Photos by Sverre Hjornevik
Olympic skier Kaylin Richardson
Olympic skier Kaylin Richardson
The Twin Cities ski terrain may not be akin to that of the Swiss Alps, but what we lack in altitude, we make up for in attitude when it comes to our love of skiing, says two-time Olympic skier Kaylin Richardson. The Minneapolis native recently teamed up with another big name in the ski world: winter sports filmmaker Warren Miller, who, for 65 years, has been documenting skiers and snowboarders as they travel the world in search of the most extreme slopes. His most recent film, No Turning Back, follows Richardson to Norway, where it’s clear she’s picked up a few tricks since her Hyland Hills days.
The movie premieres at the State Theatre October 24 and 25. We're giving away a handful of tickets to the movie and VIP pre-party, where you can hobnob with snowboarding champ Seth Wescott on opening night, beginning at 6 p.m. at Rock Bottom Brewery.
Allison Turnberg: How did you first get on skis?
Kaylin Richardson: My dad loves skiing, and when he and my mom got married he taught her how to ski and we just became a skiing family. The first team I was on was Team Richardson. I have two older brothers and I did everything they did. My brother started in Ski Jammers, and when he graduated he started ski racing. I followed suit, and we didn’t really look back. I don’t think that my parents knew what they were getting themselves into.
AT: What were they getting into, exactly?
KR: Monday through Thursday, I would go to practice and train for two to two and a half hours, and a lot of times it was so cold or the lift lines were so long that it was faster to hike the hill to take your runs than to actually take the chair lift. You would train four days a week, and then Fridays you would have for fun or to rest up, and then we’d race Saturdays, and by the time you were 15, you were racing Saturdays and Sundays.
AT: Did growing up in Minnesota shape your skiing background, rather than growing up in a place like Colorado?
KR: I think that people in Minnesota love skiing more than anywhere else in the nation—people will drive hours to ski on, let’s just be honest, not the best surfaces. People that live next to these huge mountains, if it’s not a 6-inch powder day, people don’t even bother going out. I always say that in the Midwest, skiing is alive and well for the actual joy of just being out on your skis.
AT: Where was your favorite local spot?
KR: Afton Alps. Even just after school you can go to Afton and ski under the lights. In the World Cup there are night slaloms, so you’d race under the lights. That was foreign to [a lot of athletes], but I grew up training under the lights at Hyland Hills. So whenever I ski at night, I'm a little nostalgic for Minnesota.
AT: Would you still describe yourself as a professional skier even though you’ve retired from racing?
KR: When people say they retire from elite athletics, it’s just a euphemism. I quit. I was ready to explore other things and also other avenues of skiing. To be able to ski in the big mountains and in the backcountry has been such a gift and such a cool side of skiing that I had never really explored before. When you’re ski racing, a lot of your risk-taking has to be calculated because that’s your livelihood. And now, it’s still my livelihood, but that risk taking is part of my new career path as a big mountain skier.
AT: The honor of skiing in a Warren Miller movie is something not everyone understands, but it’s comparable to the prestige of doing a Woody Allen movie for actors—it’s a really big deal.
KR: I think there is truth to that, because it’s the ski movie that transcends the skiing community. I’ve mentioned Warren Miller to people from Louisiana or Kentucky or even places like New Zealand and they recognize him. To be part of that legacy is a big deal. It’s a great platform to share just the pure joy of skiing. Not that ski racing isn’t joyful, but there are a lot more constraints—there are these markers that dictate where you go left and right, red, blue. But in free skiing, you really get to choose wherever you go and it’s your own self-expression. There’s no time board that’s going to tell you whether you succeeded or failed.
I think that Warren Miller is so much more than a ski film. It is an illustration of adventure and the strength of the human spirit. It’s a celebration of the pastimes and the choices we make. The movies celebrate the visceral part of us that just wants to be exhilarated. I think that when people are done watching a Warren Miller movie, they should feel lifted up and encouraged to go find whatever mountain they want to conquer. Whether that mountain is a totally different sport, maybe they’ve never even skied before, but I think it’s supposed to encourage people to get out there and push their own limits.
AT: In your segment of the film you're in Norway, skiing down a mountain left in its natural state.
KR: There’s definitely risk involved, for sure. When you’re up in the mountains, you have to constantly be assessing the risks, whether it’s avalanche or exposure to rock or even the elements. That’s part of the exhilaration of it, in that things change at the drop of a hat, and you have to be adaptable. It makes you feel really alive. I guess you could say that I’m an adrenaline junkie, but I’m also super calculated. When you’re at the top of a big line and you’re about to ski it, you take a couple minutes and look around you and see the dangerous spots and the places, if something did go wrong, you could go to—they’re called “islands of safety.” You do all that mental work, you take a deep breath, and you know you’ve done everything you can. Now you’re just going to have fun. And that’s the same thing with pretty much anything in life. If you don’t have the utmost confidence in yourself, you’re going to look back and wonder what it could’ve been.