Outsiders: Suz Graham
[Editor's note: Freeskiing has always been a sport that's strived to remain unconfined, counterculture and limitless; free, by its very name. This interview series celebrates that freedom of individuality by featuring people in the freeskiing world who are paving their own way, doing things with their own style. They are the Outsiders. Stay tuned next Friday for the next installment.]
Suz Graham Logan LaPlante Warren Miller Scot Schmidt
The United States Census Bureau estimates there are 7.094 billion people on planet Earth today. Roughly half of those people are women. Of the 3.5 billion women of the world, only one of them is a ski BASE jumper -- Suz Graham. Graham, 26, recently moved from her native Utah to Whistler, BC. We talked to her about what it feels like to fly and why she's not addicted to adrenaline.
I grew up skiing in Utah at Alta, Snowbird. I was really lucky. My dad would take us skiing every weekend ever since I can remember with both of my older brothers. I grew up and fell in love with the mountains.
I needed a change of scenery. I'd fallen in love with BC. I came to Whistler for ski camps when I was younger and really loved the mountains up here. I was born in Calgary so I have the citizenship. I was waiting for an excuse to move up to Whistler.
It was never really a huge jump. One thing kind of led to another. I started skiing, I started skiing harder, I started hitting big jumps and then I started skiing off of cliffs. And then I found out ski BASE existed. I thought it looked like the coolest thing on the planet.
I made my first few jumps off a bridge, and then it evolved into a whole other world for me.
On my first jump, I was terrified. No, terrified isn't the right word. I was super nervous, but I had seen everything that works up to it and it wasn't a giant leap of faith. It was really calculated and controlled. I did it safely, but, yeah, I was freaking scared.
I ski BASE as much as I can. It's not like an every day thing. It is kind of a mission to get a ski BASE off. I got one this year.
Skiing off a cliff for some people seems totally nuts. Confidence building is a slow progression. When I started BASE jumping five years ago, there's no way I would have felt confident enough to open up a cliff by myself. I've been jumping for six years now and I have a lot of jumps under my belt. The coolest part about BASE jumping is it really teaches you self-reliance.
A company put out a call looking for a female ski BASE jumper and I'm the only one. This was back in 2008 and I found out it was going to be either me or Shane McConkey, and they were going to have him wear a wig.
There's more and more opportunity to do stunt work in Hollywood films. That's where the money is. None of us are making any real money, unless you're J.T. [Holmes] and you got a jump in "Transformers 3."
The adrenaline is a teeny fraction of what we do. Yeah, you get a giant hit of adrenaline, but that's not what it's about. These sports aren't adrenaline-based sports. For me, it's way more about the journey, the feelings, and the emotions, the mental process that you have to go through. And the fact that you're conquering your fear and you're feeling self-empowered. You can jump off of something and you get to fly.
There are people who get into BASE jumping and have that mindset, but those are the people who are apt to make mistakes. Adrenaline chasing is a dangerous mindset when you're in sports like this.
It's the most calculated thing in the world. You have to be able to shut down the emotions that tell you, 'Yeah, I just hiked three hours to get to the top of this cliff, it's getting dark, it's getting cold, I really want to jump, but it's kind of windy.' You have to be able to make a smart decision.
It's risk management. I wouldn't be doing it if I thought I was rolling the dice every time.
I didn't get this way out of nowhere. My family is outdoorsy. My parents are proud of me. I think it took my dad a little bit to get used to the skiing thing. He's realized it's something that I'm really passionate about and I'm working harder at this than I am at anything else.