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Athletes

Nov 30, 2017

Michelle Parker, Ski Superstar

When she’s not jamming on her ukulele, Michelle Parker is shredding slopes all around the world.

WRITTEN BY

Himraj Soin

One of the most versatile and dominant skiers out there, Parker is a Red Bull athlete who’s starred in numerous ski films, winning many awards and even more hearts.

Michelle Parker, 20, was skiing hard and well, like she usually did, but the day would not end like most. She skied off a cliff and landed on a rock, blowing out her knee. An ACL, MCL and medial patellofemoral reconstruction were just a few of the many surgeries she would require. She had to take a season off, and as a result, lost most of her sponsors.

After months of intense training and strengthening, Parker reached out to Matchstick Productions, a film company specializing in ski movies. “I’m a 100% and I’d like to film with you guys again, but I don’t have any sponsors so I have no support”, she told them over the phone. The outdoor industry is massive and yet very small when it comes to help, camaraderie, and mutual respect. One phone call later, the folks at MSP managed to hook her up with Atomic, a skiing equipment company and Mountain Hardwear, an outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturer. However, Parker wasn’t totally sure of herself at this point as she hadn’t hit any cliffs or skied that hard since her injury. She knew that the companies were trusting her and the fact that she was filming with Matchstick meant she had to be on her best performance. Going into the season optimistic and psyched on her second chance, she ended up nailing it.

At the end of the year (2015), she went to the world premiere of Superheroes of Stoke. When she landed, Steve Reska, who initially worked for Matchstick, but was now with Red Bull, picked her up from the airport and handed her a RB hat. “Welcome to the team”, he said. 

“These things happened simultaneously and right after I had hit rock bottom. Injured with no sponsors, and all of a sudden it was likeboom”, Parker laughed. A phoenix from the ashes, she was back on top accomplishing her dreams. This was her comeback yearshe had zero expectations but she went out there, skied for fun, and had a great time. She was stoked. She had no idea what was in store for her.

“I really try and get rid of the ego, especially on the mountains. I never like to say that I conquered a mountain”. Photo: RedBull Content Pool

Origin story

Parker starting skiing when she was one. Her parents loved the mountains and so she was brought up with a deep love, respect, and understanding of the wilderness. Her family moved to Tahoe City, California in 1986 and she was born in 1987. While it was hard to remember a lot of the early years, Parker knew she skied through them. When she was three, she joined a program called the Mighty Mites, an initiative that helped young skiers develop fundamental skills while instilling a joy and passion for the sport. While most kids played with blocks in daycare, for Parker, this was itshe would go to school, the bus would drop her straight to the mountain, and she was free to ski till her parents picked her up. “I think this definitely established the early fundamentals of skiing for me. After this, I started to race and was part of the racing team till I was 15 years old”.

Michelle Parker has been skiing big mountains for years. Check her out in awesome films like Fade to Winter and Days of My Youth. Photo: RedBull Content Pool

On her main sponsor

Now 29, Parker skis on the RedBull team. For her, and many athletes around the world, getting RedBull as a sponsor is like reaching the pinnacle of the sport. An amazing company that does commendable work representing and helping athletes, they’re known for being fastidious with who they pick to put on their team.

“They’ve been a backbone for me since I got on-board. From teaching me how to freedive to taking me to the Australian outback with a bunch of Navy SEALS, they’ve really helped me push myself mentally and physically”. Conducting an array of health and blood tests—RB always makes sure that the athlete is physically and mentally fit. Always wanting their players to succeed, Parker could go to RB after her injury and get all the physical training she required. Whereas before, when she would get hurt, she would lose her sponsors and have to start over on a clean slate. In the long run, this was a blessing in disguise.

On films and career highlights

Parker worked on many ski films including some with Warren Miller. Whether it’s working at home in Squaw valley or in a far out destination like Greenland, the opportunities in the industry were diverse. “My dream was always to ski in a Matchstick movie. I grew up renting them. One day, I hit a cliff, called ‘the fingers’. Scott Gaffney, a big Squaw local who works with Matchstick, was on the chairlift above me and witnessed it. He introduced himself to me, one thing lead to the other, and I was in”. In 2013, she won Best Female Performance at the Powder Video Awards as well as at the International Freeski Film Festival.

However for her, career highlights aren’t about awards but more about personal, special experiences. “I think for me, these memorable trips are the things that I walk away with having gained a lot of experience. It’s not like I won an award for that trip. Those things don’t stand out to me as much as going on expeditions with really special people. You get to know your surroundings but you also get to explore these individuals because you’re living in such close quarters, spending 24 hours a day with them—they become like family”.

Parker was on a ski expedition in Svalbard, Norway, with legendary skier and fellow RB athlete, Chris Davenport. Filming for a RB series called Faces of Dav in the northernmost civilisation in the world included getting on a sailboat for 14 hours to get to the fjords for their arctic safari. “I think when I’m older and I look back at my career, I won’t remember the awards or winning first place. I’ll remember the epic expeditions with close friends”.

Parker is known for allegedly having one of the best laughs in the ski industry. Photo: Ming Poon

What’s next?

