who are not a part of the ski industry still care.
What’s your favorite part about making and starring in ski movies?My favorite part is flying to peaks that you never could otherwise. When you are with a film crew like Matchstick Productions (MSP), which travels with some of the best skiers, you get the opportunity to land on peaks that the helicopter company doesn’t usually take their clients to. Also, being one of the few girls accepted into the boys’ club felt very rewarding to me. I was always the only girl when I went on a trip with MSP. I really had to work hard on not seeming scared when we would be flying in the heli towards a gnarly peak. I could not be with them if I was going to make them fly to something mellower. I wasn’t there to hold them back. The film trips were always about stepping up your level of skiing and finding new and more challenging lines to ski.
I also loved being out in the middle of nowhere. I always took in the moment and realized how unique and lucky I was to be experiencing the mountains the way I was. To also be able to ski with the top male skiers in the world definitely helped me step up my ability and level of skiing. The guys were always very supportive of me. After completing each run a huge feeling of accomplishment would come over me and then relief. It has been, and still is, a very rewarding and exciting career.
Wendy Fisher is sponsored by Salomon. When she’s not tearing up the mountain, she’s raising her son in Crested Butte, CO, and teaching the next generation what skiing is all about—fun.