Team Clif Bar’s Bella Wright has spent her entire life chasing speed. At the age of three, she clicked into her first pair of skis and started following her two older brothers, Cole and Bronson, around the notorious terrain of her home mountain, Snowbird. At the age of six, she and her brothers jumped into Snowbird’s racing program. Now, at the age of 22, Wright has established herself as an accomplished junior athlete and recently wrapped up the best NorAm season of her career.
She stepped onto the NorAm podium for the first time, taking third in the downhill standings behind U.S. Ski Teamers AJ Hurt and Keely Cashman. She finished fifth in the NorAm super-G standings and sixth in the overall NorAm standings (fifth in terms of Americans), a major improvement on her overall finish of 14th in the 2017/18 season.
“Growing up I would chase my older brothers, I would chase all the boys, and then I was at a point where I could chase really fast girls,” says Wright. “That’s what inspired me and that’s what kept pushing me, was there were people out there that were better than me and I needed to step up my level each time to get to the next point.”
It seems that each year, Wright ticks off another box on her list of long term goals. Since leaving U16’s and kicking off her first FIS year, Wright has been racing on the NorAm circuit full-time. Prior to joining Team Clif, Wright represented Snowbird, Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard, and what is now the National Training Group for a few seasons. Otherwise, she was just making it work on her own with the support of her family and the NorAm community.
“I think that a lot of people can be really intimidated by the NorAm circuit because it is the best skiers in North America competing. And especially in your first FIS year, you’re so young, but I think it’s really good to just jump in head first and realize there’s a lot of great skiers and I need to chase them,” says Wright. “I’m learning more than I would from going to a race where everyone is on my same level. I don’t think that’s as inspiring, I don’t think it’s as motivating as an athlete. I think you need those people to push you to be better and to progress faster.”
Now that Wright has reached one of her major goals, finishing top ten in the overall NorAm standings, the young athlete looks to keep pushing her limits and taking her skiing to another level. Next season, Wright plans to dive into the Europa Cup circuit in addition to competing in all disciplines on the NorAm circuit. While she has raced in Europe before, she has never fully committed to competing in the Europa Cup but knows that it is necessary if she wants to see how she stacks up on the world stage.
“Ski racing there is like football here. It’s a huge sport, and there’s a lot more competition and there’s a lot more involvement over there,” explains Wright. “It’s a huge feat, but that’s what you would be doing on the World Cup. So it’s that next step for me, to go over there and try and compete with not only the best in North America but Europe as well.”
Ski racing independently is tough, but to Wright, it is the only thing she can do if she wants to achieve her dream of earning a World Cup spot. Now, as a member of Team Clif Bar (alpine racing’s first professional, company-backed, independent program), Wright has the extra support she needs to not only continue progressing on the NorAm circuit but also in the Europa Cup. Her and her teammates, AJ Ginnis, Hig Roberts, and Lila Lapanja, each have their own individual programs and goals, but all want the same thing at the end of the day – to compete on the World Cup level.
“It’s really cool to feel supported by someone or something much bigger than yourself,” says Wright. “That’s something I’ve never really felt before. I think that that changed my season, and is why I had more success – was because I actually felt like somebody was backing up not only me, but ski racing in general and that’s something I want to see more of.”
Despite lacking an official team for the majority of her career, Wright has been paving her own path to achieve her goals. Racing full-time on the NorAm circuit in all disciplines is not incredibly common, especially as an independent athlete. Tackling a full program is a huge workload, and she admits it’s something that she is often questioned for. Although she tends to excel in speed, she continues to race and train in the technical events to hang on to the skills that have become the foundation of her skiing.
For Wright, it’s not all about getting into gates. She may be an accomplished racer, but she is also an excellent freeskier, and can often be found hucking cliffs and skiing bumps when running around the mountain with friends, a few other activities that are not so popular in the developmental racing community due to the high risk of injury.
“I think people forget how much training goes into [racing] and how repetitive it can get. Always hitting gates and doing the same thing over and over can really take the passion out of it,” explains Wright. “It’s huge to have other passions in terms of skiing. I think it can bring back the inner child in you and remind you that’s what you grew up loving – having skis on your feet and touching the snow and arcing in the snow and skiing bumps and hitting cliffs and doing silly things that make you smile. And I think that’s what separated me from a lot of my competitors. It wasn’t always so focused on the gate side of things, it’s always been about being a good skier.”
Wright’s sheer love of the sport, determination to succeed, and capacity to handle the ups and downs of an independent ski racing career shows in her growth as a competitor across the years she has raced on the NorAm circuit. As she continues to chase the top athlete’s in North America and sets her sights on climbing the ranks in Europe, Wright continues to hold on to what makes her unique as an athlete and as a person. She wants to see the sport grow, and keep ski racing fun.
“I don’t like to think of skiing as a job even though it is technically my career and what I aspire to have my career be,” she says. “It’s about being in the mountains, being in the community around you, seeing everyone and how much they enjoy skiing, whether they are age 3 or age 90. I don’t want to think of it as a 9-5, I want to think of it as I’m skiing, I’m doing one of the coolest things you can do as a human. “