Michelle Parker is a skier that has her finger on the pulse. Growing up on the slopes of Squaw Valley as a ski racer, she broke away from the confines of the track as a teen to stomp it in the park just as its popularity began to explode. It didn’t take long for the industry to take notice, and at an age where most of us are concentrating on passing our driver’s test, Michelle was turning pro. After enjoying a number of successes in freestyle disciplines, including podiums at the US Open and gold at the Aspen Open Women’s Slopestyle event in 2009, the young skier sensed change in the winds of skiing once again, and turned her attention to the unbounded potential of the backcountry.
Today, Michelle is riding some of the most epic lines on the planet among some of the most dynamic athletes in game. She’s been making turns for all the right reasons, and its been paying off in spades! As of late, she’s been dedicated to filming in the backcountry with the powder gurus of Matchstick Productions and has just signed on to join the team at ATOMIC Skis.
Michelle is currently enjoying some well-deserved downtime back home in California, after her most recent filming session with MSP in Whistler, B.C. We managed to catch up with the freeskier just as she was wading into the Truckee River to engage in the ancient art of fly-fishing.
The Ski Channel: First off, congratulations on your new partnership with ATOMIC Skis. What inspired the agreement?
Michelle Parker: Thanks! Basically I found a new direction with my ski career, and wanted to film more. During my conversations with Atomic I told them I wanted to work with Matchstick and they were just as stoked on it as I was.
Atomic has given me 100 percent of support for this decision. In the past, I’ve felt pressure to compete and do this or that, so this has been a new change for me – in a good way. They’re supporting me in doing exactly what I want to do and it feels right – how it should be – ya know?
TSC: You got your start in ski racing, and then became heavily involved in the park scene. You’re now primarily involved in backcountry riding during your filming and competitive pursuits. What inspired the transition to it being your core focus?
MP: I grew up racing, so I have a technical background. I grew up in Squaw watching people like C.R. Johnson, Shane McConkey and Ingrid Backstrom. They definitely had a strong influence on me heading to that direction.
The first time I got noticed was skiing in the park, so at first I got sucked into that scene – which was awesome and fun. But as I got older, I began to recognize that skiing powder with friends was where my passions lie for sure.
TSC: What are the most alluring aspects of the backcountry for you?
MP: For me personally, it’s just more peaceful and fun. The way I really differentiate filming versus competing is when I’m competing — its against other people — and that pushes me for sure, but when I’m filming I’m kind of competing against myself – trying to get the best shot I can, or ski the line as well as possible. Having that room for creativity, looking at a mountain and figuring it out for yourself in your own way is really beautiful.
Making turns in powder, that’s what its all about for me!
TSC: How have the new Atomic Millenniums been treating you so far?
MP: I’m stoked on that ski! It’s a female specific ski of course, and has totally supported me doing everything I wanted to do this year. It’s the first female powder ski that I’ve been stoked on in every condition I’ve ridden them in – so that says a lot!
TSC: Do you have a particular descent or highlight that stands out in your mind?
MP: As far as this year goes, going up to Alaska was huge for me. I went up there five years ago to go to guide school, which in my head was the transition from competing park to filming in big mountain. It was just really cool to get back up to Haines five years later and see where my ability has progressed, as well as my knowledge of the mountain. You’re always a rookie in Alaska, and if you’re not, you’re a badass! For myself, I think I’ll always learn more from that place than anywhere else. During the trip I got to ski with James Heim, Richard Permin, and Samuel Anthamatten. Being up there with those guys, learning from them, and watching them ski was certainly the highlight of my year.
TSC: Throughout your filming pursuits you’ve gotten to ride with some of the greats. What was it like to shed with Shane McConkey?
MP: It was really funny. The first time I ever skied with him, he was picking out what were by far, the gnarliest lines you could possibly ski on the mountain. I was like “Holy Shit this guy is old and he is sending it!” Then he would ski it and I was like “God, he is reallllly good”. He was always my favorite skier, and was just fun to be around — obviously. He was the most fun person to be around in the entire world in my book, and he was a really big inspiration for me growing up in Squaw. It was super fun to be surrounded by that type of energy and that kind of personality out on the mountain.
Skiing him was kind of the icebreaker for my backcountry-filming career.
TSC: You’re no stranger to the risks involved in action sports. Between losing friends, your knee injury in 2009 and being by Danny Toumarkine’s side throughout his long recovery, you’ve overcome some huge obstacles.
Now that you’re back in action and Danny has gotten back on the slopes, how has your perspective changed?
MP: I’ve definitely gone through those moments in time where I ask myself, “Is it worth it?” After getting over that initial grieving period, I always come back to the affirmation that skiing is what I love in my life – and what every one of these individuals loved in their life. You can’t take that away from somebody. I think you take away a part of their sole if you take their passion and what they love so much.
That’s something I had to learn in going through the whole process with Danny. Of course, every time we go snowboarding together I’m nervous. If he hits his head it’s not a good thing to say the least, but you can’t take that away from him. Snowboarding is the one thing in his life where he is absolutely in the moment and so stoked on what he’s doing. Seeing that for him, and knowing that would be the same thing for me – you just can’t take passion away from people.
