“Unbound” – Steph Jagger’s skiing Blizzard of Oz
Strangers in bars and on chair lifts constantly asked Steph Jagger what was the current record for most vertical feet skied in a year. They assumed she’d know the answer since she was trying to beat it. In reality, Steph didn’t know. She just calculated how many vertical feet she could ski if she followed winter around the world and then set out to do just that.
Raise restraining device
While skiing in 2009 with friends near her family cabin in Whistler, Steph had a sudden idea. With little doubt, she immediately and confidently announced, “I’m gonna do this. I’m going to quit my job and ski around the world.”
The news was quickly met with disbelief. “You’re too young to retire,” friends joked. “You’re a good skier but you’re not that good.” Steph gave in, her inner voice seconding the doubts voiced aloud. She sat on the chairlift ready to go another round. Near the top of the run, Steph noticed a blue tin sign reading, “Raise restraining device.” In her words, “The match was lit. All I had to do now was drop it.”
Over the next 17 months, Steph left her job, took out a second mortgage and saved up enough money to start her endeavor. She claims organization is one of her top three skills and planned her trip intensely, even factoring in the weight of her toothbrush.
Before leaving her home in Canada, Steph saved $31,000 to cover travel and living expenses during the record attempt. She thought she would feel guilty not working, especially due to her highly competitive nature and having worked all her adult life, but budgeting and planning for the trip seemed to remove that feeling. Once she figured out her daily spending and travel she just let it go.
In July 2010, at age 29, Steph boarded a flight to Santiago, Chile, where she’d take a two-hour van ride to her first slopes at Portillo in Aconcagua Valley.
“My life had begun to feel like a collection of kindling, and I wanted big blocks of wood and giant sparks to go with them,” Steph wrote in her book, “Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self Discovery” that comes out July 24th from Harper Collins.
While traveling and skiing the world from 2010-2011, Steph kept a blog to update friends and family on where she was and how things were going. She never set out to write about the adventure, but after her return people kept saying she should write a book. And, much like the blue tin message on the chair lift, Steph took this as a sign.
In the process of writing “Unbound,” Steph reread the blog and was shocked to find how different what she wrote was from what was really going on – It’s kind of like the censoring you might use when on the phone with your mom versus talking to your best friend. Steph plans to release excerpts from the real blog in the coming months.
“Unbound” isn’t just about skiing. You don’t need a vocabulary full of words like “pow” and “sticks” to enjoy it. When Steph and her editor were storyboarding the book, she went home and realized they’d nearly forgotten the skiing parts altogether. She wrote them back in.
While Steph didn’t know it when she began, her record-breaking attempt wasn’t just a way to prove herself as an athlete, traveler or a Jagger. Her adventures were more about making her own path and breaking out of the familiar trail she’d been following her whole life. In her words, she went from trying to blend in with her family of goats to earning her own stripes as a tiger.
To Steph, talking about the locations along the trip as the journey progressed is almost like discussing a timeline of self realizations, some romance and a whole lot of introspection. Don’t worry, though, it’s not totally woo-woo. Steph is really hilarious and her personal aha! moments are so relatable you’ll laugh out loud.
Instead of lugging souvenirs from every destination along the Blizzard of Oz, Steph wrote postcards and sent them to her grandmother. The skier-turned-author now has those postcards, along with the helmet she wore on the trip that is plastered with stickers from the many resorts she skied. The helmet is likely no longer capable of protecting her head, but she plans to keep it forever. Now, she also has “Unbound” as a souvenir of sorts, along with a little Japanese coin purse she never uses and a tiny skier person key chain that she can’t seem to throw away.
The only woman on the hill
“You know that’s how it happens, right? We get lured towards starting lines and implicated in adventures by some little hook that snags our egos. But the rest, the real reason behind the journey – well, we have to wait for things to crack and cleave off before that is revealed,” Steph wrote.
Going into her travels she knew she’d encounter more men than women due simply to the sport’s current gender dynamics. During the record attempt at the top of a run in New Zealand, a man told her, “Step aside, little lady. This one’s for the boys.” It was a pivotal moment that helped her realize just how much of her life was trying to prove she was one of the boys. From modeling her goals and aspirations after her dad to constantly competing with male friends ands and loved ones, Steph had no idea what it meant to be in touch with the more feminine parts of herself.
Steph doesn’t shy away from talking with strangers during her record attempt, and even meets a handful who are still influential in her life today. One stranger plays a major role not only as a male presence but also a spirit guide. He seemed to know more about the real purpose of Steph’s journey than she did herself. She joked that her record attempt without him is like Star Wars without Yoda. We’ll let you figure out who this is as you read “Unbound.”
Along with staying in touch with a few loved ones and new friends, Steph stayed grounded through all those months of travel with music. She listened to tunes with one ear bud in while plowing down mountains across the globe. She would then remove her headphones on the chair lift so she could talk to people, gaining many stories along the way. Steph also got massages, visited healers and took days off to ensure her hard-working body and mind had the chance to rest and were ready to move on to another day of skiing or travel.
During the book pitching process, Steph found that a handful of publishers didn’t think her reason for the record attempt was interesting enough for readers. They passed on “Unbound” because the author didn’t have a traumatic accident or mental breakdown that lead to making such a major life change. “What woman born to a win-win has the audacity to go for something more? I sure as hell didn’t know any,” She wrote.
“What woman born to a win-win has the audacity to go for something more? I sure as hell didn’t know any,” She wrote.
“I wasn’t a broken woman seeking wholeness. I was just bored,” she mused. “When a man is bored you tell him to work for a promotion or hike Everest. When a kid is bored you tell them to use their imagination. When a woman is bored, society asks her if it’s really that bad. ‘But you have a nice life… maybe you should sit down and be satisfied with what you have,’ they say. Other people are allowed to create change from boredom – women are told to wait until something drastic to create change.”
Steph and her publisher even joke that #boredomisenough. “Without stories of women who have it good and go for more, the entire narrative about our strength is in rising up from tough circumstances,” Steph reflected. And while these stories are important, so are niggling feelings of dissatisfaction that lead to seeking other means of satisfaction and ways of life.
For several months immediately after her year of skiing, Steph required help walking down hills. Her elbow and knee hurt. She became inactive and lost a lot of muscle. She noted weight gain due to the return to American portions and lack of constant movement.
“It’s part of the journey as a woman,” Steph said. “People are so conscious of body image. I had to learn to allow my body to be in the state of what it is that I am called for in the moment. When I’m skiing I have to be fit. When I’m writing I’m far more immobile and have to make an effort to maintain my health and energy through some level of activity.”
Her upcoming January-February book tour will require a lot of physical, mental and spiritual energy. She’s getting her mind and body in shape for the traveling and socializing she has looked forward to for months.
Steph currently lives far from any mountains in San Diego as a life coach and writer. She does return to the family cabin in Whistler where the Blizzard of Oz catalyst moment occurred, and she continues to love skiing. She can still smell the cold of the chairlift in Chamonix and feel her intensely chapped lips many miles and several years away.
“If you’re bored or dissatisfied, keep your eyes and ears open for something that is going to call to you,” Steph gushed as advice for women who are looking to take up more space. “Where is there boredom in your life? Make changes now.”
You can follow Steph and the “Unbound” book tour after it’s Jan. 24 release here:
On the Web: www.stephjagger.com