 “I set out goals and write them down at the beginning of the year. But further than that, it’s hard for me to see in the future. My life has been very spontaneous—a lot of it has to be with the nature of being a professional skier. Everything is weather based—you’re going to get a phone call and you’re going to have to jump in your truck, or hop on a flight to Europe. I never know what I’m going to do tomorrow”.

Basing her entire lifestyle around going with the flow, Parker’s short-term goals are getting her knee healthy after several injuries and surgeries. She also aims to do exactly what she wants on skis—expeditions and camping in the backcountry for weeks on end are at the top of the list. Long-term goals are to do this as long as she can—“the lifestyle is so fun and fulfilling—I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position that I’m in”.

Other Hobbies

“Ukulele has become one of my biggest passions. Whenever I got injured, I would get so bummed. But then, I would just pick up the ukulele and instantly be happy”. Parker loves photography—capturing moments on film with friends and putting together edits. She loves to spend time with close friends, whether it’s around the campfire or in the mountains, according to her, that’s a hobby in itself.

 “I also love climbing, mountain biking, surfing—anything outdoors. I’ve turned into a swimmer since my injury. Pretty much any athletic thing outside, I’m game for”.

Parker competed in the US Open and X games but gradually moved over to more big mountain terrain. Photo: RedBull Content Pool

On inspirations

The person who had the deepest, most profound effect on Parker’s life was a legendary skier from Canada, the late JP Auclair. “He just embodied and taught me so much about skiing, about life, about being a good human being. I travelled with him for a number of years, we shared a sponsor, so we got to spend a lot of time together. That was a really special time in my life”.

Another big influence for Parker was the late Shane McConkey, a pro skier and BASE jumper. “Growing up with him in Tahoe, he was our local hero, as well as an international hero. His presence and ability to make you laugh at all times was infectious”.

These are just a few of the many people Parker looks up to. Most of her friends are big pioneers in the industry including pro skier and climber, Hilaree O’Neill. “She’s a perfect example of someone who’s perfect, fit and super driven. She loves adventure and I think that she’s just an awesome woman. Also Emily Harrington, she’s just this badass climber who sets really audacious goals and goes out and accomplishes them”.

Lastly, Parker attributes her love for the outdoors to her parents. Her father was a professional tennis player and so he understands dedicating everything to sport and passion. Her mother has an incredible love and passion for the mountains that has brushed off on her, setting her on the adventurous path since she was little.

On superheroes

When asked what superhero she would be, Parker stated that she’s not familiar with specific superheroes but that if she could have a superpower, it would be to bring joy to people’s lives. “To make people happy instantaneously, I think that’s something I try to do on a daily basis. Making people happy and smiling is a pretty cool characteristic to have. That’d be pretty rad”.

Michelle Parker is one of the founders of S.A.F.E.A.S. The goal is to increase awareness snow safety and avalanches.

 

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Adventure Travel

Jul 04, 2018

Become the Bear! Tackling Middle Aged Life the Bear Grylls Way.

This story originally featured in a print issue of the Outdoor Journal.

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WRITTEN BY

Jamie East

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Bear Grylls is probably one of the most famous adventure celebrities in the world. Aside from all his adventures, Bear also shares his survival skills with anyone ready to pay for it. One such chap was our middle-aged writer Jamie East, who usually preferred watching other people take risks from the safe distance of his television. Until he decided to go out there himself and get dirty.

Well, there’s something liberating about jumping into a freezing, fast-flowing river with all your clothes on. It’s the kind of thing that, as a child, you told yourself you’d do all the time once you were big enough and your parents couldn’t tell you off. Yet staying on the precipice at age 39, all I can think of is, “Is this jumper dry-clean only?”

This is what life does to you. It sucks the adventure from you quicker than a Dyson in a bag of sawdust. Before you know it, you’d rather sleep than live, drive than hike, sink into the sofa than swim.

I suppose this could be classified as bare survival. You exist but don’t live, and I’ve decided enough is enough. What would the 12-year-old Jamie, who got sent home from school for falling down a ravine he thought he could clear in one leap, say to me if he could see the 39-year-old me? “Man up!” probably. “Your clothes are stupid?” most definitely.

Bear Grylls is the man we all aspire to be. Hard as nails on a mountain ledge, soft as grease at home with his kids. The fire in his heart burns brighter than Krypton being destroyed, and he’s harder than a 60-foot working model of optimus Prime made from diamonds. He also embraces the outlook on life we all wish we had time for had those damned IsAs, smart phones and creamy pasta sauces not gotten in the way. Thankfully for those of us with a terminal case of lazy-itis, we can see how the other half live over at the Bear Grylls survival Academy from the bleak Scottish Highlands or the luscious surrey forests in England. Run by Grylls and his team of ex-paratroopers, the survival Academy is an ideal introduction into a world of skills and endurance we think we’ll never need. Be honest; how many of us truly believe that there will come a time when we will be skewering a rat for dinner or navigating a 23,000-acre highland with only the stars to help? But these are skills that used to be second nature to us humans. If there weren’t people like Grylls to show us the way, there are a lot of people around the world who wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale of the time their car broke down in the Australian outback, or when they had to make a snow cave that provided those few vital hours of warmth on a mountaintop. Whether we like it or not, the knowledge could prove life-saving.

