Unbound: An Interview With Steph Jagger on Her Quest to Ski Four Million Feet in a Year

Jagger Unbound

Raise Restraining Device. It was a sign that skier Steph Jagger had seen thousands of times before, and while it was only an instruction on the ski lift, it suddenly took on a whole new meaning. After spending years climbing the corporate ladder, Jagger found herself suddenly unobstructed, and she set off to travel around the world and ski four million vertical feet in one year. Facing physical, mental, and spiritual challenges, Steph, who had grown up emulating the men in her life, rediscovered her femininity. Now she uses her journey as a motivational speaker and life coach to empower women, athletes and non-athletes alike. I sat down with Steph to talk about her journey, the lessons she wants to share with women, and the positive roles evolving within business and athletics.

The Clymb: Let’s start with the story of your ski journey. What was the motivation to ski four million feet and how did you formulate this plan?

Steph Jagger: The motivation for the journey was that I had a slight discontent creeping into my life. “What’s next? Is there something more? I’m a bit bored by the life that I’m living, so what else is there for me to go after or achieve?” If there’s something else in its entirety that I’m missing, that was the motivation. In many ways what makes the story unique is that there’s a lot of women out there who would like to have that be the motivation, but I think that it’s a rare story. I think we wait till things get bad in our lives before we do that. The motivation behind exactly four million feet was I calculated what was a challenging day on the slope and multiplied that and treated it like a job. If I was skiing 5 days a week for how many weeks that went on, taking into account travel and a break here and there, “how much is that?” and that’s how I came up with the formulaic number.

Jagger Esquel - La Hoya pre drop inThe Clymb: What was the “sign” which made you want to start your plans?

Steph Jagger: I was up in Whistler in the middle of the week with a handful of friends and we were skiing and it was one of those absolutely quintessentially perfect days on the hill. It was snowing the night before, it was crystal clear blue skies, it was really cold which is rare in Whistler and the snow was more like Colorado instead of the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia. It was a wonderful day and we were skiing and towards the end of the day on one of the chairlifts up I blurted out “Wouldn’t it be nice to do this for a year? Quit everything and just ski everyday.” My friends had a good chuckle. “Yeah right. You have a job, you have a mortgage. You have all this stuff.” By the end we were all laughing and I thought “Right that’s just a really ridiculous idea.”

Then, we got to the top of the chairlift and of course I’d seen this sign thousands of times before as a skier. It was a sign that said “Raise Restraining Device” when you’re on any lift. I looked at it again and I turned back and it hit me. “What is my restraining device? What is holding me back from something like that? Is it what these guys just said? Is it something else?” If I could identify what it was, could I then move forward and remove those barriers whether they were financial or physical or mental or emotional. That’s what I decided to do.

Jagger Chris and I at the lake outside is hobit house:cabin in Argentina

The Clymb: You were partially inspired by Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’, how did this apply to your own?

Steph Jagger: I didn’t discover Joseph Campbell until halfway through my trip, and that was courtesy of Chris who I met on the trip and who I’m now married to. I had a break between the Southern and Northern Hemisphere. There was a gap in the snow and I knew in advance I would need a break. So I was in Indonesia for a handful of weeks just resting and Chris sent me a series of CD’s. They were the interviews that Joseph Campbell did with Bill Moyers back in the day and he sent them to me with a note saying “I think you’re on a bit of a different journey than you might have thought you were on and maybe these tapes will help you discover what that is.” So that’s when my fascination with Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey began and it hasn’t stopped.

I think I could easily see a mirror of the Hero’s Journey was what I’d been through in the trip thus far. I think we all can see those things. It doesn’t take a gigantic ski trip around the world. I think many of us can see those types of phases if we are taking a big risk and transferring jobs or moving across the country. I think that we can see them when we become parents. We see them in multiple different places in our lives and certainly this was one place where I thought, “as I’m mapping this out, it’s mirroring what I’m experiencing in the typical phases of the Hero’s Journey.” That’s the path that I’m on here.

