Chat with Holly Walker: Traveling the World for Ski Mountaineering

Walker

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. 


Holly Walker

 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