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Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved adventure, exploring nature, and dreamt of skiing down the tallest mountains in the world. Her name was Kit DesLauriers, a determined young woman with a fierce curiosity to explore the tallest mountaintops — and then ski freely down the slopes. Kit was the first person to ski all Seven Summits, the first woman to ski Mount Everest, and is a two-time women’s world freeskiing champion.
Combining a passion for exploration, mountain adventures and skiing, Hilaree Nelson has travelled to some of the most exotic mountain ranges on earth. Her expedition career has led her to many “firsts” in the world of ski mountaineering including linking two 8000m peaks (Everest and Lhotse) in one push, first ski descents on Baffin Island, a first American ascent and ski descent of Papsura peak in India, and a first ski descent of the 4th highest peak in the world, Lhotse.
She is the Captain of the North Face Athlete Team, an active leader on climate with Protect Our Winters, and an avid proponent of wild places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Hilaree is also the mother of two wild boys and finds her sanity in the San Juan Mountains near her home in Telluride, Colorado. Hilaree tells us what it was like to summit both Everest and Lhotse in the same mission, why she loves pushing herself in the outdoors, and what she does to overcome self doubt.
|I’m Hilaree Nelson. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us.
On this episode, Kit DesLauriers, the first person ever to ski down the highest mountain on each continent – the Seven Summits.
|Kit DesLauriers was born in Albany, New York and grew up in the north east of the United States. The outdoors played a large role in Kit’s life. During the snowy winters, Kit and her family did cross-country skiing, which is when you ski across a flat area. But Kit loved all kinds of sports! Soccer, biking, tennis, swimming. The feeling of moving and being free, feeling strong physically, and challenging herself made her feel alive and gave her joy.
When Kit was 10 years old, she and her family moved across the country to Arizona, where it was sunny with lots of hot, dry deserts in between rocky hills. When she was 14, she started to downhill ski at a small resort in Arizona, where there was snow in the winter. But sometimes, her family would visit Colorado, where there are lots of big, snow-covered mountains.
It was in Colorado that Kit first got a taste for skiing down much bigger peaks. This new style was so different from the cross-country skiing she did back east. It was fast! And exhilarating.
Kit would go up the mountain on a ski lift and come down it like a rocket!
She’d maneuver her skies side to side and stretch her body one way and then another. Weaving in and out, whooshing between trees. She loved the feeling of being on the snow, in the woods on the side of a mountain, and with her family.
Hearing the wind whistle and whoosh and her own breath in her ears. There was no other feeling like it. Right then and there she vowed that skiing would always be a part of her life.
|Kit never stopped being active – even when there was no snow around to ski in. She graduated high school and attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, studying French and environmental politics. Even though she loved outdoor adventures, she took her education seriously, and attended the university on a full academic scholarship.
As a student she took up trail running and rock climbing in the dry dusty hills around town. And she loved mountain biking most of all, flying down the trails on two wheels. But the snowy, wind-whipped mountains of Colorado called to her.
One day, a week before she was going to graduate college and head to the mountains to live, Kit was sitting around reading the classified section of the local newspaper. This is where people would list things for sale. She saw something that caught her eye…
“Wolf Pups for sale. 5th litter. $200 dollars. Must provide references.”
Kit had to go see them.
When she arrived the breeder showed her the pups. Kit peered down at the fluffy piles of fur that were climbing all over each and felt drawn to one of the pups.
As she cradled him in her arms she said she felt something BIG. And a little scary. She felt love for this teeny, fluffy, wolf pup.
And one week later, on the day before her graduation, and after the wolf had grown up a little bit more, she took him home and named him Alta. He was so young and tiny, just three pounds. This little pup could fit in the palm of Kit’s hand. Kit wrapped Alta in an old grey sweater and felt the enormity of what she had taken on. And, determination grew within her: to give him a life full of all the wild adventures that his wolf-nature would need. She made a vow to never live in a place that a wolf wouldn’t want to live. So Kit chose to live close to nature, in places a wolf like Alta could feel safe in the human world.
|A week after Kit graduated college, and after years of visiting Colorado during weekend trips and appreciating its enormous, cascading mountain ranges, she and Alta made the move there and settled in. Or at least, her own version of settling in.
Kit got a job as a ski patroller and volunteered with search and rescue. This meant that she skied around Telluride resort, helping people who got lost or hurt in the winter snow. She even trained to be an emergency medical technician and worked in helicopter rescue. She also worked as a stonemason, building walls, steps, and outdoor landscapes out of stone. She would carefully lay each slab of rock so it was balanced just in its right place.
And she and Alta made the most of their new mountain home, feeling like they were in their right place too.
|Kit and her wolf loved their life in Colorado. Especially in winter, when everything was white with fresh-fallen snow.
When they hiked the mountains and explored every path and trail of the valley, Kit felt a sense of wonder, courage, and adventure. But she also felt a deep sense of belonging in their wild mountain home, a sense of balance. To prepare for exploring the outdoors meant respecting it, and by respecting the mountains, she could explore them safely — and be able to truly appreciate them.
With every mountain she climbed, Kit wondered about exploring even bigger mountains. So she set her heart on traveling outside of Colorado, and even outside of the country.
|In 1998, when Kit was about 30, she had a realization. And, not surprisingly, she had it on top of a mountain. Kit was exploring in India in the state of Sikkim, a part of the Eastern Himalayan mountain range. She had been asked to join an alpine climbing expedition. As she looked around her at the magical, snowy expanse of peaks, she found herself missing her skis! Everywhere she looked, she saw lines that she could imagine herself skiing down.
