Please help us give a warm welcome to Osprey’s newest athlete—Jessica Baker, founder of Ski Divas. We sat down with Jessica to learn a little bit more about her story, how she got started in her career and talk about her upcoming BIWOC (Black, Indigenous and Women of Color) Ski Camp(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre).
Hi Jessica! Can you tell us a little about yourself? Were you always active in the outdoors? Both growing up as an adult?
I grew up in the outdoors on a small rural farm in northern Idaho. I spent most of my youth running around in the woods, taking care of animals, growing things, hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing and skiing. My connection to the outdoors was all I knew from a young age, and for that I am very thankful. The mossy floor of a cedar grove was my carpet, and the frogs in the pond on our farm were the symphony at night. The outdoors and nature were my companion and have always been a place of solace for me.
Has your relationship with the outdoors changed since childhood?
To be honest, it hasn’t changed much. I have built my life around the outdoors and skiing. I feel thankful to have built my life around these things—I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It’s not the most lucrative or stable profession, but there are many rewards that are priceless and go beyond monetary compensation.
Skiing has obviously become a big part of your life. Where did that story begin?
I have been skiing since I was 5 years old. I come from multiple generations of skiers—my mom learned how to ski in Pennsylvania along with my grandmother and grandfather. My dad learned to ski while living in Europe with his three siblings while my Grandfather worked as a scientist in Austria. No one in my family was wealthy; I come from blue-collar, working-class generations, but my ancestors were dead-set on learning how to ski. Lucky me!
I personally learned how to ski in Big Sky, MT, on a family trip. I was terrified. I remember feeling like I was going to fall off the earth. The ski instructor that I was with for the day had to find my parents (there were no cell phones) so they could come pick me up. Things have evolved since then. I got back on the horse, so to speak, and found my love for skiing over the next few winters as a young girl at my hometown mountain, Schweitzer. I went on to join the local ski racing program, SARS (Schweitzer Alpine Racing School), and ultimately raced in several Junior Olympics, FIS and Nor-Am races for the Western Region Team. I also ski raced for the Bates College NCAA Division 1 team. After graduating from college, I moved to Jackson, WY, and that is when skiing really became my career.
What do you think it is about skiing that you find compelling?
Once I connected with skiing, it really became a part of me. Skiing has this magic to it. Whether it’s the soft, quiet, fluffy powder on a storm day, the thrill of speed and airtime, the friends and connections made in the mountains, the smell of sub-alpine firs near the high peaks, the solace you find in nature, teaching my daughters how to ski, or the mountain community worldwide, I think skiing keeps you rooted in what matters most in life.
Tell us more about your ski career and how that developed.
While the foundation for my ski career was built from a young age, the most progressive years for my ski career came when I moved to Jackson, WY, in the winter of 1999/2000. While I had skied big mountains prior, Jackson Hole and the Tetons provided a bigger venue and became my training base for all-to-come.
There were many mentors that helped mold me into what I am today; folks that I met and first skied with in the Tetons: Doug Coombs, Doug Perini, AJ Cargill, Ric and Jon Hunt, Mike Tierney, Theo Meiners, Emily Coombs, Dave Miller, Jamie Mackintosh, Rod and Mark Newcomb, Don Shariff, Matt Belford and many more. Mentorship and building community were key components to the success in my ski career.
In the winter of 2000/2001, Women’s Freeskiing World Campion, AJ Cargill suggested I try a big mountain freeskiing competition, and so I went and tried my first competition at the North American Freeskiing Championships at Kirkwood, CA, and won. This victory launched me into an 8-year career on the World Tour Freeskiing circuit where I traveled all over the world to compete on some of the world’s steepest and enticing mountains.
While competing on the World Tour, I expanded my skills as a backcountry skier and alpinist. In 2004, I was invited up to Alaska to begin apprentice-guiding for Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Ski Guides in the Chugach Mountain range. This helped launch my career as a mountain guide. In 2006, I was officially hired on with Exum Mountain Guides, the first guiding operation in North America since 1931 and one of the most prestigious and competitive guiding outfits to get hired on with.
