In the last 10 years Holly Walker, 32, has skied on almost every continent, has attempted to summit North America’s highest peak Denali (6,168m, 20,237ft), and is currently preparing to cross the world’s largest non-polar glacier in Tajikistan. She’s a former competitive freeskier but now dedicates her time to exploring remote mountains of the world. Working many jobs over the summer and spending her winters skiing and working as a ski patroller on Blackcomb, Walker has dedicated her life to skiing as many different mountains in the world as possible.
The Clymb: You tend to travel a lot these days for your ski trips, how did that start?
Holly Walker: During a summer break at university in 2002 I worked an internship at the US embassy in Santiago de Chile. I sat at my desk every day and would scope out ski areas in Argentina and Chile and I found one resort with lots of double black diamonds called Las Leñas. After booking a trip I showed up to an apartment there and met a whole gang of Whistler dudes and we skied together and became great friends. After a I graduated I moved back up to Whistler and had friends there again. Chile was the first time I had travelled abroad for skiing and I got hooked. I started doing trips to Europe and went to Gulmarg solo and partnered up with people I met there. I’d always had the travel bug because my family travelled around the world a bit, but that season in Chile combined the two loves of travel and skiing.
The Clymb: When did you start looking toward backcountry? What was your motivation for getting out there?
Holly Walker: I started heading out-of-bounds when I was in Las Leñas, and realized I needed to know what it means to be traveling in avalanche terrain. Whether I was going backcountry here at home, out to Decker Mountain, or to remote peaks in Gulmarg, I needed to have avalanche knowledge should something happen. I also have a tendency to be around some sketchy scenarios sometimes. In Gulmarg, there was a speed flyer who crashed whom I helped to evacuate to a hospital. I did the same for a base jumper in Las Leñas. This was all before my ski patrol days, but seeing that happen around me made me aware of the exposure you can have in the backcountry.
The Clymb: You just returned from Mexico, but not from the usual vacation that folk travel there for. What were you doing there?
Holly Walker: It was a pretty ridiculous trip, I went down for a ski expedition and hooked up with a couple of buddies. We were going to ski Pico de Orizaba, but with the 5,636m (18,491ft) peak elevation we had to acclimatize. We ended up hiking three other volcanoes first – Nevado de Toluca, La Malinche, and Iztaccihuatl – to get used to the altitude gain before attempting our goal of summiting Orizaba. A few days later we climbed Orizaba with skis on our backpacks and at the top we ran into two Mexicans who had climbed up the south face. We took some photos with them and they laughed at the fact that we had skis with us.
The Clymb: How was the skiing?
Holly Walker: The snow was firm. We started later than mountaineers normally would so the snow would soften in the sun a bit. There was some patches where you could carve some turns but I didn’t expect powder in Mexico, that’s for sure.
The Clymb: Any plans for this winter yet?
Holly Walker: I’m heading back to ski patrol on Blackcomb but in a week I’m going to Sol Mountain lodge in the Monashees. In the spring I’m heading to Tajikistan for a month to cross the Fedchenko Glacier; skiing in the volcanoes in Mexico was a part of preparing for that. Otherwise I’ll be out ski touring whenever I can.
Photo credit: Vince Shuley