Jagger Japan - HappoOne south faceThe Clymb: What was your biggest ‘I can do this’ moment, and what was the toughest challenge both physically and mentally?

Steph Jagger: I wouldn’t have gone on the trip fully if I thought it was impossible, so from the very beginning I thought, “Okay I can do this.” There were certain moments in the trip where I thought, “This is going to be harder than I thought.” I was pretty affirmative the entire way along.

When I got to New Zealand, which was the end of the Southern Hemisphere season, the chairlift was moving slower and the amount of vertical feet that a person can rack up in a day is less than I thought. Plus snow conditions during that season hadn’t been stupendous, so I was a bit behind on the goal. It was very frustrating. Whether I was tired from solo travel, whether that was the road conditions or weather conditions, there was a moment in New Zealand where it didn’t feel like a regular resort.

I ended up having a breakdown in the parking lot in that place at the end of that ski day and that’s when I thought, “Man, this is going to be harder than I thought from a physical perspective. This is going to take more grit than I thought it would. But I’ve got an ironclad ego and willpower. I’ll get food and a nap and it’ll be okay.” I berated myself into picking myself up and moving on. That was a real “I don’t know if I can do this” moment. Then I started exploring and thinking, “This has been a bit of a different journey mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.” As I waded into the waters of that and reading Joseph Campbell and having conversations with Chris, I got into more self-exploration.

Jagger Japan - The Uni-bomberThere was a moment in Japan where I lost one ski in the backcountry very high up. I had a long way to ski down. During that day, I heard myself saying the same thing “This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.” At that point, a handful of months later, it was the mental, emotional and spiritual journey. I fought and I was pretty sure I was going to be able to complete this physical feat, but I wasn’t sure who I was going to be at the end of that finish line. Who was going to be crossing that finish line? Any time that our identity gets shaken up, it can be a scary time emotionally and spiritually.

The Clymb: What were the takeaways from your journey that you want to use to empower female athletes?

Steph Jagger: First and foremost, it could be anybody. Female athlete or female non-athlete, I think one of the biggest things is if you are searching for something more, if you are questioning the path that you’re on, if you’re bored and discontent feeling that simmering frustration in your life, you have permission to make a change from that point. You don’t need to wait until things get worse or something gets bad or something breaks in order to ask for more. The idea that a woman can move from strong to stronger or from good to better I think is something that’s important for me. Certainly we need stories that tell us how to pick up the pieces as well. But I think the message for me is the former. That would probably be the biggest thing.

Jagger DSC_9067 - Carly ButlerThe Clymb: When you were growing up and climbing the corporate ladder, who were the people who you looked up to and the people you wanted to emulate?

Steph Jagger: When I was growing up, I was emulating the men in my life and I had developed a very generalized masculine ideal of what success looked like. What it looked like in regards to athletic accomplishments and financial accomplishments and expectations about moving up the corporate ladder. A certain kind of dog-eat-dog drive that is a very generalized masculine ideal. I looked to my brothers and I looked to my dad and I had multiple male mentors and bosses that were unbelievable and highly encouraging of me. Those were the kind of people I was striving to become and that was a good thing. It helped me to accomplish many different things in my life. It came to the point where I ended up shoving aside and not placing value on the feminine. As a woman, that ends up being a tough thing.

The Clymb: Do you feel that female athletes face pressures that are less common among males? What other challenges do you see among female athletes?

Steph Jagger: We face some pressures that are the same and we face some that are different. I think the pressures that are the same highly depend on the sport we’re involved in, but also age and the pressure to perform in the peak years of your career and life as an athlete. I think that fits men and women. It’s interesting, although I’ve accomplished such an athletic kind of goal and I’m involved in sports and athleticism my whole life, I’ve never really identified as a ‘female athlete’. I’ve identified as ‘me’ and maybe that is an athlete, but it hasn’t been a massive part of my identity. I did a panel a while back with some other female athletes and there was a lot of questions to the women in the group about ‘When are you going to give this up and have a family?’ or ‘When are you going to stop this in order to get married?’ Those rub me the wrong way. And I don’t think that question is asked only of female athletes, that’s a question that’s specific to females in general.

