Christy Mahon on Climbing and Skiing All of Colorado’s 14ers
A Q&A with an Outside in Aspen participant
Christy Mahon is best known for becoming the first woman to ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in 2010, but she has also climbed all the 14ers in the state and run two 100-mile races. Mahon now serves as the development director for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and is a regular attendee at Outside In Aspen
XX FactorOutside asks Christy about completing her goal of skiing all the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.
How did you get started working with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies?
A friend and ski partner of mine reached out to me. The center is at a really exciting time and trying to reach its goal potential. It’s an environmental organization that’s been around for decades, and now we’ve grown to have four sites throughout the valley and just hired a new CEO. It was a fun opportunity for me to take what I love so much about living in Aspen and being in the mountains and share my love for nature with everyone else. It was a good intersection of the things I love to do, work-wise and personally. As the development director, I work a lot on fundraising, events and getting people psyched to be part of the organization.
You’ve said you started skiing all Colorado’s 14ers as your husband’s partner. What other people or events in your life have inspired your adventures?
Moving to Aspen was a huge influence in my life. It’s a community where people are doing amazing things, nothing is considered too much and anything is possible. I’m around people that are using every single minute of their day in some incredible way to push themselves not only physically but also personally.
Aspen is not an easy place to live; it’s limited as far as job opportunities, and it’s a smaller population. Sometimes the job that you were trained in or the profession you thought you were going to do doesn’t exist here, so you have to think outside the box and be creative. You have to figure out how you’re going to make this lifestyle work, whether that’s starting your own business or participating in something that maybe you wouldn’t have seen yourself doing in college. I think this community has definitely been one of the biggest influences in my life.
Would you consider skiing all of Colorado’s 14ers your biggest accomplishment?
I do, at least for ski mountaineering. It took more than six years for me to do that, and it was also something no other woman had done before. I have some big accomplishments in other parts of my life, such as running my first 100-mile race, but I certainly haven’t done anything else that no other woman has done, and as far as the commitment, it was a pretty big project.
We often hear about the first woman to complete something that multiple men have already done. Has being a woman influenced your motivation at all?
I think women have recently been more on the same plane as men, but the bigger gap is the amount of women out there doing it. In ski mountaineering and ultra-running races, the gap between women and men isn’t even that big, but the amount of women that are doing it is. I think that makes the gap feel bigger. That’s one thing I’ve noticed when I’m asked to talk to a group. I think, “Oh wow, I’m not actually a professional skier or a professional runner. Why would they want me to be part of this?” But it’s really the fact that there aren’t that many women doing it, so the pool of women to ask to be motivational speakers or share their stories is super limited. I think women and men are pretty equal in some of these sports, like biking, running and mountaineering. It’s the number difference that is so great.
For your Outside in Aspen bio, you said your adventures have inspired others, “especially women, to set goals, get outside, and find something extraordinary in every day.” Do you have any specific anecdotes of a time you felt you personally inspired someone?
I’ve inspired my little sister to add running to her life, and she has become a really fast marathon runner and running coach. My mom also started running, and now she’s done triathlons and half-marathons. Seeing the impact I’ve had on my family and how contagious it is to set a goal and go out and achieve it is really cool. My family members are probably the closest people to me, so it’s been really special to see my influence on them. Now we can all share the same stories and feelings of the highs and lows of trying to set goals and accomplish them.
I’ve also been involved with a youth group called Girl PowHER. It’s a group of 13- to 16-year-old girls in the valley who are from underprivileged families. I’ve worked with them to instill the confidence they need to go ahead and participate in sports like mountain biking, running and parachuting.
The 13- to 16-year-old age for girls is really important. There are a lot of girls who don’t have the confidence they need, so I’ve been working with them, speaking with them and doing some events and races that show they can do this. They come from families who don’t necessarily support them, so they need to look to other women outside their immediate families for inspiration and support, and that’s been really rewarding. You look back at what it was like to be 13, and it’s really nice being able to provide some support and confidence. It’s a really important age for women.
In an interview with 5280, you said “The more you are out there doing things on your bucket list, the longer your list gets.” What else is on your bucket list right now?
A lot of my long-term goals have to be close by, almost in Colorado, because I have a full-time job. I’m not a sponsored athlete, so it’s hard to set a goal in Nepal to climb those highest peaks, though I would if I could. A realistic long-term goal would be continuing to ski around the country and the world, including another Himalayan peak. We did Ama Dablum a few years back, and we’re really trying to find a way to get back there. The list is pretty long.
What are you looking forward to about Outside in Aspen this year?
I’m really looking forward to going this year because I actually get to meet and be around the athletes and people who inspire me. To be able to hang out with them and get to know them, either on a hike or having a glass of wine with them and just talking, is really special for me. I’ve been really impressed with the event for the last few years—I think I’ve gone every year—so I’m really excited to be participating.
Are there any other projects you’re working on?
Outside in Aspen, June 8-10, is a weekend filled with outfitter-led adventure, including mountain and road biking, kayaking, rafting, trail running, fly-fishing, hiking, stand-up river paddling, and rock climbing for all skill levels. The weekend also includes parties, a base camp featuring Outside’s Gear of the Year, a symposium with professional adventure athletes and Outside personalities.