Professional Big Mountain, Free Style Skier
Snowflakes are seemingly delicate and graceful. Not one snowflake is the same, each one composed of their own unique shape and pattern. As they fall from the sky in their poetic nature, one often thinks that they are gentle and light. We need not forget that they are resilient. Yes, a single snowflake can disintegrate with one touch but as they accumulate and land, they become strong and take on a whole new character. They become relentless and fearless, creating some of the biggest rage across the globe. Especially in the mountains.
Some people say they have a spirit animal. A spirit animal is characterized as a teacher or messenger that comes in the form of an animal, one that represents your inner personality. Well, I've never had someone remind me of a snowflake until I had the pleasure of interviewing Hadley Hammer who is a professional big mountain skier. Her spirit “animal” to me...is a snowflake. Not only are they both unique, strong and delicate, but they live in synchronicity with each other. Hammer lives for snow. It calls her. Snowflakes are as much of a part of her as she is them. They respect each other, know how to work with one another and thrive in the same environments.
Hailing from Jackson Hole, WY when asked what the Grand Tetons mean to her, Hadley says,
“They are home. Not only are they where I grew up but they are the mountains that raised me. The way that my family interacted with those mountains, (they said) this is where we are raising you, where you will get most of your life lessons.”
Growing up in a small mountain town definitely shaped who Hadley is. She comes from a family of skiers with an affinity for the outdoors. Growing up she considered skiing a recreational sport and she never thought it would wind up being her career. After High School she left the American west to pursue her degree at the University of New Hampshire where she received a B.S. in hospitality and economics, and then later moved to Washington, D.C. There, she worked in hospitality and earned her status as a Sommelier. In some ways I guess you can say, the mountains were calling her and at the age of 24, she moved back to Jackson Hole where she continued working in the same industry. This is when Hadley got involved in the ski community and decided to shift her whole career, take a risk and follow a passion.
She recalls thinking, “I can try this different career path and if it doesn’t work I have a degree to fall back on, I have plenty of job experience.” Now, Hadley says it’s kind of funny because she is so happy with her career that there is no way she would go back. It just proves that taking leaps into the unknown and following your gut can be truly rewarding in the long run.
“What I miss the most about the beginning; the reason I had so much success early on...it was less about doing really well...because I was so bad in the beginning...like truly not that good of a skier (Haha) that most of it was just about the growth. I had this vision in my head of what I wanted to ski and how I wanted to ski it. I knew I wasn't there. So it was really cool because each day was about progression and learning. Now it's so much harder for me to get a little bit better because I’m already at this level. Feeling that growth, really for me fueled me, it was so fun.”
There is an innocence with the beginning of any career that is hard to regain; the pursuit of the unknown will only make you stronger. Early on, her mind was set on becoming a better skier whereas now, a seasoned professional, it is easy to get lost in the busy work that comes along with the job. It’s not just all about being on the slopes, there is a lot to balance...training, administrative work, events and other obligations all come into play.
“For me the point of my skiing and purpose of my career goes back to those first few years where the goal was to see what I could do for it and what I could do for myself. I think in general humans fly a little bit too low because they set these limits.”
Lately, she has consciously been spending time directing herself to that same drive she exuded from the early years. When her focus was solely on improvement she advanced quicker. It was more about becoming a better skier. She is working hard to get back to that mindset and channel all distractions. Recently Hadley hired a manager which helps her focus on her career and athletic goals. Given the nature of the small ski community, it’s natural to create tight relationships with both colleagues and brand managers. Having her own manager sets boundaries, it doesn't get too personal. Not all skiers have managers, only in the past five years has it become more prevalent.
Most people are used to a job that follows a timeline. Board meetings can be scheduled far in advance... appointments are made and time sheets follow a clock. It’s a bit hard to set a meeting with nature! Skiers follow the forecast for a living. You need to be where the snow is and in December you don’t know where the perfect powder is going to be in February. Hadley says she starts the season with loose plans and by the end of it you have been totally booked out the whole winter. She is always on the pursuit of the extreme. Dividing her home base time between Wyoming and Austria, she spends her winter and spring skiing all over the globe, then goes to South America in the summers and does a film tour in the fall season.
