Red Bull-sponsored freeskier Michelle Parker got her start growing up near Squaw Valley Resort in California. A racer up until age 15, Michelle found her true passion in freeskiing. This style of skiing involves tricks, jumps, and big-mountain terrain obstacles. Now one of the industry’s most versatile female skiers, she has competed at the most prestigious championship events including the US Open and the X Games.
In addition to her illustrious skiing career, Parker is a co-founder of avalanche safety program S.A.F.E.A.S. (Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety) and has appeared in numerous ski films, winning Best Female Performance at both the International Freeski Film Festival and the Powder Video Awards. Michelle continues to hit the slopes and is producing a new freeskiing film segment in 2016.
Mood of Living Q&A
Mood of Living: After starting your career as a ski racer, how did you discover that freeskiing was your true passion?
Michelle Parker: The freedom of choosing my own way down the mountain had me hooked. I love the structure of racing, but skiing quickly became such a big passion of mine that I longed for the freedom to take the sport in whatever direction I chose. Structure was not what I was looking for and thus I broke away from it and followed my intuition into the mountains.
MoL: What does it mean to you to be one of the industry’s most versatile female skiers?
MP: My passion and love for this sport has continuously developed as I have gained experience with skiing. Naturally, the direction that my skiing has gone in is never stagnant and continues to grow, giving me the opportunity to try new things and explore many different avenues of our sport. This keeps it fresh for me and also has allowed me to become more versatile as a skier. I am honored to be thought of in that way and all it really means to me is that I feel so incredibly lucky to pursue my passion in the mountains and hopefully inspire others to get outside and lead healthy lifestyles on the side.
MoL: Who is the most influential person in your life?
MP: Very hard to narrow that one down. There are so many incredible people in my life that I am influenced or inspired by. My friends and family are truly who have shaped me into the person I am today. I think I’ll have to put my dad down as number one. He’s my best friend and ultimately always has the best attitude and incredible guidance.
MoL: What motivates you?
MP: The mountains and the outdoors. That is where I find my motivation. Everything in my life is in place and I am working towards spending as much time outside as I possibly can. That is where I feel the most at ease and the most alive at the same time.
MoL: What puts you in a good mood?
MP: Hard not to be in a good mood really. I think I have the happy gene. Friends put me in a good mood. Being surrounded by motivated and passionate people who have dreams and love adventure in any form definitely puts me in a good mood. Playing my ukulele or listening to live music puts a smile on my face. Skiing untouched powder when it’s dumping out and laughing the whole time down the mountain puts me in a good mood. So many things!
MoL: What does success mean to you?
MP: Success, to me, is measured in good times and happiness.
MoL: What’s the best risk you’ve ever taken?
MP: At the time it felt like a risk not going to college directly out of high school, but I am so very thankful that I chose the path that I did.
MoL: As a competitor in such an extreme sport, are you ever afraid? If so, how do you overcome it?
MP: My year is dedicated to producing a film segment, so it’s a rare occasion that I am competing, but that is not to say I don’t have fear. My day of filming consists of maybe a warm-up run if I’m lucky, followed by dropping into a pristine line with cliffs and other features along the way, then repeating to find another line that is filmable. Before dropping in there is a mix of fear that comes to mind. The fear of the stability in the snow and having a safe exit if an avalanche were to occur, the fear of nailing the line to get the shot, and the fear of injury because all of these things are at play and possible.
The key to facing those fears is taking calculated risks and knowing what you are getting into. Having awareness of the snowpack, the line, and your ability are important factors. If all of these things line up and I am confident in my decision-making and my ability, then the fear becomes less and that is when I drop in. If you are unsure about any of the fears, then you don’t drop in; you pull out and reassess. Fear is a very real thing and it’s important to have that emotion, but it is also really wise to be able to listen to your instincts and know exactly what you are getting into. Ignorance is not bliss in the mountains.
I also really like to breathe to help calm the heart rate down and focus.
MoL: Where do you find peace? Do you have a photo of this special place?
MP: I find peace in the outdoors. Away from distraction, cell service, people, and civilization. When you can take all of that away it is easier to be very present. In being present, I find peace.
MoL: What advice can you give to anyone interested in pursuing a career as a freeskier?
MP: Always do everything for yourself and not for anyone else. Don’t do something because there is a potential sponsor there, or because there is a camera pointed at you, only do it if it is for yourself. If you do this I think you are doing it right.
MoL: Do you have a philosophy for living positively?
MP: Find joy in small things and smile often. Laugh hard and loosen up. Don’t take yourself or anything too seriously as life is all about having fun and enjoying the moment. To do this you have to be present with your surroundings including people and your environment, something that I am constantly working on.
MoL: Tell us about your involvement with the S.A.F.E.A.S. Clinic.
