Michelle Parker blew out her knee. Not again. Seventeen months ago. If it feels like longer, you can only imagine what it feels like to Parker.
The February 2009 accident, caused by an unseen rock lurking in her landing zone in Retallack, B.C., obliterated a right knee that already had been shredded two years prior, during the European Open slopestyle in Switzerland. The result boils down to this: Parker, 23, has missed all or significant portions of three of the past four winters.
That's a lot of time on the couch for someone who caught so many eyes so quickly -- the local girl from Squaw Valley, Calif., who could seemingly ski anything, anytime. She brought front flips as an unknown 15-year-old to the U.S. Open (then landed on the podium the next year), competed at the X Games and filmed with Poor Boyz and Matchstick on her way to becoming one of freeskiing's most visible faces, male or female.
After all the rehab, she's slowly begun skiing powder with speed and is starting to think about jumps again. Her primary goal remains unchanged: to put together a part in a major film that depicts the rare all-around talent she possesses.
Earlier this month she flew to Argentina to coach for South America Snow Sessions, an all-ages camp that attracts ripping skiers from the U.S. and shows them around the Andes. That's where we caught up with her via Skype.
ESPN Freeskiing: How many days were you on snow this past winter?
Michelle Parker: Basically, I got released in February to go out and take four runs one day, then take three days off. Then four more runs, and another three days off. And slowly working my way up to being able to ski every day. I couldn't really ski powder or anything, but I maybe got 20 days on skis.
How often does someone ask you about your knee?
My roommates and I joke about it, because I was really over answering that question. But yeah, it happens a lot. Every time I see anybody. It's a small town.
How did you not go crazy given that you were injured for so long?
Initially, I had my days when I was freaking out, especially this winter, when I would literally wait in my room until all my roommates left. I could hear the ski pants walking around. Then I'd just shovel all day while they were shredding powder. But in the summer, I started taking some college courses, and that kept me pretty well occupied. And physical therapy was a big outing for me, like 'Oh yeah, I got physical therapy today!' I'd go three times a week and I would be there for six hours sometimes.
How close are you percentage-wise to the skier you were before you tore your knee?
Mentally, I've grown since then, so I'm well over 100 percent. But physically, my doctors and physical therapist released me 100 percent, my ligaments are strong, my muscles are back, the only thing holding me back is my range of motion. I haven't really started jumping yet; I've just been shredding a lot of powder and hitting rails and stuff. I feel really solid, it's just a matter of stepping it up. I'd say I'm maybe 75 percent.
What's the past year been like around Tahoe given all the tragedies?
It's been super difficult, to be honest. In the last two years I've had a lot of close friends of mine and a lot of really standout people in the community pass away. Our community is super tight and they all rally together. The businesses all help out with the services. I don't know. It's been tough, but if anything this brings us closer.
Having made your name in both park and natural-terrain settings, who do you think is the best all-around skier in the sport?
That's hard. I think Tanner Hall is a great example, but that's a really obvious one. I think Pep Fujas is up there, I think Sean Pettit is sick with everything he does. And Sammy Carlson; he definitely kills it more in the park, but if you saw his segment in TGR last year, that kind of opened everybody's eyes as far as his ability to ski the whole mountain.
How about women?
Grete [Eliassen] is a great example of someone who skis the mountain and also shreds the park. She's the obvious one who comes to mind.
How much do you look forward to the movie premiere season in the fall?
I absolutely love it. Right now when all the teasers are coming out, it's awesome to see some new names in there. That's kind of like the reward: You sit back in the summertime and don't film, chill out, do whatever you do, but when that movie comes out, that's all your hard work -- because you worked your butt off. It's big time.
You've been to both New Zealand and the Andes. Which is better for summer skiing?
What can a contest result never tell you that watching someone ski a mountain can?
I think a contest is relative, it's in the moment, you skied the best that run. As opposed to a movie segment -- that's timeless.