TSC: In what ways has it affected your skiing?
MP: I think for me personally, I now ski with more knowledge and more confidence in that knowledge when I’m stepping into a line. I’ve gotten way better at getting to know the mountain super well, and being able to take a photo and know exactly where I am when coming down the mountain. If I’m ever questioning something, I can just stop and pull out. I think a valuable lesson as an athlete is knowing when to say no.
Overall, I’m not skiing like I’m 17 anymore. I know that my body’s fragile; I’ve had three knee surgeries and am not looking to have another. That being said, I’m still pushing myself cause that’s what I enjoy about skiing.
TSC: Everyone around here is extremely excited about your segment in the next Matchstick Productions film coming out this fall. How has filming been going?
MP: It has been awesome! I got to visit some amazing locations; Alaska definitely pushed the limits for me. I skied the biggest lines I’ve ever skied, and stood atop the biggest faces I’ve ever seen. I had to push myself a lot there since we didn’t have the best conditions, but it was super fun and a great learning experience.
I also shot in Whistler, which was more, my style; it felt like the mountain was catering to me [haha]. I got to ski there with Eric Hjorleifson, and Richard Permin again – it was just super cool to be out there with all these different athletes. Eric Hjorleifson and James Heim are two totally different athletes, so learning from them and taking in their perspectives was super cool. They’ve been doing this for a long time and their knowledge definitely boosted my confidence. I was joking with them saying, “I’m going to have to pay you guys to ski with me every year!”
I was really stoked on the opportunity work with these guys, and have the backing from my sponsors to film for an entire season was a dream come true for me.
TSC: What does it mean to be a part of the Matchstick Production’s 20th Anniversary?
MP: I grew up in Squaw Valley, and the local movie rental store only carried ski movies from Matchstick. I grew up watching MSP movies, so for me, it feels like it is a natural fit. They have such a presence in Tahoe, and I’ve been friends with Scott Gaffney for a long time, so it was cool to travel with him and film. To be a part of Matchstick Productions has always been what I wanted to do with my career. I’m finally living that dream.
TSC: Your talents on the slopes and passion for backcountry riding has led you to become recognized as a pioneer in women’s skiing. What recent advancements are you most excited about?
MP: I think it’s really cool to watch people like Jeremy Jones go out and explore new territory. He’s taken what he’s learned over the years to ride “deeper” and “further” [haha] in remote zones. He’s definitely sparked something in a lot of people and led more individuals to go camping in places like Alaska. You see a lot more now and I think it’s super inspiring. Getting out to the middle of nowhere is a rad place to be.
TSC: As the sport of freestyle and freeskiing continue to grow and evolve, do you have any specific goals?
MP: For myself personally, I’m focused on filming with Matchstick, and continuing to progress myself as a skier. Blending park and backcountry in a segment would be huge. I want to continue working with them and seeing where that takes me.
TSC: After the tragic loss of women’s skiing advocate and freestyle pioneer Sarah Burke, do you believe there has been a void left in her absence?
MP: What Sarah created and left behind is pretty irreplaceable. I don’t think anyone could fill those shoes. What she did was incredible; she was in the sport at a time where she inspired everyone who is in the sport today. I would just like to see the sport grow in the female aspect, with more girls getting out there to film and compete. It’s an exciting time in our sport for sure, and I’m incredibly bummed to see Sarah gone right now. She was by far the best role model I could ask for, and I looked up to her for many different reasons. Sarah was incredibly gracious, humble, and was always looking out for other people. All my interactions with her were super positive; I always walked away thinking “That chick is rad”. As far as filling the void goes, only time will tell.
TSC: What’s next for Michelle Parker?
MP: I want to get better at fly-fishing for sure! I’m also heading down to South America. I usually go down for one to two months every year to coach in Argentina for SASS Global Travel. It’s a really awesome summer camp and the ideal situation for a young skier or snowboarder. They can come down, take college courses, and even get their AVI 1 certification. For the most part, we basically take kids out and go exploring! I’m definitely really stoked on that, its something that I look forward to every year. It’s an opportunity for me to ski pretty much every day 9-5, hike, explore and share that experience with other people. It’s kind of my time to give back to other people. I believe one of the best characteristics someone can have is the desire to share their passion — and that’s what South America is all about for me. Seeing their faces and hearing them talk about the epic lines we just rode definitely brings me a lot of joy at the end of the day. So that’s my plan for the off-season!
TSC: Anything in particular coming down the pipe with the ATOMIC Team?
MP: We just got the ball rolling, so I’m really excited to be on board with them, and to work on the women’s line. I think they have the capacity to make some really amazing skis — and they already have been — so its cool to aligned with a company like that. I’m stoked to see what the future brings.
It’s been a new direction for me so many different ways. Working with Matchstick Productions, signing with pretty much all-new sponsors, including Smith Optics and Mountain Hardware.
It’s refreshing and cool to be working with companies that I’ve always looked up to and admired – it’s an exciting time for me.
For now, I’m gonna go catch some fish!
- End of Interview