MP: S.A.F.E A.S. was conceived by myself and four other professional skiers in 2012. Our ultimate goal is to build community, promote safety, and influence skiers and snowboarders of all abilities in a positive, encouraging environment while benefiting charities that also promote safety, health, and outdoor opportunities. We teach a one-day avalanche clinic and go on tour every December around the western U.S. It’s been a really fun way to give back to the community that has supported us throughout our careers.
Avalanche awareness and safe travel in the mountains are imperative, and this aspect of our sport is continuously growing in numbers. We want to promote safety in a super fun way. So far we have reached over 600 women and raised nearly $20,000 for various non-profits. This year we are adding a co-ed clinic as in the past we have been focused on women.
MoL: What is your favorite mountain in the world? What mountains have you yet to conquer on your bucket list?
MP: My favorite mountain in the world is Squaw Valley. It holds so many amazing memories for me that it would be hard to beat. I do find myself dreaming of Alaska often. The mountains up there are quite magical. I typically don’t like to think of mountains as objects to be conquered. Being humble in the mountains is the key to staying alive and not getting injured, but there are a few peaks out there that certainly have caught my eye and when the time is right, I will be there.
MoL: Besides freeskiing, what other sports and activities do you enjoy?
MP: Aside from skiing, I love pretty much anything and everything outdoors. It’s hard not to find an activity that I fall in love with, but my favorite sports and runners-up to skiing would be climbing and mountain biking. These three sports keep me pretty busy year-round and also really engaged. Summers in Tahoe are ubiquitous for activities, especially given the environment. Sailing, surfing, hiking, camping, and hanging with my doggies are all high on the list. I also love playing the ukelele and jamming with my friends. Photography, reading, cooking, and working with wood are also pretty enjoyable, especially on those rainy days or when I need a rest because I’ve been playing outside too much.
MoL: We would love to know more about your personal lifestyle: when you are at home, do you cook? What do you eat to have a balanced diet at home? What is your favorite recipe? How do you manage to eat a healthy diet while on the road?
MP: I love to cook and prepare my own meals so I know exactly what goes into them. I shop at the farmers market and get a weekly box delivered that has local, organic, and seasonal fruits and veggies in it. My meals are based on what comes in the box, so they are typically very veggie heavy. My favorite meal is a Yumm bowl. You can put whatever veggies in a bowl with some brown rice or quinoa and pour Yumm sauce on top (I make it at home, but you can also buy it at the Yumm Cafe in Oregon).
I don’t go by a specific diet because when I am on the road I like to be able to eat anything and not stress, but I shy away from sugar, processed foods, and junk food which is relatively easy because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. No strict rules though; when you have to eat, you have to eat, and I’d rather not stress on the road about my diet. Fresh, local, organic, and in season would be the best way to describe what I eat.
MoL: What does your home look like? How does the style of your home reflect your personality?
MP: This spring I took it upon myself to remodel my home. Myself and one other friend are doing all of the work with a few calls to the plumber and electrician. It’s the first time that I have carved out some time to really put into my home and making it what I want it to be. The work is hard, but very rewarding. It’s really fun to design and build and recycle materials. The theme of the remodel is simplicity and in the process I am getting rid of a lot of unnecessary stuff. Your home and your stuff is a reflection of your mind and if you can keep it organized and minimalistic, I think that helps keep your head clear as well.
MoL: Do you have any pets?
MP: There are two dogs that live at my house, Lito and Layton. Although they aren’t my dogs, I treat them as my own and I get the benefits of having a pet but don’t have to worry about them while I’m on the road. I travel too much to be a responsible pet owner right now. One day I will definitely have a dog or maybe two. Love them! Layton is a rescue pup found on the side of the road in Laytonville, CA and Lito was rescued from Mexico when my roommate Ian was on a motorcycle surf trip. Lito traveled up to Tahoe in a computer bag via motorcycle and looks like a coyote.
MoL: What is your favorite smell?
MP: A home cooked meal, I love food!
MoL: What music have you been listening to lately?
MP: Eddie Vedder’s “Society”– check it out. Love that song. I’ve been playing a lot of ukulele, so my music taste has slightly changed to songs that I would like to play, but I mix it up quite often. I am also really into Paddo Cosmo right now, really calms the nerves and chills me right out.
MoL: Favorite color and why?
MP: Green, always has been. A color that represents growth and is ever-present in the outdoors.
MoL: What makes a meaningful life?
MP: A meaningful life is one lived with passion. If you can find passion in everything that you do and take care in what you do, I think that it gives life meaning. No matter if it’s answering e-mails, creating special memories, or being a part of your community, being passionate is such a meaningful feeling and way of life.
MoL: What do you want your legacy to be?
MP: I hope that I have helped to put a smile on people’s faces and maybe inspired them to live a happy life, to appreciate the outdoors, and to stay positive.
Facebook: Michelle Parker