The Journey from Skid to Pro
By Kaki Orr
I am rooted in the “skid” world. For the past 5 years, I’ve enjoyed the Jackson ski town sanctuary of misfits and wanderers, being surrounded by a collective of the carefree, and I haven’t minded sacrificing financial stability to continue to exist among them.
But I’m 29 now, and last year the lack of direction and transient jobs started to wear me down. The “fun” that defined my life bumped up with the reality that I was living a life without goals and would be 30 soon.
I started to think about skiing in a different way. Although I was having a lot of fun skiing 120 days a year, I’ve always been a competing athlete. I was a four-year athlete in high school, went to college on an athletic scholarship, was captain of my college team. I missed competition, and last year decided to try my hand competing in freeski events.
I started with getting serious with my training and started by training with the Mountain Athlete Freeski team last summer. My first freeski competition was last August, in Chili, and after that first comp, I was hooked and decided then to work at becoming a professional freekier.
I entered a world that I have a lot to learn about. At 29, I am significantly older than most women who are starting their competitive freeski careers. I knew I had the speed and strength to compete at the top level, but my age was a concern.
Also, I had to learn the “business” side of being a professional freeskier. Being a “professional” skier means that you are being paid to ski. I understood soon that skiing and sponsorships would never be how I made my “living” – but sponsorships and other support could help make ends meet and could perhaps allow me to spend my winters focused on improving my skiing, and not wondering where the next rent payment would come from.
Last January, through personal connections, I was skiing with representatives from Technica Blizzard who were interested in sponsoring me, when I blew my ACL, and with the ACL went my entire season.
I made it through surgery, PT, some major, but needed changes in my personal life, and am back in the gym training hard for this coming season.
I am nervous. Will I still want to ski the lines and the cliff drops that drew the initial attention of my sponsors before my injury? I have 3 more months of training and physical therapy to prepare.
The business side of my career continued despite my injury. Technica Blizzard have put me on their grassroots team, and just this past month, The North Face put me on their Flow Team and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort added me to its media team.
This is what I wanted of course, but these sponsorships haven’t come without issues. Because of my injury, I only competed once last year, fell the second day, and don’t have any solid competition results lean upon and prove I’m deserving.
Many other competitors have much more experience, solid results, yet don’t have the sponsorships I do. I know they resent me for it and I don’t blame them. I know I have something to prove.
Also, many in my “Skid” posse think I’ve sold out. I’ve felt blowback from great friends and skiers who took me under their wing years ago and taught me the hard ropes of Jackson freesking. I try to explain that competing is a way to push my skiing and support it, but some don’t agree, and it’s cost me relationships.
Finally, I wonder how the sponsorships and pressure to perform will affect my relationship with skiing. I don’t want my sponsorships to define me as a skier. I don’t want “sell out” as my skid friends say will happen.
I understand with sponsorship comes responsibilities to my sponsors. Going in I am extremely flattered to be sponsored and genuinely excited about representing brands that I care about and starting to learn more about the ski industry.
I’ve had wonderful examples from those I train with at Mountain Athlete who approach the business side of representing companies with the same amount of effort as the skiing side. They have more opportunities and are spending more time doing what they love because they are acting professionally and maintaining solid business relationships with industry representatives.
I am learning a lot about the business side of the ski industry and learning how to handle my new responsibilities that come with sponsorship.
I welcome the work.
I am in a time in my life where I am looking for more challenge and this new role is forcing me to, frankly, grow up. I am rediscovering my competitiveness and drive. I aim to continue to grow as an athlete and as a professional.
In the end ….
I want to work hard to ski.
I want to ski to have fun.
I want to always be modest, and stay genuine.