In this week's blog we sit down with Backcountry Zero Ambassador Crystal Wright to learn more about her professional skiing career, her other backcountry pursuits and what inspired her to join the Backcountry Zero team.
Backcountry Zero: Can you tell us a little about what it was like growing up in Jackson and how you got in to backcountry skiing?
Crystal: Growing up here was awesome. My mom worked for the resort (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) - both of my parents did - so I started skiing in the backcountry when I was 12 or 13, mainly with my ski club coaches. But the resort only had an open gate policy in March so we would always go out then and that’s when I fell in love with being out of bounds. I remember at a really young age I skied Four Shadows and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever done, and it’s still one of my favorite runs to this day 20 years later. I didn’t have a lot of awareness in the backcountry other than what my parents would tell me, until I was 19 and I took my Level 1 Avy course. And I just recently took my Level 2 so there was a big gap. You learn a lot of course by going into the backcountry and experiencing the elements. Competing on the free-ride tour and being in avalanche terrain is a whole different story because you’re competing and so you aren’t really thinking about that, but you have to be aware of it. So you learn a lot by assessing your risk and the situations that way. Through the years you find partners that you trust to go into the backcountry and that’s always been really important to me. As a woman sometimes it’s hard to find partners so that’s where Babe Force came from was trying to find more women partners.
Backcountry Zero: You were one of the founders of Babe Force, can you share your inspiration for starting that group?
Crystal: I got fired up because I thought it was hard to find other ladies and I knew women were wanting to get into the backcountry but they usually went with their husbands or boyfriends and they would never really go with other women as much because they didn’t have the confidence or education. And I kind of felt that way too, I always went with the boys. So I decided to start the Babe Force as a good way to find like-minded women that want to go out and have some fun, educate each other and create those partnerships. I’ve met a lot of good friends through our ski days that we’ve had. And it was kind of in conjunction with the Air Force (JH Air Force) because they have their dude club so I was like, where is the ladies club? It was more of a joke in the beginning because they haven’t given a lot of patches to women and there were a lot of badass ladies back in the 70’s ripping it, like Emily Coombs… how come she didn’t get a patch? So that’s where that side of it came with the patches but now it’s escalated more into meeting other ladies and finding partners. It’s nice because sometimes women look at things differently and I like going in the backcountry with ladies. I get more nervous when I go with certain guys that one to push it a little bit more, but with the ladies we’ll actually sit there and talk about it and assess the situation. We’ll still push ourselves but it’s just a different scenario.
Backcountry Zero: How did you come to be a personal trainer and open your own facility, Wright Training?
Crystal: Through skiing and other sports I’ve been injured a lot and I ski raced competitively so I started lifting at a young age. I didn’t really understand the benefits of it until I got a lot older and had a lot of injuries and training was my way of coming back into performance, whether that’s hiking up Josie’s or competing at a professional level I think it’s so important. And I love helping people and seeing people find success and feel better and have confidence. That’s the main thing - I’m not just a trainer I like to be their coach. I can be like - ok - you’re coming back from this knee injury and the first day on the snow you’re going to feel confident and strong and not worried. I remember when I came back from double ACL when I was young and it was so hard and I was constantly worried I would crash. That’s where it started - I always wanted to have an injury prevention center to bridge that gap between PT and getting back to sport and I became really passionate about that and getting people strong for the things we love to do in the mountains. When you are strong you can recover so much better. I use Greg Epstein as an example because he was in an avalanche and if he wasn’t as strong as he was - if his core hadn’t been as strong - they don’t think he would have lived. You don’t think about saving people’s lives, but it goes along with injury prevention. It’s fun to see it work and I love to see people get more confident in the mountains.
Backcountry Zero: Do you still compete professionally in big mountain skiing?
Crystal: This past year was my 10th year competing. I’ve done at least one competition every year for 10 years straight. I haven’t missed a year due to injury or anything which is crazy because I’ve had a lot of injuries in 10 years, but I’ve somehow been able to compete. I’m not saying I’m never going to do another competition but I have started to get more into the ski mountaineering side of backcountry skiing and it’s fun to focus on that. Last year I did a really great trip to Spain and it opened my eyes to how much is out there. I’ve been skiing in the Tetons for a long time but it’s so different when you take it elsewhere. So I’m not saying I’ll never go out of a start gate again, but I had a good run of it. I won the tour twice and had success with it. I learned a lot and made a lot of great friendships.
Backcountry Zero: What other hobbies do you have?
Crystal: I’ve never been a team sport person (laughs), even in rodeo I don’t team rope. Mainly because I don’t have the time to practice. But I grew up horse-packing into the Winds and being in the backcountry with my horses. I like to mountain bike and I’ve been climbing for a long time as well. I call myself a professional follower - I don’t lead a lot but I climb a lot. My husband is a good leader so I have fun. Just getting into the mountains really - anything in the mountains I love. Trail running… running is like the hardest thing in the world for me so I’m trying to get better at it. It’s a fun way to see the country and the mountains and you don’t need a lot of gear.
Backcountry Zero: What inspired you to become a Backcountry Zero Ambassador?
Crystal: I really want to help raise more awareness in the community. There are so many kids that are moving here - or young adults - and they see someone else go out and ski Pucker so they think ‘I’m going to ski that tomorrow’. So getting people to think before they go, educate themselves, start slow and get their Avy 1 so they can assess the situations for themselves. I think everyone needs to be responsible for themselves no matter what and they need to speak up. I would like to raise awareness of that. I know sometimes it can be hard in a group - I’ve definitely not spoken up when I should have and I’ve been really lucky. I really want everyone to get out into the mountains because it’s such a special place but I want it to be done safely. I always want people to push themselves out of their comfort zone but there is a safe way to do it.