Kim doin’ her thing. Photo: Courtesy Kim Havell
By Rachel Walker
Kim Havell understands challenge and risk. A professional ski mountaineer whose typical day might include paddling up a Norweigan fjord, hiking 3,000+ feet, and then dropping into a couloir narrower than the length of her skis, Havell has tremendous confidence and skill.
While her accomplishments stand on their own, when viewed through the prism of the male-dominated ski industry, they’re downright astounding. By steadily building on each athletic accomplishment over the past 15 years, Havell has earned the respect of her peers, the heads of the companies that sponsor her (including Backcountry.com, a Verde client), and editors at national adventure magazines. After talking with her, we understand why.
Mountain Diva (MD): Let’s just cut to the chase: what’s it like to be a female skier in a world dominated by men?
Kim Havell (KH): It takes a whole hell of a lot of patience and it takes earning respect. If you have integrity and a true passion, and you commit to your goals, slowly but surely acknowledgement comes. I’ve been in this industry for years and I still have to deal with the bias towards men. There’s always an imbalance there. But I have been given a very fair shake and had many opportunities to prove myself.
MD: What are the rewards now that you’ve proven yourself as an athlete?
KH: I am now trusted with expeditions and I can support myself with my sponsorships. And more opportunities are coming up. Companies today see that women have a strong voice in the market; customers listen to women.
MD: In 2010 you left your long-time job in real estate in Telluride and
committed to being a full time pro skier. What was the catalyst for that decision?
KH: My sponsors – Salomon, Osprey, Backcountry.com – lent me so much support that they really helped me leave work. I always wondered what I could do if I had the opportunity. They helped me create the opportunity.
MD: You recently made the first female descent of the Otter Body on the Grand Teton; how do you feel about designations like “first female” anything?
KH: I definitely claim them. They’re on my bio. They’re significant in the fact that it levels the playing field. Designations like this show women are more involved than people might think.
MD: Do you consider yourself a pioneer when it comes to ski mountaineering?
KH: The original pioneers are the original pioneers. I’ve done first descents as well and there is nothing like being the first person to ski a line. “Female first descent” is more symbolic than anything else. When I go out to ski something it’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because I want to ski the route.
MD: Discuss the concept of risk and how it has both propelled and limited you in your career.
KH: Anything I set out on, I attempt to eliminate all risk. Everything I can control, I do. I don’t look for risk. I am always trying to mitigate the issues to make sure it’s a safe endeavor to take on. I never feel like I am pushing out of my comfort zone, ever.
MD: We must have different ideas of risk! The Otter Body sounds gnarly.
KH: Before I skied the Otter Body, I had been watching it all winter. It’s a line that’s rarely in. Because I’d studied it so diligently, I had zero concern about anything the day we went.
MD: In that case, what was most challenging about that specific descent?
KH: At that point it is a mental game. We had the gear we needed to build every anchor we needed. There wasn’t much that could be outside our area of calculation. We communicated well as a team. It was challenging because it was skiing a notorious line on the Grand Teton. But there was nothing stressful about it. I was focused and committed.
MD: Congratulations! It’s a terrific accomplishment.
KH: Thanks. It is definitely a highlight.
MD: In May 2012 you relocated to Jackson Hole—why? Is it the Shangri-la of US ski mountaineering?
KH: I was looking for what else was out there in the world. Jackson has a high concentration of ski mountaineers. The community breeds an extra hearty people that operate at a high level of expertise. Across the board passions run high.
MD: What are your long-term goals?
KH: There is a ton of exploratory skiing in the Arctic and Antarctic I want to do. It’s endless. I have specific goals and I have things that come up. I never know too far in advance what I’ll be doing.
MD: What do you look for in a ski partner?
KH: Humility. I want a partner who can communicate. Expertise is important, someone who has put in the effort to get themselves savvy on a couple of levels. I look for fun, nice people who are willing to make the right decision every single day.
MD: What sorts of decisions?
KH: There were a lot of days this winter when we backed off of peaks that took a lot of effort to get to because the conditions were dangerous.
MD: In addition to logging a lot of hours actually mountaineering and skiing, what’s your fitness regimen.
KH: I train at Mountain Athlete here in Jackson. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of strength training.
MD: Have you had mentors in your career?
KH: Not explicitly. That said, I’ve met a lot of people who have given me guidance along the way. I have learned a lot by watching more than anything. I’ve met a lot of legends along the way, people who teach you without you realizing you’re being taught.
MD: Your career has been 15 years in the making. What have you learned in that time?
KH: We limit ourselves more than anyone else can. I’ve had big moments of doubt along the way. I could have committed earlier to this career. I don’t regret the timing of it, because I’m glad for my life’s journey. It happened the way it was supposed to. But we really are capable of so much more than we realize so long as we establish the right ground rules for ourselves.
Kim’s Diva Rapid Fire Round:
- Chapstick or lipstick? Chapstick
- Coffee or tea? Coffee
- What is your absolute must-have in your pack for every adventure? Sunscreen
- Beer, wine or whiskey? All three
- AWD wagon or truck? Truck
- Car camp or backpack? Both
- Yoga or Pilates? Both
- What’s your most diva-esque indulgence? Pedicures
- Any guilty pleasures you’re willing to share with the Interweb? I try to get sports massages at least twice a winter.