It was then and there at the top of that serene peak in India that Kit decided she would challenge herself and combine her skills as a mountaineer AND a skier. And she would get so good at ski mountaineering that she would be able to ski anything.
Throughout the next few years, Kit trained and sharpened her skills. She began to enter competitions and climb and ski other famous mountains around the world. In 2003, Kit became the first woman ever to have a ski descent down Mount Aspiring in New Zealand.
And in 2004 and 2005, she even became a back-to-back Freeskiing World Tour Women’s champion!
And still, there would always be more mountains calling to Kit and her skis. Including Denali, a 20-thousand foot peak in Alaska, and the highest mountain in the United States.
|In May of 2004, Kit and her husband Rob were holed up in a tent at the gateway to the summit of Denali, deep in the heart of Alaska. She [KIT} had met him[ROB] on a ski expedition in Siberia in 1999, and they had been on many adventures together over the years.
But this trip to climb up and ski down Denali would prove to be an especially challenging one. Kit and Rob were camped on the side of the highest peak in North America! And they were waiting for the weather to be good enough to start scaling the rest of the massive mountain.
The wind sounded like a freight train above their heads, and with wind chill it was negative 40 degrees outside! But snuggling down deep in heavy sleeping bags in their tent, it was almost peaceful. They passed the time building a wall of big snow blocks to cut down the wind, reading, and playing cards. And, watching the mountain, hoping they could head for the summit – that means the very top – soon!
But Kit started to doubt herself. The wait was driving her nuts and she started to say she wasn’t even sure she WANTED to climb the mountain!
Rob pushed back. “Why do you say these things?” he asked. Finally Kit said – “I know myself. I usually break down and doubt myself once…before I resolve to do it.”
The days dragged on. And the weather stayed bad. Finally Kit had a conversation with the Mountain.
“Ok, Denali, Great One.” She said to the peak. “We don’t want to fight. Please, grant us safe passage. We NEED to at LEAST get into position by tomorrow. We MEAN it!”
The next day, Kit and Rob climbed to the next camp and planned to summit Denali. But the mountain had other plans and they were forced to go back and wait even longer! Finally on May 24th, 2004, after 22 days on Denali, Rob and Kit finally made it to the top after a final 12 hours of climbing.
But now, they had to ski down! Kit was scared. She thought about all the things that could go wrong. But she took a few deep belly breaths and pushed the doubt away. “Just do what’s right in front of you, Kit” she said to herself.
And she made gliding turns down the mountain.
|Here is something you might not know. On each continent of the world there is one mountain that’s taller than any other on that continent. These are called The Seven Summits. They are Everest, Aconcagua [Ah-con-CAH-gwah], Denali – the one Kit climbed already -, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Mount Vinson, and Kosciuszko [kah-zee-uh-skoh].
Each one is over seven thousand feet tall—with the tallest – Mt. Everest – being more than twenty-nine thousand feet high!
Climbing up these mountains isn’t like hiking up any others. It can take days, weeks, even months. It’s often extremely cold and icy. And because the mountains are so high up, the air is thinner — making it harder to breathe while working your way up up up!
But, after her adventure on Denali, Kit had decided that she would climb up and ski down all the rest of the Seven Summits. She just needed to figure out how.
|Deciding to ski mountaineer the Seven Summits wasn’t an easy decision for Kit. She was around 35 years old and a friend had encouraged her to think about her legacy. She considered her options – going back to school to study landscape design, starting a family – but she could do ALL that. But this…this would come first.
But the dream of the Seven Summits was too big inside of her. Nobody had skied all seven of these mountains before, and it was a big unknown if it was even possible! And so, Kit went for it. And she started where a lot of good adventures start: Google.
Kit researched when and how to scale and ski the Seven Summits; what was the best time of year, what equipment would she need? How long would it take? And when would the weather be a perfect mix, allowing her to safely climb up, but snowy enough to ski down.
The planning and execution took Kit and her support team more than 2 years. The last of the Seven Summits she skied was Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world above sea level.
At the top of the world, while she prepared to ski down the last and biggest mountain of them all, she paused in amazement. She had accomplished an incredible goal, by preparing hard, and never giving up. In that moment, Kit felt like she could cry. She felt an overwhelming joy, and deep gratitude for her team, her family, and everyone that was supporting her. Everyone helping her accomplish her history-making mission.
|When she finished skiing down Mount Everest that day, Kit had become the first person ever in the entire world to ski from the summit of the highest mountain on each continent!
And the adventures kept coming. That next year, Kit became a mother. She had a baby girl, and then another daughter soon after. And as her daughters grew, Kit began to dream of how to get back into her life of ski expeditions.
Since skiing the Seven Summits, Kit has fallen in love with another wild place, a specially protected area in far Northeastern Alaska. It is called the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Kit says it is the most beautiful place she has ever been. It is full of untouched lands and amazing animals and plants.
So, Kit has adventured to the Arctic Refuge many times, made first ski descents of some of its tallest mountains, and even helped with some scientific measurements to help figure out how long the Arctic glaciers will last. Kit volunteers her time with Alaska Wilderness League in an effort to preserve and protect this remote wilderness. And of course, she continues to ski and explore mountains with her husband and daughters, from their home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and around the world.
When it comes down to what she’s learned, Kit says that we’re all more capable than we think, no matter what we set our minds to.
She says that, as girls, and as women, we already have the power inside of us to be brave. And what we do with that bravery, well, that’s up to us.
As Kit continues her adventures through life, she always hears the words of her mother echoing in her head, words she told Kit when she was young, “Don’t ever let anybody tell you here’s something you can’t do, especially because you are a girl.”