A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.
A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.

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The Academy offers several options tailored to your needs. You can opt for a 24-hour experience in Surrey either alone or with a family member older than 10. Although only 10 minutes from the motorway, such is the Surrey countryside that you could be in Montana for all you’d know. The dense forest makes for a real wilderness experience. The deep rivers you’ll be crossing, the rabbits you’ll be gutting, the trees you’ll be stripping to make shelter, and the ravines you’ll be shimmying across really do give you a feeling of being alive. A 20-minute run is considered a “big thing” in my house, so spending days in the real outdoors felt invigorating. I felt alive!

I’m not an all-rounder though. I found some of the requisite skills completely beyond me, navigating by starlight was one. My brain is just not wired to untangle that kind of data.

I used to think I could point out the north star in a heartbeat. Nope. The north star isn’t the brightest one. Nuts.

“The North Star is, in fact, the one perpendicular to blah de blah de blah babble babble wibble waffle.” That’s how that sentence sounded coming from the instructor’s mouth: just a stream of nonsense about ploughs and bears. It doesn’t look like a plough. If it looked like a plough, I’m pretty sure even I could find it. But it doesn’t. It looks like a slightly wavy line of stars that is buried among 200 billion other stars. It makes finding a needle in a haystack look like finding an elephant in an eggcup, so if I’m stuck anywhere in the world (and I mean anywhere: La Rinconanda, the Kerguelen Islands or just past the BP garage near my house) without Google maps or a TomTom, you may as well kiss this writer’s sorry ass goodbye, because I’ll wither away in a puddle of my own dehydrated tears.

Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.
Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.

But there are things that must have been festering in my subconscious all these years, like a coiled snake ready to unleash, on an unsuspecting world. For instance, I could light a fire that is neither at the end of a cigarette nor underneath a pile of half-frozen burgers. I mean a real fire created by nothing but flint and dried bark. It’s a panic-inducing task, and I’m not ashamed to say it took me nearly 40 minutes. As my instructor, Scott, told me, it’s all in the timing. Put on too much too soon and you’re buggered. Too little too late and, yup, you’re buggered.

Instructions for making a fire without matches or anything a sane human would have within arm’s reach
You need the slightest feathers of bark piled up like Candyfoss. You need your spark. Mine was from the flint on my Rambo knife. The very second that spark takes hold of one of your bark feathers, blow very gently. If all goes well, that will turn into a largish smoldering lump of smoke. If it doesn’t, go back to the beginning. You now need to start throwing on more feathers of bark, a fraction larger than the one before, before moving onto dried-out twigs no thicker than a hair on a baby’s ear. Eight hours later, you have a fire that could singe your eyebrows from 183 m. Well done!
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse - a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse – a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.

So, if ever I do go missing near the BP garage by my house, just look for the massive fire right next to the petrol station. Well, I may need to think that through a bit more.

The Scottish Highlands course that is offered is similar to this, apart from a few key points. It goes on for five days and takes place in one of the most remote places in Britain. It’ll probably pour down with ice-cold rain for the entire trip, and you’ll have to eat rat and cross a river in your underpants. Apart from that, exactly the same.

Spending time with this team baked common sense into my brain. The lessons easily transform into mundane, everyday life. The buzz phrase of the trip is “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” out in the highlands, this means, “If you don’t prepare well, you will likely starve and die.” At home, this translates to, “Use a tape measure, or your shelf won’t be even.” The sentiment is still the same. Don’t judge me.

You should know what you’re getting into, of course. This is a Bear Grylls branded experience, after all (and all the equipment says as much). You won’t be expected to drink your own body fluids, squeeze drops of moisture out of elephant dung, or decapitate a rattlesnake with the sole of your boot, but you will feel as though you could if you were the last man on Earth. I did eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river, set traps and eat rabbit I skinned with my own bare hands. And do you know what?

I’ve never felt more alive or more connected with the world I selfishly pillage on a daily basis. I’m not alone, either.

People the world over have sought out the Grylls way of life. Upon his return to the US, my fellow survivor Caleb said “my hands are shredded, my nose is stuffed, my throat is raspy and my body is tanked, but I am alive now more than ever. It was everything I hoped for: an empowering learning experience.

Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.
Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. After the aching had subsided, and the clothes were washed, the niggling feeling that I was approximately 3 percent more of a man than I was before I began, just wouldn’t leave me. It still hasn’t.

I didn’t imagine that sleeping rough, eating worms and swimming in rivers could possibly have this much of an effect on my psyche, but it really has. I’m not saying I could rescue someone hanging off a cliff, or survive in the jungle for more than a couple of hours. But if you get the chance, breathe in the air, sharpen that stick and venture out into the big, wide world. Just remember to take a compass with you. I swear those stars are out to get you.

Photos by Discovery Channel, Jamie East & The Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

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