Females in the Fall Line: The lessons and successes of skiing women
Turning a passion in to a career is something that most people only dream of and often seems unrealistic. If you’re reading SkiRacing.com, it’s safe to say you share the same obsession and have devoted yours or your family’s lives to this crazy sport. Luckily for us, it’s actually a healthy obsession that provides amazing tools, opportunities and lifelong benefits that can set us up for success in all aspects of life.
Ski racing and competition, at the intense level we pursue, creates life-learning experiences that few people likely encounter in other daily endeavors. The quest for perfection – be it the perfect turn, holding an edge, tactics or confidence – all correlate in some way to what we need to succeed in other pursuits. Garnering the nerve to tackle down a steep icy pitch feels strangely similar to mustering the confidence to take on a new career challenge.
Almost all ski racers reach a point in their career where they have to hang it up and ask themselves, “What’s next?” At this point in life, it’s likely the hardest decision a still relatively young athlete has ever had to make. How do you walk away from something you’ve devoted your whole life to, something that’s been so great to you, especially if you still feel like you have more to give?
It was no different for me.
I experienced that very same “OMG, what’s next?” panic attack that I had hoped to avoid. I thought I’d be a ski racer forever! After graduating from the University of Denver in 2009, when jobs were scarce and I wasn’t quite ready to abandon my World Cup dream, I had some soul searching to do. I had a really difficult time transitioning out of competing. I was still so consumed, but also had a diploma in my hand that I was ready to put to use.
Luckily for me, I was still scouring SkiRacing.com daily at the time and stumbled upon an internship opportunity. Six years later after trying my hand at every area of the SR business, I’m now the Publisher. I’m fortunate to now to call World Cup finishes, training courses, FIS conference rooms and the U.S. Ski Team’s Center of Excellence my office.
My background in the sport and the skills I’ve acquired allowed me to find success in this career. The late Gary Black Jr., who I believe has been one of the greatest patrons of American ski racing of all time, had a gift for assembling a great team. Our staff of five (currently comprised of four women!) places a lot of value in women’s perspectives. Gary allowed me to be the individual who I am, not inhibited by limitations that might be imposed on women in other businesses, but as a person who was not confined by boundaries. I now have the confidence to tackle the business world of the ski industry all while keeping it fun, placing myself in the vortex of what is happening in the sport to pursue excellence for our media entity.
Our SkiRacing.com team, all former ski racers, has a strong foundation to take on the tough challenges that come at us, sometimes nearly every day. Pressing deadlines? Solving technical digital issues? Coordinating meetings, coverage and negotiations on different continents? Building new relationships? Well, those are all things we’ve faced before while rising through the ranks of the sport of ski racing.
Yes, it helps that we have a deep understanding of our sport from doing it ourselves. But what skiing gives you after what it demands of you helps in many other ways – from work ethic to in-the-moment concentration, to commitment in pursuing success. Those things can be positive forces in other aspects of your career and life outside of the sport.
I’ve recently discovered that there are many more ways to stay involved in the sport than I ever imagined, especially for women.
Blizzard and Tecnica are companies with deep ski racing roots that employ a number of former ski racers, acknowledging that they are the most well-rounded, passionate and driven members of their staff. They also have a handful of sharp, ripping women on board that they feel are bringing a much needed female perspective to all areas of the business.
Hear from four Blizzard Tecnica women, all working with different communities in the industry, who have also created their own unique paths in the ski industry. They all point credit to the tools and skill set they were able to acquire through the sport of ski racing.
Meet the Women
Leslie Baker Brown grew up skiing at Mt. Sunapee in N.H., spent a gap year after high school skiing with George Capaul at Waterville Valley, and was a 3-time NCAA All American and the 1982 NCAA GS champion while attending Middlebury College. She went on to race for five years on the Women’s Pro Tour and competed in the Waterville World Cup in 1978. She is currently the Blizzard Tecnica Marketing Manager.
Mariaelena Rizzieri grew up skiing at Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites and racing for the Cortina Ski Club where she was coached by Roberto Gillarduzzi from the age of eight, someone who proved to be a friend, motivator, supporter, mentor and source of inspiration. At 17, she was selected to the Italian national team and competed until she was 21, racing European Cups, World Junior Championships, World Cup, and the World University Games. After an ACL injury, she enrolled at the University of Denver where she raced on the NCAA circuit while obtaining a degree in finance and marketing. She currently works at Tecnica Group as a project manager for the Tecnica and Blizzard female collection including the WomenToWomen project.
Keely Kelleher grew up in Big Sky, Mont., where the cheapest daycare in town was ski school. Kelleher ski raced for 22 years, eight of which were on the U.S. Ski Team. She competed on the World Cup speed circuit for four of those years, scoring regularly and winning the 2010 U.S. national super-G title. In 2011, Kelleher founded the first girls’ only racing and backcountry ski camp in North America, Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls. Through authentic experiences and an all-female coaching staff, Kelleher’s mission is to empower, inspire, educate, and connect the next generation of girls in skiing.
Heidi Voelker spent her formative years in Pittsfield, Mass., at a tiny ski area named Bousquet. She enrolled at Stratton Mountain School and was named to the U.S. Ski Team in 1985 when she was 15. During her 12-year national team career, she competed as a member of three Olympics (1988, 1992, 1994) and three world championship teams (1989, 1991, 1993). She was the World Junior slalom silver medalist in 1987. After she left racing, she moved into her current position at Deer Valley Resort as Ambassador of Skiing, which she has now done for 20 years. She has also been with Blizzard Tecnica for nearly as long.