XX Factor

Skiers

    Photo: Robert Maxwell

HILAREE O'NEILL 30
Ski Mountaineer
Telluride, Colorado

WHY SHE RULES: Hilaree O'Neill once scouted powder stashes from the cracked leather seat of a standard double chairlift. That was before a ski-bumming stint in Chamonix, where the Seattle native discovered climbing skins and a talent that has transformed her into an elite ski mountaineer and an Alaska heli-skiing guide. "In seven years I've gone from 'Crampons? What are those?' to guiding in unskied regions of Mongolia," says O'Neill. A North Face-sponsored athlete since 1999, O'Neill has claimed first tracks in unmapped regions of China, Lebanon, and Tibet, and in 2002 she fronted the first ski expedition to eastern Mongolia's Five Holy Peaks. "There were no maps, no photos, no nothing," she says of her trip up and down the 15,000-foot towers on the China-Russia border. "You didn't even consider freaking out." As the only female on the nine-guide team at Dean Cummings's Valdez, Alaska-based H2O Heli Guides, O'Neill leads (mostly male) clients down open bowls and unnamed peaks in the 7,000-foot Chugach Mountains. She also runs weeklong Chicks in the Chugach heli-skiing camps, designed to teach women to feel as comfortable ripping through the backcountry as she does. SAYS WHO: "Hilaree has an unmatched, easygoing attitude, mental and physical toughness, and endurance," says Cummings, 38, former world extreme-skiing champion. "She's opening doors for women to build careers in mountaineering." STRONGEST BODY PART: Stomach lining. In Mongolia, O'Neill and her team subsisted for 14 days on goat fat, horse meat, and other local delicacies. "We ate boiled marmot—with no salt," she laments. "It would have been so much better with salt." FORWARD SPIN: O'Neill will climb and ski Myanmar's 19,296-foot Hkakabo Razi, near the China-India border, in fall 2004. "It's only been climbed once, by a Japanese mountaineer who said it was harder than Everest," says O'Neill. "Who knows if we can ski it, but we might as well try." —TRACY ROSS

CHARLOTTE MOATS 23
Big-Mountain Freeskier
Jackson, Wyoming

WHY SHE RULES: Charlotte Moats is a double-shifter, juggling an old-school Ivy League education and a new-school freeskiing career. "It keeps me honest," she says. "Neither world on its own is that significant." Put them together, though, and you've got a downhill firecracker with brawn and brains. In addition to her spot on Dartmouth's dean's list, the senior geography major can claim six first descents in Alaska's Chugach Mountains, the 2002 World Endurance Skiing Champion title, first place at the 2000 Canadian Freeskiing Championships, and a gold medal in slalom from the 1995 Junior Olympics. Not to mention a promising ski-flick career, which includes appearances in Warren Miller's 2002 Storm and Teton Gravity Research's 2003 release High Life. Her gender stands out in difficult terrain, and she laughs when the topic comes up. "The main difference between being a woman in a sport and being a man in a sport," she says, "is that you're asked that question constantly. I absolutely believe in strength in numbers. The more women in the sport, the better it will get for everyone." SAYS WHO: "In the midst of difficult and potentially dangerous conditions, she was calm and focused," says veteran ski photographer Paul Morrison, 49, of Moats's winning composure at the Andes Photo Challenge freeskiing competition in Portillo, Chile, in September. HER ULTIMATE SURVIVAL SKILL: Denial. "When I'm alone on a ridge, I try to focus only on the snow before me and the line I intend to ski," says Moats. "I don't think about the rocks or the exposed drop-offs or the avalanche danger. If I did, I'd be dead." FORWARD SPIN: After turning in her thesis—on rural transportation in New Hampshire—and picking up her Dartmouth diploma in early December, Moats will ski her first unabridged winter, competing in the World Tour of Freeskiing (starting in Whistler, in January) and attempting first descents in Belarus and Chile. —LISA ANNE AUERBACH

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