Now, with COVID-19 Hadley has the most planned and certain season she has ever had. Skiers, amongst all of us, have travel restrictions. She has been in Austria for the whole duration of the pandemic. It has allowed her to prepare for this season more so than any before. She feels solid and ready.
“Instead of the whole globe being a whole option, suddenly it's only your back door.”
Hammer says that it is beautiful that the ski and outdoor community is so small and unique. She has gained many positive relationships across the world. There are times where it can become lonely as she is constantly traveling. It's all about maintaining a balance.
“You make such strong connections in the outdoors.”
Some of her closest friends ironically are the ones she sees the least. When she goes skiing with them, they pick right back up where they left off. Her connection remains strong with her childhood friends as well. “I feel very thankful for the variety and types of friends I have”. She is fortunate for all of her relationships and the network she is a part of. Her job is her personal life. There is no separation. It is important to have inspiring people around you.
She recalls early in her career relating to a female ski professional, a Swedish skier named Matilda Rapapport. Hammer said, “She was quiet, into fashion, and food but also CHARGED on skis.” She could see a version of herself in her and recognized her respected place in the ski community. It allowed her to know that she too could find her place in it.
“There is no shortage of incredible women around me.”
Hadley is part of The North Face team. This inspiring group of women is composed of all different backgrounds and ages. There are promising new skiers and women in their forties that are still at the top of their career. Only in the past 5-10 years women have shown that skiing can be made a long term profession. The common question of, ‘What’s next?’ is starting to dissipate. Companies used to hire very few women compared to men. There would only be one female on a brand, in a film or on an advertising campaign. Women had to take a stand on their own, take risks and have broken through barriers.
“They’ve paved the way. Contracts used to be able to be terminated because of pregnancy and now they legally can’t. That's the work that's been done by those women. They went through those hoops.”
Hammer says it’s so much better than it once was but still not perfect. So much has been done but there is room for improvement. Now, there are more and more female skiers coming into the field. It’s growing.
“It’s motivating for me. I want to return the favor. What those women above me did... What can I do within my career? How can I get to a good enough place where I can demand new changes as well. This stuff is such bullshit. It’s 2021 lets get past this.”
This year Hammer has grown and shifted her career to enable herself to work on more personal projects. Up until now, her career has consisted of contracted projects. She is used to being one of many athletes, where she is hired just to ski. Hammer is incredibly thankful for those opportunities, as they lead her to where she is today but is also grateful to do something that speaks to her. She is working on a film project based mainly in Austria and is incredibly excited, as it is her own project. She is using her skillset of collective trades she has developed along her career. Not only is she the feature athlete for the film, but she is also a writer. A lot of energy and passion is being put into this project. For the first time, she is able to put forth her own creative input. The theme for the film is on transition and told through skiing.
“It’s about those middle phases in life, in the mountains. That middle time in a right of passage, that can be confusing and tough...and hard to work through but also the way you're actually building for what you want in the future and that transition.”
Another large creative project that she has spent the better part of her year developing is The Discourse. This recently launched online platform is a dedicated safe space where stories are told and shared. A place where people can inspire others and be comfortable while doing it. Hammer has created a community where true connection can be made and told.
“There is so much that's dividing us so I thought- what are the ways we can talk, where we can share about common things we have?”
Hadley finds a disconnect in social media and feels limited when trying to express herself within the parameters the platforms offer. The way she described it reminded me of a store front. There is this layer, a facade of a building with an enticing display to lure people in but then...you can’t go in, it’s always closed and when you peak through the windows, there’s nothing there. On social media, that’s it. What about the journey, the content, what makes up the story?
Recently, Hammer sent a writing prompt to her subscribers, it was something along the lines of, “Tell me about your school lunch.” She says you can learn so much about someone through their school lunch such as their childhood, tastes and interests. Through simple creative writing approaches subscribers are able to open up and gain inspiration. It’s exciting, engaging and expressive...it sparks a desire to share and learn. Isn’t this how we are supposed to interact? Actually retain information from each other and grow together? The Discourse website says, “A campfire in the mountains, brought safely online.” There is something honest and real about campfire conversations. Taking place in the privacy of the mountains, you can speak your mind in full. The Discourse is the virtual version.
