Passion. Persistence. Perseverance.
By Megan Paulson Explore Big Sky Staff Writer
U.S. Ski Team member and Montana native Heather McPhie sets the bar high in women’s freestyle skiing. Her resume speaks to talent and perseverance: McPhie, 29, is an Olympian, a National Champion, and Red Bull’s first and only sponsored mogul athlete, with multiple World Cup podiums under her belt.
“When I close my eyes to calm myself,” she says, referring to the moment before dropping into a competition mogul course, “I take myself back to the mountains of Montana.”
Born and raised in Bozeman, McPhie grew up a skier and gymnast. At age 12, she joined the mogul program at Bridger Bowl. Two years later, in 1998, she watched on TV as Jonny Mosley won Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan, and in 2002, McPhie and her parents attended the moguls event at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Both left a lasting impression.
Best known for her D-spin – an off-axis 720-degree rotation that scores high due to its difficulty – McPhie also has a Back Full in her quiver, a laid out back flip with a full twist that few women on the circuit even attempt. At last winter’s World Championships in Voss, Norway, she was the first woman to complete these tricks in the same run.
But success does not come without hardship: When McPhie fractured her back in 2006, it took months for doctors to diagnose, resulting in a painful and drawn out recovery. With perserverance, she prevailed.
Capable of incredible focus, McPhie’s brimming smile reflects her grounded, outgoing personality, and success earned on her own terms. It’s no secret, she says, that her dream is to stomp a Back Full and D-spin at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Mountain Outlaw: Tell me about being on the U.S. Ski Team.
Heather McPhie: Representing the U.S. is an honor – it comes with a responsibility to do [my] best. I’ve loved traveling and meeting people, and gaining appreciation for the similarities and differences across cultures.
M.O.: Among your sponsors are big name companies like Red Bull and Lululemon. How did you pull that off?
H.M: One of the lessons I learned [seeking sponsorship] is the importance of going after what I believe in, and aligning myself with companies and products I want to represent. I felt for some time that Red Bull would be a great fit, as its known for pushing the limits, and doing things that haven’t been done before.
Many people told me I was crazy, [since] Red Bull didn’t sponsor mogul skiers. Most importantly I made a commitment that I would be 100 percent true to myself – that I wouldn’t try to fit a mold of what I thought they might want. I was also very persistent, believing they would see my passion for the sport and the benefit I could bring.
M.O.: What is the key to your success?
H.M.: When I’m doing what I love, I ski better. [Since I often] throw harder tricks than most other women on tour, I have an advantage in points – if I throw them well. On top of that, I love to push my abilities.
M.O.: How long has it taken to get to this level?
H.M: I’ve been competing in moguls for 17 years and on the U.S. Ski Team for eight. My career has been bumpy… no pun intended! I started competing with my D-spin in 2005, and it’s been [hard] learning to perform it well. At first, the sport wasn’t ready for it, but now, judges seem excited about both of my more difficult tricks, and I’m throwing them better than ever.
H.M: Montana has shaped me. My experiences growing up and people I’ve been surrounded by help keep me grounded. One thing that’s always in my carry-on is the belt my coach Garth Hager hand-tooled for me that says “Made in Montana”. On the belt is a buckle I won in 2004 from the Northern Division. My first coach, Mike Papke, presented it to me after the win, and it’s a daily reminder of the reason I started skiing.
M.O.: What is the best moment in your career thus far?
H.M: I’ll never forget standing in the finish area at Deer Valley, when I earned my first World Cup podium and qualified for the 2010 Olympics. Stepping up my performance under such pressure and going from 27th in the world to second in just a few months – that was the deepest I’ve dug. When you push yourself to such limits, and it comes down to less than 30 seconds of your life, it’s powerful to put it all together.
M.O.: Do you have any advice for young athletes?
H.M: Focus on your goals and the things you can control, instead of worrying about the outcome. Hang on to your dream – it can be your North Star – break it down into smaller goals slightly outside your reach but still attainable.