Getting to know Caroline Gleich, professional skier and environmental activist

"Welcome to Elan's Always Good Times Q & A Sessions with our athletes. This is a three part series where we asked our fans to tell us what questions they had for our athletes. Each athlete took the time during their off season to answer each question from their homes. Here is the first installment with Caroline. Enjoy!"

From her early days on the snow in the Midwest to summiting Everest with a ruptured ACL, Caroline shares answers with her Elan fans about her experiences and adventures around the world. 

I love BC skiing but struggle at high elevation. How should I train?

There are a variety of ways to train for high elevation, and skiers should use caution when going to higher altitudes and learn about the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness. One way to help acclimatize the body is by going higher, slowly. Can you plan an intermediate elevation into your trip so you don’t go so high so fast? If you can give yourself a few extra days on the front end of the trip to acclimatize, you will feel better when it comes time to go skiing. For extreme high-altitude, I’ve used the Hypoxico Altitude Training System. That could be another way to train, but it’s expensive and can be uncomfortable. I would consider taking a wilderness first aid or wilderness first responder course so you can become more aware of how to treat altitude sickness. Try to be patient with yourself and your trip planning and give yourself a few days to acclimatize.

What’s your advice for active people/athletes looking to be environmental advocates?

Athletes are some of the most powerful activists. Follow your heart, take a stand, keep showing up, learning and doing the hard work. Don’t be afraid to work with non-profit partners and other groups of athletes. We’re stronger together!

How did you manage to raise funds for a big project like Everest?

Fundraising for Everest was a massive undertaking, and it was very intimidating. I began by creating a pitch deck that described more about the project and the goals, and then I started going to different sponsors and individuals and asking for support. It wasn’t easy to ask for the funding, but I had to embrace it and realize that I could learn just as much from the fundraising as I could from the actual climb. I approached it as an investment for sponsors with different deliverables and ways of providing value for their investment in the climb. Creating a mini-business plan helped me manage the project.

How long have you skied?

I started skiing when I was 18 months old. I’ve been a sponsored skier for over a decade and a half. I ski over 100 days a year.

What’s the best Elan powder skis to get for the next pair?

I love the Ripstick 94 W, or the Ripstick 96. It’s a great all around powder ski.

What is your favorite mountain?

I love my home mountain range of the Wasatch in Utah. I also love the adventure of the unknown and the mountain I haven’t skied yet.

When/how did you get into mountaineer, skiing, etc. Your parents have similar interests?

I grew up in Minnesota skiing with my family 1-2x a year on vacation. I’m grateful that my parents taught me how to ski. When I was 10 years old, I went backpacking with my dad, siblings, and uncle to the Wind River Range in Wyoming. On the trips I took out west, I fell in love with the alpine and grew a strong desire to explore those places. When I was 15, I moved to Utah with my family. When I was 18, I began to pursue my dream of becoming a professional skier and ski mountaineer. It took me many years to learn all the skills I needed.

What was the hardest thing you’ve accomplished and what did you learn from it?

One of the great challenges of my life has been to learn how to love myself and to be kind to myself. I’ve struggled a lot with depression and low self-esteem. It’s a constant challenge. When I’m successful, I feel it’s one of my greatest accomplishments.

Has fear ever outweighed your decisions to over come your goal? Big lines, too steep, too exposed?

There are times when I’ve decided to turn around for various reasons – for weather, for snow conditions, because the line was too steep or exposed. But usually, those decisions weren’t driven by fear. I try not to let fear run the show. I let my fear speak to me, and help me inform decision-making, but fear is not usually the reason I turn around. Instead of saying I’m scared, I say I can’t do it right now.

How was your partnership formed with Elan? They approached you or vice versa?

Elan reached out to me via LinkedIn, I believe. As I began talking more and more with the team and testing the products, I quickly knew it was a great ski and an awesome team of people! I always have to test the product before I can commit, but there was also a test to make sure the team was good to work with. I love that they are based in Slovenia, one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, and that they make the skis in the Alps. They honored my ask to have a pregnancy protection clause into my contract in case I decide to start a family. Elan is one the oldest ski brands in the industry and I have great respect for their knowledge of ski technology and modern ingenuity!

