Slowly and steadily, and somewhat under the radar, Jackie Paaso has been moving up the ranks of the women's big mountain world for the past several seasons. From topping the podium at Freeride World Tour stops (she finished third overall last season) to segments in Warren Miller movies, the Tahoe local and East Coast native has made a name for herself with massive airs and aggressive skiing.
Beyond her hard-charging skiing, Paaso has a few other things on her mind, particularly climate change and avalanche awareness. As an I am Pro Snow ambassador and avalanche educator, this fall, Paaso has combined her two side projects into a speaking tour across New England. Through October and November, she hosted The Snow Awareness Project at schools around the Northeast in an effort to educate and inform students about the two topics. I recently caught up with Paaso to talk changing climate, avalanche education and the evolving landscape of women's skiing.
What's this Snow Awareness Project all about?
The Snow Awareness Project covers two issues that I am passionate about and wanted to share with others, the first issue being climate change. As a winter sports athlete, I have first hand seen the effects of global warming and how it's making a negative impact on the winter sports we all love. The second issue is avalanche awareness. With new technology, backcountry skiing is growing more popular. People are venturing out to places in New England, like Mt. Washington, where avalanches do occur. A lot of these students may also find themselves skiing out West one day, if not already, and it's important to be educated on snow safety. Looking back I wish I had learned about avalanche safety before I ventured out West.
How have your experiences as a professional skier shaped your views on avalanche safety and climate change?
These issues are a big part of my life as a professional skier. Avalanches have claimed the lives of too many of my friends and it's become more and more important to me to make sure everyone is aware of the dangers that exist in the mountains. My travels have taken me all over the world and I've had the privilege to see some of the most remote and beautiful places on Earth. During those travels, I've noticed the impact that climate change has had on this amazing planet. It made me realize I need to start thinking about my actions and start doing my part to help the environment.
On that note, between air travel, a new setup every year and helicopters filming nearly every competition run, you likely have a bigger negative impact on the environment than anyone you'll speak to. Do you feel hypocritical addressing climate change given your lifestyle?
Yes, at times I do. When I was initially approached by Warren Miller Entertainment with the opportunity to apply to be an I Am Pro Snow ambassador, I was unsure if it was something I should do. After some thought I realized that it's an issue I need to educate myself more on to leave less of an impact on the environment. I'm learning and at the same time I'm sharing what I learn. Although, unlike most pro skiers, I do not own a snowmobile and the majority of my film segments have been human powered. With air travel I try to stay in each place if the next event is on the same continent but it is tough to avoid flying too much in this profession.
How would you describe the state of women's skiing these days? Do you think women's skiing is appropriately represented in ski media?
I think that there are a lot of great things going on in women's skiing these days. Unfortunately, I don't think that all of these great things are being represented in ski media. I would really like to see the focus shift back to skiing and away from how certain females present themselves. When I was young, I looked up to females who were good skiers as well as good representatives of the sport. I want to see more of those women in the spotlight these days.
And you're also helping run a women's avalanche safety clinic this fall?
Continuing with the theme of avalanche safety, myself along with Ingrid Backstrom, Elyse Saugstad, Michelle Parker, Lel Tone and Sherry McConkey are continuing our S.A.F.E. A.S. women's avalanche clinics this December. You can find more info here.