Caroline Gleich is a pro ski mountaineer known for her grit, great attitude, and adventurous spirit, as well as her willingness to speak out on issues of social and environmental justice.
She’s the fourth person and the first woman to ski all 90 lines in the The Chuting Gallery, a notoriously wild guide to backcountry skiing in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. So Caroline is the perfect person to share tips on how to make ski trips even better, and where she finds the inspiration to push herself further.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO SKI MOUNTAINEERING?
My journey has taken many years. It started as an extension of resort skiing — I was always curious to see what was around the next corner. As I continued my avalanche education, I started to explore the backcountry. After a few years doing that, I wanted to climb and ski steeper lines that required the use of climbing ropes, ice axes, and other technical equipment.
I love backcountry skiing because there are always new skills to practice and learn, and I enjoy the process of being a student of the mountains. It’s taken me over a decade to get to the point where I am. Developing good mountain sense for ski mountaineering takes many hours of walking in the backcountry to really understand snow.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE RESORTS TO SKI?
Alta, Snowbird, Jackson, Stowe, Sun Valley, to name a few.
WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-BRING ITEMS ON A SKIP TRIP? ANY TOOLS OR GADGETS YOU LOVE?
When you’re packing for a ski trip it’s always a bit of a struggle to make everything fit! And getting through the airport is always so awkward! In addition to all my gear, I always bring my own travel pillow, ear plugs, and eye masks in case I’m sharing a condo with a lot of noisy people.
I also like to bring a satellite GPS tracker and communication device, in case I run into trouble on a road without cell phone coverage or for when I’m deep in the backcountry. And I always make sure to have a Clif Bar in my bag to snack on when I get hungry.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A CAR TO BRING TO THE MOUNTAIN?
As fun as it sounds to have a vintage VW bus, I have to admit that I prioritize function in a car for the mountains. AWD or 4WD is a must. I love to see some of the new hybrid vehicles where you get great gas mileage as well as off-road ruggedness. But I always prefer vehicles that are reliable and safe, so I can get to the mountain as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE THE FIRST WOMAN TO COMPLETE ALL THE LINES IN THE CHUTING GALLERY?
I’m really grateful and stoked I was able to ski all the lines in the book — and even more proud of the leadership and technical skills I learned along the way. It’s satisfying to look back and see how far I’ve come.
When I started my ski career, I had a mentor who forced me to write down my short term and long term goals, and one was to ski all the lines in The Chuting Gallery. Now I need to make a new set of goals! Something different happens when you write down a goal instead of just leaving it in your head. Writing it down holds you more accountable and makes you less likely to forget.
I try not to focus on my gender too much as a differential factor in mountaineering. Of course it’s created some challenges, but it’s also been a blessing for me. I hope that the broader mountaineering community and our culture at large starts to embrace and celebrate leadership qualities that are typically associated with femininity, like having compassion and empathy. I also hope we can start to break the implicit biases about women in the outdoors.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO PUSH YOURSELF?
I’m most inspired by my friends and partners and the natural environment itself. I love to come up with creative challenges that seem impossible, and then brainstorm ways we can achieve the unthinkable.
I love the camaraderie of working towards a shared goal. Going on ski trips and traveling for outdoor adventure in general is a ton of work! It takes a lot of energy. But those days you share with others are unforgettable and they make all the challenges along the way worthwhile.
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TRAVELERS LOOKING TO BE MORE ADVENTUROUS?
Be kind to yourself and others. Rephrase sentences that start with “I can’t” to “I can’t right now or today.” Humans are far more resilient than we imagine. Remember you were built to survive and thrive in wild places. And remember to smile along the way! Things will rarely go the way you planned, so having a sense of humor makes all the changes and hassles easier. Finally, respect the mountains and leave as light of a footprint as possible.