Also in 2004, I traveled to La Grave, France, to ski with Doug and Emily Coombs. La Grave opened my eyes to the exciting challenges that ski mountaineering and guiding could be. While there, I noticed a distinct lack of women in the mix. In 2005, I started working with Doug and Emily to start a women’s ski camp in La Grave to help change the all-male paradigm in this environment. In 2006, Doug Coombs passed away, just three weeks after I had been there skiing with him and Emily, after falling to his death on a line that he and I had skied just a few weeks prior. While this was completely devastating, it was also the impetus to launch my business, Ski Divas LLC, offering women’s-specific ski camps around the world. My goal is to increase the participation and visibility of women in this space and to provide a safe, challenging and supportive environment for women to improve and, ultimately, ski in the world’s most exciting terrain.
As one of the few women working in the industry, I recognized I needed to be part of the solution if I wanted more inclusivity for women in the sport overall.
What is your motivation to ski today?
The fresh air, the chance to help someone experience the inspiration of the mountains, the exhilaration of the sport itself, the opportunity to continually improve and learn—even at my level. The opportunity to feel like a kid at heart, every day, no matter what age.
What do you look for every time you head out?
As a professional mountain guide, I have a daily routine of checking the weather and avalanche forecast. I attend two guide meetings before 7 a.m. every morning, and then I’m refining my route plan for the day and packing the appropriate gear for the objective.
Can you share a little bit about the Ski Divas BIWOC ski camp?
Ski Divas Ski Camp for BIWOC runs from March 10-14, 2022. This is the second annual BIWOC ski camp; 2021 was the first year of the camp and the first ski camp ever created specifically for Black, Indigenous and Women of Color. We had 6 participants last year and we will have 10 this year. The camp is growing and will continue to grow as more donors come on board to help support the sponsorships, and more BIWOC become aware this is an offering for them.
What inspired you to start this initiative? What has been the best part of these camps?
Early in the Covid-19 the pandemic, with the murder of George Floyd and other racial injustices coming to light, the movement for equality and awareness around racism came front-and-center once again (these things have been ongoing in our country and the world really since the onset of colonialism and beyond). As I took time to reflect on a deeper level, I was disturbed by all the hate and lack of real genuine action on social media. I decided if I wanted to make a difference in the diversity, equity and inclusion space, I needed to take my professional expertise, influence and privilege to work towards real change and real solutions.
While my work towards inclusivity in the ski world has been hugely important for many, and I have had BIWOC participants in the past, I had never created a space specifically for BIWOC. That seemed to be the missing link. I delved deep into creating a Ski Divas ski camp and scholarship fund specifically for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color. My goal is to increase diversity, equanimity and inclusion in the winter sports arena by providing a space that brings together BIWOC in a safe and supported environment. The goal is to empower these women, who are leaders in their communities and in the DEI space, to go back with a strong skiing skill-set and more confidence to take ownership in the ski and winter outdoor spaces, both for themselves and their communities. I want to be the launch pad for more representation—a positive conduit for change.
I was blown away by the success of the inaugural camp in 2021. I had First Nations Diné (Navajo), Black, Latina and Japanese American attendees. I started the camp with an evening welcome gathering and healing session. We laid the groundwork of trust and set the stage for everyone to start to release the stress, the hate, the racism and the inequity they have experienced all their lives. There were tears of sadness, anger and joy.
This session set the stage for the ski camp to be a safe space for vulnerability and allowed participants to take ownership of their space. My fellow coach, Christina Cartier, and I worked hard to help everyone improve their skiing, while leaving space for the group to have meaningful conversations and peel away some of the layers that had prevented them from taking ownership of this space in the past.
We took never-ever beginner skiers to their first jumps in the terrain park. We watched our First Nations sister ski her first run in the Teewinot (Tetons) mountains of her ancestors. We witnessed these women perform an avalanche rescue scenario in the heart of the wilderness with a sparkle in their eyes. The group participated in wellness sessions with Medicine Wheel Wellness where my friend Francine, with her Apache heritage, poured love and light into healing self-care sessions for participants every evening.
Watching the transformation was awe inspiring, and it still gives me the chills as I reflect on it. I witnessed the camp participants return to their communities and spread the inspiration far and wide. This camp has become everything I intended it to be and beyond.
My previous camp participants have now become my scholarship recipient selection panel, my coaches for this year’s camp, and my friends!
I want to thank the sponsors and donors who have stood behind this camp from the beginning and are in large part why this camp is successful: Osprey, Outdoor Research, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Medicine Wheel Wellness, Hoback Sports, Exum Mountain Guides, Skida and several anonymous donors.
Who do you encourage to attend these camps, and what can participants expect when attending the camp? What has been the biggest takeaway from past participants?
