GRETE ELIASSEN

Six-time X Games medal­ist in slopestyle and women’s freeski­ing pioneer

SKI - - CLINIC -

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.

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