Constant exposure to fear is part of what we do

Elyse Saugstad on dealing with risk

Professional free skier Elyse Saugstad won the Freeride World Tour Championship in 2008 and has skied countless mind-blowing lines since. Born and raised in Alaska she was an elite ski racer in Super-G and Downhill as a teenager, but left racing to pursue a college education. 

“After graduating from university, I moved to Palisades Tahoe, formerly known as Squaw Valley – the epicenter of freeriding – to be a ski bum before I went on to law school. I discovered that I was really good at freeskiing, so I went on to compete on the Freeride World Tour. Winning the whole thing was a fantastic experience but as a North American my focus quickly shifted to being in ski movies. In the end I’m happy it all worked out and that I didn’t go to law school,” says Elyse.

Almost a decade ago when Elyse was skiing in Tunnel Creek, she was caught in a big avalanche claiming the lives of three of her companions. Being so close to death was a life-changing experience, and ever since the accident Elyse has held lectures about managing fear in addition to co-founding and instructing introductory level avalanche safety clinics.

“I think doing what we do, we constantly expose ourselves to fear. But it’s really important to figure out what part of the fear is purely emotional and what part is rational. You need to learn how to evaluate when the feeling is grounded on something real and let that lead the way. I then apply all my experience and focus on what I need to do to accomplish my challenge, that’s the rational part of it.”

All photos taken by, Ming Poon

Cody Townsend and Elyse Saugstad

Elyse has been riding in Hestra gloves for over ten years. To her, one pair of good gloves beats having a lot of different mediocre models.

“Before I joined Hestra I was sponsored by another brand that sent me loads of stuff, but when I got my hands on a pair of Hestra gloves I immediately felt that I wanted to make the switch. I receive new gloves from Hestra when I need them, but some of my favorite Hestra gloves I’ve honestly been using for almost ten years, the quality is unparalleled. There’s a shift in the consumer pattern nowadays, where people aren’t  wanting to buy new stuff all the time, but rather buy products that are of quality that will last, which is better for our environment. With this concept Hestra is way ahead.”

For Elyse the most important characteristic of a great glove is a combination of different qualities.

“Warmth is crucial. My hands get cold easily so I usually ski in mittens, I need the insulation. Durability is also super important. Both in terms of sturdiness towards the elements and to last a long time. Dexterity is also vital. It’s super important to be able to use your hands, and the great thing about Hestra is how even the warm mittens follow your every move.”

Elyse does a lot of her skiing together with her husband and colleague Cody Townsend. Recently the couple became parents to their first child, and Elyse is aware that it will affect their life.

“Will I take as many chances as when I was younger? Probably not. But through the years my mindset and decision making in the field revolves around my main goal of being able to ski another day. Now that I have a child, risking serious injury is a bigger concern. I’m a veteran now and I know my limits. What I don’t know is if things will feel more risky as compared to the past. But honestly, if you can go through all the labors and pains of giving birth, you should be able to ski some gnarly lines.”

Read about our other Hestra athletes.

Subscribe to our newsletter