“I want to be able to share stories in a way that makes sense to me. You can learn so much about a stranger so quickly through something that isn’t so life altering, layered and intense.”
It’s all about real connection. It’s a place where people have the tools to express themselves fully and communicate on a real level. Subscribers are protected through privacy and it’s ad free! (Crazy, right) Amongst its exclusive perks one has access to publish stories and read weekly ones from Hammer and other subscribers. One of the best things is that 10% of dues go to a non profit. Hammer has had many life experiences that have brought her growth, difficulty, conflict and happiness...really, all emotions. Through these challenges and fortunes her wisdom manifests.
“I've been thinking a lot...about that life is just a series of experiences. Being able to think about it that way, frees up when something goes wrong and also when something goes well.”
We are all in the pursuit of clarity. Hadley has found a way to be open to her own thoughts and the unknown experiences that await. She doesn’t put so much pressure on what life brings. She says that being able to think this way frees up when something goes wrong. Just because you’ve experienced it doesn't mean that’s the course you need to follow or that it defines you.
“If it's just an experience you get to have, you don’t spend so much time in the ‘Why me’ or, the ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ You just accept that's what that chapter will be.”
This mindset allows her to feel experiences to their fullest extent (whether they are painful or happy) and then be ready for the next one. Life is a collection of moments.
Just like snowflakes, at our core, humans are made up of the same things. Snowflakes are made of water but all so uniquely structured and follow different paths. Hadley has explored so many paths and integrates them into her life and continues to extend herself towards so many possibilities. What she has managed to accomplish in life already is incredibly impressive and inspiring. She has never sacrificed who she is, only allowing to broaden her spectrum of opportunities. Her unique character and determined attitude will continue to influence and contribute towards the ski community. I could see with the innovative and creative approach she brings to her profession, it may bring on a whole new sector to the industry.
In challenging terrain and conditions such as blizzards, and harsh ice...with care and attention, she can tackle it. Sunshine and light flurries...she embraces it. Whether it’s figuratively or metaphorically speaking, she is up for the challenge and wanting to be part of it. Take it from Hammer, be one with the snow, be part of it’s beauty and roll with it. Shred it. Be exceptional. Find yourself in it and be yourself. Be the snowflake, (haha) strong, relentless, fearless and intricate.
Q + A with Hadley Hammer
Q: I notice you are a barista at one point. How do you take your coffee?
A: “Living in Austria, it's such a part of the culture. “You really take the time to sit and have coffee; you go to peoples houses for coffee and cake it’s really cool.”
If she goes out for coffee she gets a cappuccino. At home she has a Nespresso machine, a personal link back to an important person in her life. She prefers a medium roast espresso.
Q: What does coffee mean to you?
A: “It means cake most of the time.” (Hahahha) - She doesn’t need it necessarily for energy, it's about that time with friends and family, about connecting with someone.
Q: What does the word Moxxi mean to you?
A: “I think of the movie A League Of Their Own. Those women had Moxxi. That attitude of, “I’m doing what I want and I'm doing it my way.”
Q: How do people react when you tell them what you do?
A: “When people meet me I don't think they think ‘Oh she must be a professional athlete that likes to jump off of 40 ft cliffs.’ I'm small and I'm quiet.”
Q: Why do we feel Hadley Hammer has Moxxi?
A: This is a prime example. Hammer said,
“I can find something I think I know I can do well at even...if I'm not at the moment good at it... and work towards that. I think it's important people not waste life by limiting yourself with these preconceived notions of what you can and cannot do. It is a bit of a game. I think of it as a game sometimes to lighten the severity of it. See what kind of experiences you can have.”
Fun Career Facts about Hadley Hammer:
● For the past 7 years she has been on The North Face ski team
● She spent two years on the Freeride World Tour which led to her film career
● Was in the Teton Gravity Research film Tight Loose, Far Out, Winterland, Rogue Elements
● She averages reading 1-3 books per week
● She is the first woman, second skier to ski the Corrugated Spine Wall, Alaska (documented by Sherpas Cinema,called Tsirku you can watch this!)
● She is a Sommelier
Written & Curated By | Krysta Kearney, Moxxi Coffee Co.
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PERSONAL FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/hadhammer/
PERSONAL INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/hadhammer/?hl=en