Jagger Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 5.17.31 PMThe Clymb: Ever since your realization, your journey, and your book, do you feel that the roles for women in athletics and in business are evolving for the better?

Steph Jagger: I think there’s been massive progress made for women in business and athletics. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a long way to go still, but when I think of progress made, I think of the careers of Serena and Venus Williams. Look at the career and the kind of money that Lindsey Vonn is able to make compared to what females were able to bring in financially however many years ago. I think in the business realm you could list a handful of unbelievable financial accomplishments and strides that women have made, but I think that we still have a long way to go.

Jagger Chris and I heading into the backcountry at Cerro Catedral - Bariloche ArgentinaThe Clymb: Can you tell me about ‘a long way to go’ and where you eventually want to see it?

Steph Jagger: We’ve got a long way to go as women in the outdoors and people in the outdoors when it comes to diversity. Much of the outdoors, especially skiing, the sport I’m most known for, is inherently very privileged. So much of our outdoor lives have so much privilege wrapped up in them that I think we have a long way to go in regards to getting a diverse and underserved population access to the outdoors. In all, I think there’s a long way to go in terms of getting a diverse population of people and women into the outdoors.

Jagger Steph Skiing
The Clymb: Do you feel different in the way that you think, act, and behave, when you’re out with men than when you’re with women?

Steph Jagger: I can’t answer this for all women, but in the past yes…I would say less so now. I think when I was with the guys I was gunning to prove I was one of them. In some ways I think it pushed me to become a bigger risk taker and a stronger skier. But on the flip side, it also pushed me to bottle some of my real emotions and authenticity. When I’m outdoors with a group of men, I’m thinking about them in my head as the experts and not me. Do you have enough skills to go out there and survive on your own and rely on yourself? Are you with the right people? Do you know what they got? Is it an assumption that they have more knowledge than you?

I think of KT Miller as a woman who’s an amazing example of a female leader in the outdoors. She’s a photographer (among many other things) based in Montana, and she modeled for me an unbelievable demonstration of a woman who holds a high degree of knowledge when it comes to the outdoors. She’s also willing to share it in a very open and feminine way. It was a wonderful experience seeing someone who had that knowledge who wasn’t carrying around an ego with it. My experience with her was refreshing and it taught me a lot about what’s possible with the sharing of information in the outdoors for men and for women.

Jagger Zermatt - Steph in chopperThe Clymb: Among women in business or in athletics, what’s a pattern of thinking or negative self talk that you’d like to abolish?

Steph Jagger: I speak for myself because of the coaching work I’ve done; the “I’m not good enough” belief whether it’s business or outdoor pursuits needs to go. Even if you think a list of accomplishments isn’t good enough. One question people ask is “How do you know when enough is enough?” and I think that’s something that I’d like to shift the conversation on because that line of thinking is typically coming from a place of fear, that “I am not enough” and so “I need to keep doing this to prove that I am.” We think that’s the recipe but when we get to the finish line, we discover not much has changed and we think, “I guess that wasn’t enough,” so we have to go for something bigger and when is it going to be enough.

That’s something I’d like to shed, because any time that we’re coming from a place of fear it shrinks everything around us. I’d rather come from a place of “I am enough as is” inherently. Doing this isn’t going to make me “more enough” or “less enough” for somebody else or for myself, or my job. I am enough as is. Doing this is just going to be joy and doing this is going to be an amazing challenge that I’m going to learn from or transform within. I think that would be the conversation I’d like to shift from “I am not good enough and this accomplishment isn’t good enough.” I wish we had an inherent knowledge of our self-worth, in order to really focus on what’s important; transformation, growth, joy, and curiosity.

Steph tells her story in Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery