WILLISTON, Vt. — Born and bred Vermont ski racer Ashley Maxfield honed her edging skills during her four and a half years as a spandex-clad speedster at Burke Mountain Academy, but her eyes were opened wide to the endless possibilities of big mountain skiing as a college student at Montana State University. Today, she spends her winters traveling the globe and competing in the Freeride World Tour, where she placed fourth overall last season. This year, she’s ratcheted the goal even higher.
“I want to be the first American world champion in my sport,” said Maxfield, who thinks her past experience should pay off big in the coming season. In 2011 and 2012, she placed third overall in the Freeskiing World Tour, and last year she podiumed at the Kirkwood stop.
Three slipped vertebrae in her neck led her to abandon her ski racing pursuits in college, but that didn’t hold her back from exploring everything Montana had to offer.
“The year after I got hurt I started coaching for the YSL program at Bridger Bowl, and I had to basically show the kids around everything. That’s kind of where I got into big mountain. Seeing little 7- and 8-year olds fall in love with it at the same time you’re falling in love with big mountain skiing is pretty cool.”
After instructing for a few winters at Jay Peak, Maxfield decided to try her hand at the Extreme Competition there (part of the Ski the East Freeride Tour) in 2010, and she walked away with a victory after beating all the guys in the event. That win pre-qualified her for the Freeskiing World Tour, which she embarked on full-time during the 2010/11 season.
“Work ethic and being able to ski well on hardpack,” are two skills Maxfield attributes to her upbringing in the gates. “It’s the technique and the turns. There’s a difference between somebody who grew up on the freeride or freestyle side of it compared to somebody with a ski racing background whose technique is solid through anything.”
These days, Maxfield competes on the Freeride World Tour, the name assigned when the freeride and freeskiing tours merged last season, and she’s had to adjust to new course inspection protocols, rules, and judging criteria.
“Coming from ski racing where you get to slip the course… getting to see where you’re going to take off and where you’re going to land to visual inspection only is a huge difference. It’s from all those years of ski racing, but when I’m on a course I can visually see where I want to go. But when you’re just looking at it through a pair of binoculars, it can be a little rough.”
Maxfield’s years on the tour have not been without tragedy. In 2011, she was at the competition in Kirkwood when her best friend Ryan Hawks, also from Vermont, died after suffering traumatic internal injuries from a hard landing on course.
“Since Ryan’s death, I’ve taken a step back and looked at it a lot differently than when I first started,” admitted Maxfield. “I’m choosing lines now that I’d want to ski everyday; it may not be the winning line, but why would I want to be doing this sport if I’m not having fun?”
After kickstarting the season with the first competition in Revelstoke, Canada, Dec. 18-23, Maxfield will fly to France on Christmas Day and spend most of her off-tour time in Chamonix, where she hopes to expand upon her knowledge base of mountaineering and big mountain skiing and apply those skills to her quest to win the world title.