Elyse Saugstad, 31, is one of the top women freeskiers on the planet, and The Levitation Project recently released a solo video of her footage. (Check it out below. Pretty badass.) I caught up with her this evening while she and fiancé Cody Townsend were driving to Tahoe to catch the latest dump.
Kate Siber: So why live in Tahoe?
Elyse Saugstad: There's such a scene there. With the terrain at Squaw, you can see everything around you, and it's easier for people to take notice of good skiers. As a pro, you can be discovered that way. I grew up in Girdwood, Alaska, and I could ski really steep faces fast and fluid. When I started skiing at Squaw, I started jumping cliffs more. Squaw is a great place to get better at jumping cliffs because there are often low consequences. You can start with small ones and work up to the bigger stuff.
What's the plan for the rest of the winter?
It's definitely up in the air and it will revolve around where the snow is. I might compete as a freeskier, but I would prefer to focus on filming. I want to help show that there are other women besides Ingrid [Backstrom] who are skiing really well and can make an impression.
People probably ask you this a lot: Why aren't there more women pros like yourself out there? Films are always crammed with dudes.
That's a hard question to answer. It's the chicken or the egg scenario. Part of it is that there is only a handful of women who are pushing it. But on the same token, some women aren't getting the opportunities to test their skills. They need to be able to push it and show they're capable, too. I myself am still breaking in. It hard to get the chance [to prove yourself] with film companies.
How do you manage to push it?
Fear is always something that's present, but you can't let it affect the overall picture. It's about how you deal with it. If you let fear overtake you, you'll end up hesitating and you'll end up making mistakes. You start questioning yourself. It's about focusing that energy and staying positive and confident.
Do you think the fact that you are engaged to pro skier Cody Townsend helps or hurts your career?
I definitely feel very lucky that he's a professional skier as well. I've had boyfriends in the past that could be threatened by me. Cody is extremely supportive of me and my success, and I feel the same about him. The only difficulty is when we travel separately and won't see each other for a long time.
How do you think your friends would describe you?
Loyal. Dedicated. Hard-working. Intense—sometimes that's good, sometimes it's bad. At the end of the day I make sure whatever I'm doing I have a smile on my face. But yeah [laughs], intense.