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