Six-time X Games medalist in slopestyle and women’s freeskiing pioneer
THE FIRST TIME I MET GRETE ELIASSEN,
she was 20, wearing neon-green high-top sneakers, and skipping off a plane in Reno, Nevada, on her way to a photo shoot in Tahoe. At the time, she was a spunky, fast-talking, raplistening college kid at the University of Utah, but her main gig was pro skier on the rise. She’d recently nabbed her third X Games medal in halfpipe and debuted a flashy segment in Poor Boyz Productions’ latest ski flick. That was 2007.
Ten years later and Eliassen, now 30, still makes a living as a pro skier, but her life looks a lot different now. When I called her last spring, she was sitting in the lodge at Solitude ski area in Utah, trading off skiing with her husband while her infant son slept in his car seat next to her. This is the first time she’s talking publicly about becoming a mother.
“I got to this point where I was just over skiing icy slopestyle courses in contests,” she says. “I just wanted to be home, skiing powder. I have this baby now. That’s my focus.”
Eliassen was born in Minnesota but grew up partially in Norway, where her extended family is from. An elite ski racer until age 16, she switched to freestyle skiing when twin tips were a growing phenomenon. At that time, being a female pro freeskier was barely a thing—Wendy Fisher, then Ingrid Backstrom were just starting to grab screen time in ski movies and women weren’t yet allowed to compete at the X Games.
“Back then, we had to ski as hard as we could just to prove a point,” Eliassen says. “We had to find the right athlete manager and say, ‘Hey, you should probably get a female skier on your roster.’ We had to hustle.”
Fellow halfpiper Sarah Burke introduced her to the Women’s Sports Foundation and Eliassen became an athlete advisor for the organization, whose goal is to help give girls equal access to sports. Over the next decade, she racked up six X Games medals in slopestyle and halfpipe, four U.S. Open titles, a world-record hip jump, and she co-produced and starred in her own women’s ski movie, Say My Name, which won a bunch of awards circa 2010.
She got married in 2013 to a guy who works in renewable energy and they bought a house deep in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon. Traveling for contests began to feel like a chore. “I can ski to my house. It’s my heaven. Why would I want to leave?” she says.
But when ski slopestyle and halfpipe made their Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, Eliassen, then 26 and a decade older than some of the girls she was up against, wanted to give it a shot. After all, she’d helped build this sport from the rails up and she wanted to see it shine on the world stage. She tried, but she wasn’t able to qualify for the highly-competitive U.S. team.
“When I didn’t make the team, I was like, ‘Maybe I should get a real job,’” she says. So she took a role as marketing director of a new instant messaging app called Wickr. She liked the work but she dreaded the conference calls, the screen time. “I just wanted to be outside,” she says. She left a year later.
Eliassen was over competing, but she still loved filming and skiing powder. So in the winter of 2016, she traveled to Switzerland to shoot with Warren Miller Entertainment. On the trip, she felt oddly sluggish and queasy. Turns out, she was pregnant.
She told her family and friends and her ski sponsors, but she kept the news off the internet. During her pregnancy, she only posted photos of her back so her followers couldn’t see her swelling belly. “As a female athlete, when do you come out and tell people you’re going to become a mom?” she says. “I just believe I don’t want my kid to live on social media.”
Reducing barriers for women in sports remains a priority for her, and Eliassen now serves as president of the Board of Trustees at the Women’s Sports Foundation, a two-year term she took on in January 2017. “I was given so much through the ski industry, so this is my way of giving back,” she says.
In her new life, her mom life, her switching-off-to-ski-while-one-parentsits-in-the-lodge-with-the-baby life, Eliassen has found a new identity. But hints of her former self, the roof-raising renegade I first met near baggage claim, still linger. “I have that mom intuition now. I’ve got to be able to come home every day. I’ve got to play it safe,” she says. “But I definitely want to be the mom who’s still doing 360 grabs.”
ANNELISE LOEVLIE, CEO AT ICELANTIC SKIS, AND I HIKE ALONG
the ridge at Colorado’s Silverton Mountain in our ski boots. Our skis are strapped to our packs and we’re headed towards Billboard, Silverton’s highest point, though we plan on dropping in halfway there on Rope Dee Ramp. The hike feels good after seven hours in a car to get here.
We spent yesterday’s drive catching up, and talking about how we got to where we are today. I’m fascinated to hear what it’s like to take the reins at an internationally recognized ski company. As CEO, she is arguably one of the most successful women I’ve met in the ski industry and I fantasize about how green the grass must be on the other side. Turns out, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, it’s a role that comes with its fair share of challenges and the grass I imagined probably took years of fertilizing before it was even remotely presentable.
On the mountain we mostly hike in silence, Loevlie’s long, blonde braid swaying near her waist with each step, lost in thoughts that come and go as only they can on a mountain ridge. Naturally, when we reach the top of our line, cans of rosé are popped to celebrate. Someone has a fanny pack with built-in speakers blasting a popular dance song neither of us could name and the next thing you know there’s an impromptu dance party at the top of Rope Dee Ramp. “Hell yeah,” Loevlie says, smiling. “Stoked.”
As one of two full-time female employees at Icelantic Skis, Loevlie revels in girl time. The small office plays host to a regular crew of six employees where the male-to-female ratio is not amazing, but definitely could be worse. She’s also learned that balance is key to sanity when you’re the boss. In the early days, there was a lot of change as Loevlie restructured. Making unpopular decisions like firing friends, closing down offices, and plugging holes where the company was hemorrhaging money were essential to keep things afloat. “It wasn’t easy, and it almost killed me.” The struggle and pain of making big moves that would later help define the company’s success almost proved to be the demise of a new CEO.
Atop Rope Dee Ramp we share a lighthearted and magical moment in the mountains— surrounded by like-minded beings, drowning in sunshine, views for days—the type that Loevlie lives for. She tells me as much later, over cocktails, “I need to take some time for myself everyday, and lots of times I find that silence and peace in nature.” Silence aside in this moment, it’s where Loevlie taps into her instinct and intuition.
Loevlie’s love for nature is a big piece of what coaxed her out of the depression she found herself in after making tough business decisions early in her tenure as CEO. Returning to her roots has not only helped Loevlie turn a corner, but it’s also made the difference for Icelantic’s success. After years of taking investor money to stay afloat, Icelantic has been profitable for the last two years.
Our Rope Dee Ramp hike and the ensuing spring runs are welcome highs for Loevlie, who’s reveling in the unpleasantries of a recent heartbreak. Throughout the weekend, I learn that her intuneness with her emotions also extends to the office. “I cry all the time at the office. I think they’ve all kind of gotten used to it by now.” At first self-conscious about shedding tears at the office and in big board meetings, Loevlie now embraces it as a badge of strength. “I cry because I’m passionate, and then I’m laughing 30 seconds later.” Indeed, we’re a long way from the Old Boys Club.
“I want to be the mom who’s doing 360 grabs.” Grete Eliassen is dedicated to taking down barriers for female athletes.
Icelantic CEO Annelise Loevlie takes a decidedly different approach to running a ski brand.