Caroline Gleich is a hero in our books. After graduating from high school, she took the road less travelled and chased her dreams to become a professional ski mountaineer, even though she had no formal coaching or background in competitive skiing.
The gamble paid off and the 29-year-old now spends her days travelling the world, scaling incredible peaks and skiing every day for Jaybird, Patagonia, LifeProof, Julbo, Leki, Pret, Nordica, Clif Bar, Goal Zero, and Voke tab.
"I always loved skiing and being in the mountains, and I knew it was my calling," says a confident Caroline. We are thrilled we finally managed to pin her down between adventures to learn about how she handles fear and why it's so important to speak up for yourself.
What does a typical week look like for Caroline?
No week is typical. When I’m on a trip, I ski all day and the rest of my time is spent eating, drying and organizing gear and preparing for the next day. In the off-season, I train as much as possible: I climb, I lift weights, I trail run, I hike up mountains. I have an organic vegetable garden, so I try to spend time there too. I always have a lot of projects going on, which means I do spend time indoors: I spend a lot of time on my computer, editing photos and writing. Writing takes up a lot of my time. And trip planning.
I’ve never liked settling into too much of a routine, so while it can be a challenge sometimes, it’s also a lot of fun to adapt to all the different situations in my life and balance all my projects and goals.
What’s the hardest part of your job? And what’s the best?
It depends on the day you ask me - it changes!
The hardest part of my job is prioritizing and learning to say no. I honestly get so excited about every opportunity that comes my way, but I’m learning you can’t do everything. Sometimes you have to sacrifice in the short term to win in the long term. Someone told me that a good reference for making decisions in life is to notice when you feel the “big yes”; instead of saying yes to everything, notice the things that excite you the most. Pursue those. But I just hate saying no. I want to do everything now. I want to be super woman.
The best part of my job? The people I get to travel and play in the mountains with.
Do you get scared?
All the time, but I’ve learned that fear is not something to overcome. It’s something to breathe into and embrace, because the fear is there for a reason. Whenever I’m scared, I try to delve into that fear and ask myself, what is it that I’m afraid of? Many times in the mountains, it’s a legitimate concern: avalanches, serac fall, crevasses, exposure. Fear keeps us alive, it’s pushed me to learn so many technical skills. It’s also pushed me to learn so much about myself on a personal level.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
I don’t know yet because I’m still learning. One thing I’m working on right now is to embrace the failures; those times where I feel like I’ve let myself and everyone else down. Because it is out of those moments of deep despair that the best things come.
Over the next 10 years, what is your big goal?
To push myself and the sport, yet be safe and create longevity in my career in a sport that’s not known for longevity.
What piece of advice would you give to our young SisuGirls wanting to pursue a life as a mountain athlete?
Don’t let anyone tell you what you are capable of. If you have a goal you want to pursue, figure out what it entails, and decide for yourself if you can do it or not. In the earlier part of my career, I would always ask someone I looked up to if they thought I could ski a certain line or climb a particular mountain. Most of the time, they told me no way, that I was not strong enough and I would certainly die. Then I started asking myself if I could do it, and I realized I was the only one holding me back.
Work hard and develop a thick skin. Stay focused on your vision for what you want to achieve.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
To speak up for what I need or want. It sounds so simple, but as a woman, I’m always trying to make sure everyone else around me is happy and it’s easy to forget to make myself happy.
What is something that you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started your sport?
I wish someone would’ve told me to stop being so critical and judgmental of myself. To let go of my need for perfection and do the best I can do while having as much fun as possible.
What makes you wake up each morning?
Most of the year, I’m excited to get up and eat because I’m always hungry!
Who inspires you?
I find so much inspiration from all the people in the world around me – everyone who has the tenacity to defy societal norms and create the vision of their future that they want.
There is so much inspiration everywhere, from environmental activists like Julia Butterfly Hill to artists like my friend Mimi Kvinge.
Finally, who do you think has serious sisu?
I made a long list.
Climbers - Angela Van Stein, Pamela Pack, Emily Harrington, Sasha Diguilan, Melissa Arnot, Majka Burhardt, Caroline George, Liv Sansoz, Hazel Findlay, Kate Rutherford.
Skiers – Kit Deslaurier, Hilaree ONeill, Grete Eliassen, Liz Smart, Kalen Thorien, Sierra Quitiquit, Tatum Monod, Lynsey Dyer, Michelle Parker, Leah Evans, Izzy Lynch, Zoya Lynch.
Snowboarders, Jamie Anderson, Hannah Teeter, Kimmy Fasani.
Surfers – Ishita Malaviya, Kimy Werner, Liz Clark, Leila Hurst.
Body builders- Kathleen Tesori.
Trail runners- Emelie Forsberg, Anna Frost, Ann Driggers.
Journalists, photographers, videographers – Ali Vagnini, Leslie Hittmeier, KT Miller, Alexa Miller, Tess Weaver, Meg Harwood Sullivan, Alyssa Larson, Heather Hansman.
Adventurers - Brooke Gaynes, Rachel Moore, Gina Begin.