What do you recommend for someone who wants to do well in a sport but started late?

It’s never too late to live the life you dream of. Keep showing up, keep practicing, and embrace a growth mindset. The journey of growth is where the magic happens, not the final goal or achievement.

What can be done about cleaning up Everest?

Now, climbers are mostly practicing leave no trace ethics on the mountain. And the Chinese and Nepal governments are doing big clean up efforts. I climbed Everest from the Tibet side, from China, and I was surprised at how little trash there was at base camp. Some of the trash at advanced base camp was very old and embedded in the rock and ice, so it’s difficult to clean up. Up higher, most of the trash was abandoned tents and old ropes. As climbers and skiers, we can continue to do better and make sure we carry out our waste and take extra waste we find back with us.

Did you have any problems climbing Everest with a ruptured ACL?

Climbing Everest without my ACL was a challenge at every turn. I had some pain and swelling during the beginning phases of the trip from the travel and from the acclimatization hikes. There were times it would hyper-extend, but overall, it felt OK. The biggest challenge was the mental challenge of learning how to balance and use my leg without my ACL. And then descending off the summit for a long day.

What’s been your greatest achievement?

Continuing to believe in this dream of making a career as a professional skier.

Elan: getting to know Caroline Gleich, climbing to EverestElan: getting to know Caroline Gleich, climbing to Everest

What inspires you most to live the life that you live?

I’m deeply inspired by nature itself – the snow, the rocks, the water, the trees – every element of it. I love being able to be in nature and the long days I spend in the mountains are when I’m my happiest, most authentic self. I’m also inspired by how I can share those stories to create a positive change on the world, inspiring other people to connect with nature and protecting the places we love to play.

You are such an inspiration. How did you first get involved with climate change activism?

Thank you! I remember reading about climate change when I was in high school, and being very concerned. The first thing I did while I was in college was start a small business selling vintage clothing and making art out of recycled materials. I wanted to reduce the environmental impact of clothing by selling beautiful, used items. I also made jewelry stands, jewelry, and crocheted items out of plastic bags. While I had my business and while I was still a student, I applied for a political internship. I got it and spent my summer working for the Governor of Utah’s Environmental advisor. Working in government, I saw how I could use my voice to make bigger changes. At the end of my internship, I wrote a ten page paper critiquing the Governor’s ten year energy plan for the state of Utah because it was overly dependent on fossil fuels and didn’t include renewables. I started working more with local, environmental non-profits, and after I was done with my internship, I spoke at a big clean energy rally. A few months after that, I got involved with non-profit Protect Our Winters, and have been involved as an activist with them and other organizations, including my own, the Big Mountain Dreams Foundation!

What’s your training look like?

The last few years of my training data is available on Strava. You can see some of it there. Before I had Strava and GPS tracking, I would go do long days in the mountains, exploring my local mountain range and trying to climb all the peaks.

How do you handle criticism? I’ve watched “follow through” but I want to know more?

I’ve learned to realize that there is a difference between criticism and harassment. People are allowed to critique or criticize public figures, but when they repeatedly contact them with the desire to cause emotional harm, it’s harassment, and that’s illegal and can be prosecuted criminally. I try to shield myself now from some of the harsh comments that come up online. Another thing that helps me is to think of myself like winter and snow. Some people love the snow, and some people hate the snow. You probably aren’t going to change those people’s minds, so it’s not worth the effort.
There are times when it’s powerful to own the negative things people say. So there are a few of them that I hold onto, and use when I can find a way to upward spiral from it.

How do you overcome the low expectations of being a short woman in the outdoors?

I set my own expectations and goals sky high.

What about skiing down Mt. Everest Caroline?

I brought my skis when I went in 2019. I’d love to go back and ski more in the Himalayas someday.