I encourage any Black, Indigenous, or Woman of Color that has ever thought of learning how to ski to apply to attend. This is your safe space to do so.
I encourage any Black, Indigenous, or Woman of Color that has skied prior to this camp, but has felt unwelcome in the skiing industry, to apply to attend this ski camp. This is your safe space to spread your wings and fly.
I encourage any Black Indigenous, or Woman of Color who has been skiing for a long time but never had the opportunity to be coached by another Woman of Color, or a professional ski coach, to apply to attend this camp and come improve your skiing skills.
I encourage any Black, Indigenous, or Woman of Color that has been bogged down with responsibility, work, and helping others to apply to attend this camp and do something for yourself. It’s the self-care and empowerment you deserve.
I encourage any Black, Indigenous, or Woman of Color that is interested in working in the ski industry as a ski instructor, professional mountain guide, or professional skier to apply to attend this camp and gain valuable mentorship.
The participants from the first ever Ski Divas BIWOC ski camp in 2021 were:
Black, founder of EDGE OUTDOORS(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), leader and educator in the DEI space, PSIA Level 1 certified instructor, and one of my coaches for the 2022 ski camp.
"I cannot find adequate words to describe how impactful Jessica Baker's BIWOC ski camp was for me. I received elite coaching, improved my skiing, and found healing. This camp was designed with intention, accessibility, and equity in mind for Black, Indigenous, Women of Color to connect and learn together. Truly one of the best experiences of my life." - Annette Diggs
Diné First Nations, creator of Adventurous Natives(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), leadership team member for Native Women Running(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), mother of three boys, storyteller, and social worker.
“I have long heard of these real allies; the ones that challenge the narrative, the ones that use their privilege for POC. It’s rare to find an ally. It’s easier to find an advocate or ambassador for diversity in the outdoors. I am very pleased to finally meet one, to meet you [Jessica]. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for pushing through the ‘no’s’ and the ‘I’ll get back to you’s’ for us. Only real allies know the true difficulties and can see that real change needs to be made. Welcome. You are amazing and I hope this is just the beginning of the amazing change you can create for BIWOC on the mountain.” - Angel Tadytin
Maria Magda Reyes
Latina, leader and businesswoman, engineer in the oil and gas industry in Texas.
“Attending the inaugural Ski Divas ski camp for BIWOC reinvigorated me to continue exploring the outdoors in special ways like skiing. Having not grown up exposed to winter sports, it was great to share stories with others who like myself started exploring winter sports later in life or have experienced being the only person of color in those environments (whether you live by mountains or not - the love for the outdoors is universal). Sharing our experiences reinforced for me how important it is to continue advocating and supporting BIWOC initiatives.” - Maria Reyes
Black, Harvard Business School grad, entrepreneur, and founder of Aspen Apothecary(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre), a Black-owned and operated perfumery.
“Having only skied a handful of times, nerves and excitement mixed in my stomach when I read the words, ‘You have been accepted.’ Skiing in Jackson Hole was like living a dream. Never could I have imagined learning to ski from Jessica, and with a group of awesome womxn of color by my side, comforting me, pushing me, and most of all supporting me. Those days on the mountains I was empowered to tackle higher slopes, more difficult terrain, and open up about the change I hope to see. I’m thankful Jessica turned talk into action to create this life changing experience, and that I had the chance to be part of it.” - Keta Burke-Williams
Kaori Sato (she/they)
Queer Japanese-American, Buddhist, community organizer, climber, and skier. When they're not working as an experience designer and strategist, you can find them looking for new places to call home across the US or developing their drag king character, Bronco.
“The Ski Divas BIWOC camp came at such a critical time for me in 2021. Just days after the Atlanta spa shootings, I was feeling raw and fearful, but learning new skills, connecting with nature, and being held by this community was exactly what I needed at the time. Embracing discomfort—physically, mentally, emotionally—and coming out the other side having surpassed my own expectations was incredibly healing for me. To share this experience with other BIPOC women and witness their growth was a powerful experience I'll never forget. I'm looking forward to many more women having their own powerful experiences in future iterations of this camp!” - Kaori Sato
How can people follow along with the camp this year? Where can they learn more information about future camps?
People can follow along on our social channels:
Instagram: @skidiva(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre)
To learn more information about future camps, visit SkiDivas.com(S'ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre) and by following our sponsors’ web and social media channels!