Wendy Fisher Interview | How To Be An Extreme Skier & An Awesome Parent
"This is a woman who won the US Extreme Skiing Championships then found out she was pregnant…"
Words by Abi Butcher | Photos by Jesse Hoffman and Dave Kozlowski
As Wendy Fisher opens her laptop to show me a clip of her and her sons Devin (10) and Aksel (12) skiing in the latest Warren Miller film, a lasagne recipe flashes up on the screen. “You see?" says the mother-of-two, grinning, “I’m just a normal mom, I do this stuff too!"
But I’d beg to differ. Wendy, a double World Extreme Ski Champion and Olympian, might be a mum — and a great one at that, too — but she is anything but normal.
This is a woman who won the US Extreme Skiing Championships then found out she was pregnant, then expressed for her young kid between runs at the same competition a year later, and still finished second. She's someone who once earned $700 in an hour by drinking shots of schnapps in Lech while working; someone who is every night, without fail, asking to stop dancing on the bar in Portillo, Chile where we are skiing together.
"Wendy is utterly badass — a badass kind of mum that her sons must be incredibly proud of."
After two hours’ sleep even on a quiet day with relatively tough, low-tide conditions, Wendy is utterly badass — a badass kind of mum that her sons must be incredibly proud of.
We are Portillo for the Superstars Ski Camp that big mountain skier Chris Davenport has hosted every year since 2003. I was learning, Wendy was coaching (as she has done since 2003), along with Mike Douglas, Ingrid Backstrom and this year, Cody Townsend. It’s a ski hard, play hard kind of place and I quickly learned first-hand how good Wendy’s mothering skills were when, two nights in, she kindly lead me to my bed after I'd enjoyed one too many Pisco sours.
Back to the Warren Miller clip, it’s from the 2016 film Here, There & Everywhere, and features Wendy and a then-pregnant Ingrid Backstrom skiing Crested Butte’s famous steep lines together, followed by scenes of Wendy and her family fat-biking through a forest and then racing down a dual course against her son Aksel.
A competitive streak runs strongly through their family.
“My boys actively try to beat me now," says Wendy. “They know that I am ‘someone’ in the ski world, and that beating me means something. They know to give it their all and their goal is to try to crush me — not only at skiing, we wrestle, play soccer and bike, too.
“My boys actively try to beat me now… not only at skiing, we wrestle, play soccer and bike, too."
“I used to let them win when they were little but after they got to a certain age I’d say no, I’m not giving you a lead! They know I have to give something 100 per cent, I’ve explained that to them. They know now if I’m taking it easy on them."
Wendy started her skiing career as a downhill racer, competing in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. She left the US national team in the mid 1990s suffering from complete burnout — “competing had run its course for me, I was getting too emotionally hung up when I didn’t do well" — before stumbling across extreme skiing in 1996 when she moved out to the cult resort of Crested Butte.
It was here that Wendy met her husband, Woody Lindenmeyr, and the rest, as they say, is history. After nearly a decade as arguably the best female big mountain skier in the world, Wendy’s first son Aksel was born.
“Initially my husband and I talked about him being Mr Mom, but once I’d had my kids, I wanted to be a hands-on mum, it was instinctive. I needed to be with them," recalls Wendy. “I did give up the travelling to be with them, which was really hard mentally, but I wanted to raise my kids, I’m 100 per cent invested in that."
"Initially my husband and I talked about him being Mr Mom, but once I’d had my kids, I wanted to be a hands-on mum, it was instinctive."
Within months of Aksel’s birth she was back competing in Crested Butte. “I was pumping [expressing milk] behind the judges’ tent between runs, with my parents watching my son," Wendy recalls. “My parents are amazing — they live in Crested Butte during the winter to help me work. I need to travel now for my work and for my sanity and my parents take the boys to ski races when I’m gone. My husband is the director of the mountain sports team and in the summer runs the mountain bike programme for the resort so he is full-on, full time, too."
Anyone who spends more than five minutes with Wendy immediately gets what a free-spirited inspiration, she is, but also that she has the biggest heart and someone who needs to take care of everyone (hell, she guided me to bed when I was smashed, no mean feat for anyone).
While she might not be getting wasted every night, Wendy does party hard into the small hours, and DJs on the side — under her alter-ego “DJ Red". Her enthusiasm for life is infectious.
Wendy has often spoken about losing her eldest brother, Mark, when she was very young, to a skiing accident in Squaw Valley (where they grew up) and I ask how it felt watching her children learn to ski.
“It was terrifying — they hadn’t any understanding of consequence," she explains. “I was the first on the scene when Mark died — we were playing a high-speed game called Fox and Hounds. Afterwards, my parents were adamant that my middle brother and I continue skiing."
Watching Aksel and Devin skiing trees was, she says, the hardest.
“I’d be there cheering them on, but internally my head was scrambling. I’d never want to show that fear though, I have to tell myself that even though my brother died, this sport is awesome. I was never an emotional person but once I had the kids, I started to cry and was surprised at how much of a ‘mother’ I became.
“I’m really good at self-talk, I talk myself into doing things — like skiing in avalanche terrain for movies. In the same way, I talk myself into being confident of my kids doing things. One time, my dad pulled me aside when he saw me react to my son crashing. He sat me down and said he was concerned with how soft I’d become. I said, ‘Dad, I saw my brother die, I am a mom now, I’m allowed to be like this because they’re my babies now’."
"Being a mom didn’t affect my skiing — I’ve always been scared, whenever you’re standing on a gnarly line it’s normal. But I knew I was good enough to be there…"
“Being a mom didn’t affect my skiing — I’ve always been scared, whenever you’re standing on a gnarly line it’s normal. But I knew I was good enough to be there, I wasn’t some yahoo standing on that hillside with some joker trying to get me down for shits and giggles. My husband knows that I need to do this. I never really leave my family needlessly though, it’s for my work — it’s just that work happens to be fun and rewarding."
As her sons have grown stronger, and their skiing improved, family life has been about getting out on the hill together (Wendy is an ambassador for Crested Butte Mountain Resort where they all live). In 2014, she filmed an episode for Salomon Freeski TV called “Super Mom" and in 2016, that segment for Warren Miller. She lets her children play hooky from school when it’s a powder day and says her best Christmas present is to go skiing en famille.
“The last two Christmases we’ve been out skiing as a family on Christmas day — they’ve both been powder days," she says, with a huge grin. “My Christmas present is to get on that lift — I say, ‘You can play with your toys later, your present to me is that you get geared up and we go out’.
“We’ll try to keep that as our Christmas tradition."