Welcome to the team, Mel! Salt Lake City, UT. Photo: Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)
Melissa Gill lives her life with enthusiasm, empathy, and a spirited passion for the peaks and valleys that have shaped her. Perhaps even more admirable is her drive to take her own accumulated wisdom and pay it forward through her own career pursuits and dedication to the backcountry community.
No one can sum it all up quite like Mel can. Get to know our newest FOW in her own words.
Why do you ski?
This feels like a two-part answer...
I began skiing because my father basically lived in ski boots. His entire career was dedicated to developing ski areas into businesses that can thrive year round, while also offering the community a family-friendly place to commune in nature. My parents had me skiing at the age of 2, I started racing when I was 7, and I started traveling for races when I was about 12.
I continue to ski because it brings me into the environment where I feel most powerful. I feel strong, I feel dynamic, and just like everyone else, I love the feeling of flowing from turn to turn, dancing my way through terrain.
How did you get into backcountry skiing?
I was burned out after ski racing and took almost an entire season away from skiing. Then my late boyfriend lured me up to Cardiff Pass with a pocket full of Swedish Fish to keep me moving.
Having been a competitive athlete my whole life, I loved the physical demand required of ski touring. I hesitate to say this, but it's the truth: sometimes I enjoy hiking up as much as skiing down (don't judge me!).
Finding serenity in a carved turn on Pastoral Mountain. Chugach Range, AK. Photo: Charlie Renfro (@charlesrenfroski)
Why is the backcountry special to you?
I thrive when I am alone in nature. It's the best possible thing I can do for my mental health. Even when I'm skiing with a group of friends, I still benefit from the solitude of the backcountry.
After losing my partner in a ski accident in 2014, the backcountry became even more meaningful to me. It was his favorite thing in the entire world, and he did it with a really unique style. He would wear his long hair in a high side pony with a neck gaiter as his headband, he wore his GoPro on the top of his helmet like a teletubby, and he would so powerfully ebb and flow through the terrain. He was an incredible snowboarder. He believed the best form on the skin track was to keep your torso completely still. So he kind of looked like a robot! :) So when I hike uphill, I love emulating his hiking form - it makes me smile every time.
The therapeutic power of nature is a common thread in your - and many of our own - life experiences. Could you tell us more about how you seek to bring this healing potential to others?
Something that I have discovered in my own healing and growing journey is the power of somatic therapy. I've learned that we store an incredible amount of our emotions and memories in our bodies, and when we are given a safe space and proper tools, we are able to release these emotions from our bodies, restoring equilibrium to our nervous system and our ability to function at our highest potential.
My goal is to become qualified to facilitate a sort of somatic therapy experience for people who need it. I believe I have a unique ability to combine this passion with my passion for backcountry skiing.
There are many avenues I could pursue to become qualified, and what I'm currently focused on is the mindfulness training course that I am currently enrolled in, my yoga teacher qualification, ample and continual knowledge of safe backcountry travel, and likely an internship of sorts with a mentor who specializes in somatic therapy.
We can all benefit from communing with nature. Wasatch Range, UT. Photo: Keith Fearnow (@fearnowka)
What do you hope to accomplish as a Friend of WNDR?
I am really looking forward to our soon-to-be-announced WNDR Women Roost. I am really passionate about creating and being a part of experiences where people get to explore together. To explore nature while also exploring their own self-awareness and self-leadership. I have been a part of several similar experiences that have had a profound impact on my life, and I hope that the WNDR Women Roost is one that makes a strong impact on everyone involved.
I also feel really honored to be partnered with a brand that is leading the way to a more sustainable future. I see no limits to what this brand can do for the ski community.
We all have some kind of mentor to thank for bringing us into the backcountry for the first time and growing our skillset. Who are your mentors? How do you hope to mentor newcomers to the backcountry community?
My late boyfriend, Joe, was my first mentor. He taught me to always ensure I have ample snacks, that my gear doesn't have to be perfect to have a really good time, and to trust my intuition if it's telling me to turn around.
I am also really lucky to have mentors in my friend Brett, and Joe's siblings Emma and Noah. What they all offer as incredible mentors and partners is the ability and willingness to have detailed conversations as we navigate the terrain. They don't get annoyed when I say for the fourth time that day: "But why would we set the skin track over there?" or "Let's discuss all of the elements we need to consider if we were to ski that line". And they like to answer my questions with questions so that I may arrive at the answer myself whenever possible.
What I hope to offer as a mentor to newcomers..... I hope to be a safe place for people to ask questions, to share their mistakes, and to ideate ways to be better backcountry users. I specifically enjoy connecting with fellow female backcountry skiers and sharing the things that I have learned from often being the only female in the group.
Describe your ideal backcountry setup. Any unusual quirks?
On my feet: Dynafit radical bindings, comfortable but stiff boots, and compression socks because hiking makes my feet swell. BUT, I'm most excited about my Vital 100s, 183cm Camber. Growing up racing, I only ever skied a race ski until college. So i'm pretty comfortable in deep snow on a more narrow ski! That said, know the 110's are going to be a blast this season...
On my person: BD Dawn Patrol pants, and I never will go anywhere without my Patagonia R1. I recently got the Techface R1 and I wore that every single day last season.
Unusual quirks: Nothing out of the ordinary.... I aim to always have sour patch kids or a beer?
Stoke abounds after a long uphill walk. Chugach Range, AK. Photo: Charlie Renfro (@charlesrenfroski)
What are some of your favorite places to ski and why?
I've really enjoyed skiing back in Cardiff Fork (Mill D South) over the past few seasons. I've been able to avoid crowds and I love the variety of terrain back there. The skin track up Argenta is my favorite skin track in the Wasatch - It's like a perfect stairmaster, and all of a sudden, you're at the top. And the different lines on Kessler are always so fun to ski.
My favorite quick hitter spot after work is Cardiff Pass/Toldeo Bowl area because it's easy to move quickly, and I get a nice view of the evening light.
And when the snow is unstable and I still need to get out, you'll find me at Willow Knob, Wasatch wiggling my way through the aspen trees.
What motivates you outside of skiing?
Hmmmm. Gosh. So much....
Most people who know me are surprised that I didn't study environmental science or something similar when I was in college. People often peg me as an environmentalist, which I appreciate. But my focus in life has actually been on people first. From a young age, I always saw mental health as the answer to most of the world's problems, including the health of our planet.
And in order to create a healthier planet, we need both types of people. We need the Greta Thunbergs and the Suzanne Conrads in this world so that we may approach the health of our planet from the source of pollutants and the mindfulness and emotional maturity of future generations.
I am really motivated by learning about other people's worlds.... My visual way of learning really influences the way that I listen to people. In order for me to understand what is being said, I visualize everything the other person is saying.
This habit has formed into a strong interest in learning why other people do what they do, and what they believe to be true about the world.
My boyfriend often makes fun of the fact that I could talk with someone for an hour, and yet not be able to describe what they look like. But I could tell you if the pace of their speaking sped up when talking about something they were passionate about, or if they have an internal or external locus of control.
Why WNDR Alpine?
What attracts me to WNDR Alpine is that it exists for something bigger than skiing. While skiing is rad, it's the health of our world and the health of our relationships with the community that I believe really matter. And that's what WNDR Alpine is up to. I'm looking forward to being a part of something bigger than skiing, with some really rad people.
Welcome to the team, Mel! We couldn't be more excited to announce Mel's leadership role in upcoming WNDR Alpine community events...