Q+A with Olympic skier Heather McPhie
By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
Heather McPhie is a fourth generation Montanan, an Olympian and Moonlight Basin’s new ski ambassador. Her skiing is on fire this winter.
McPhie has thrown a d-spin (off axis 720) in every World Cup event, recently signed with Red Bull, and she finished first in Nationals.
“My plans for this season and the next are all preparing me for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014,” McPhie said. “I have a great crew of people around me and a good plan to do everything I can to push the sport and win gold.”
As Moonlight’s ambassador, McPhie has participated in autograph sessions, skied with homeowners, done a ski demo day, and posted snow updates and news to her social media channels.
“The support I have felt throughout my career from the community has meant a lot to me,” McPhie said. “I can't tell you how many times local businesses and individual families have helped me get to events, given me words of encouragement, and supported me along the way. The community has given me so much, and I want to continue to give back whenever I can.”
Unpretentious and kind, McPhie has no agent, but a slew of sponsors including Red Bull, Moment Skis, Full Tilt boots, POC, Lululemon Athletica and Smartwool. She wears a Montana belt buckle whenever she skis.
“No matter how far away I am, it has helped me stay grounded to remember where I’m from and go back to my roots.”
Emily Stifler: How long has your family lived in Montana?
Heather McPhie: On my mom's side, my great grandfather moved here in the early 1900s and helped found West Yellowstone in 1908. That same year he started Eagle's Store, which is still run by the family. My mom grew up spending her summers in West and winters going to school in Bozeman. My dad moved to Montana in 1971, and they’ve lived in Bozeman ever since.
ES: You do the books for the family business, right? Did you go to school for accounting?
HM: Yes, I’ve been doing the bookkeeping for McPhie Cabinetry since I was 16. At that point their bookkeeper was leaving and they offered me the job to help pay for my skiing expenses. Between paying bills, processing payroll, dealing with taxes, and learning good communication skills, it has been incredible. I’ve only taken one accounting class, and it was three years after I started the job.
ES: Are you close with your family? Tell me about your siblings.
HM: We are really close. I spend whatever breaks I can in Montana with my family and cherish my time with them.
My sister Meagan is six years older than me. She was a competitive gymnast growing up, and a large part of the reason I stayed in gymnastics so long. She loves to ski and has run marathons. She has a great husband [and] two adorable little boys. They live in Bozeman.
My brother Mark has always loved to be outdoors—hunting, playing paint ball and soccer, and he’s a great skier, as well. He’s an architect, and this year moved back to Bozeman and started a firm, Tuya Studios. Mark has always been incredibly creative.
ES: What is it like traveling the world as a skier? What have you learned? What have been some challenges or memorable experiences?
HM: Traveling around the world as a skier is amazing. My passport is pretty much full. I’ve seen so many places, and I love seeing other cultures and ways of life.
I’ve learned that everything works out, that travel is not worth getting stressed about. I've learned to get along with a lot of people from really diverse backgrounds, and I love that our team feels like family.
I've learned that school is important, but there are a lot of things about life that textbooks cannot teach you. I’ve learned to be even more thankful to be from the U.S.A., but also that there are so many wonderful countries on this planet.
Lots of people assume we live this glamorous lifestyle, but that’s not always the case. We travel in economy; middle seats are not unheard of; we’ve been known to have 57-hour travel “days” [and lose] our bags for several days; we get to some really icy courses, and sometimes horrible accommodations or bad food. The time changes can be hard to adjust to, and sometimes I feel like all I ever do is say "goodbye."
I have so many memorable experiences: Getting rescued on a mountain pass in Montana on my way to Fernie which ended up being my first ever Nor-Am win; riding in the trunk of a random person's car to get to the banquet with my team in La Plagne, France; seeing the Matterhorn and never getting sick of that view while training in Zermatt each year; hopping out of the car with a teammate to dance with the security guards on our way home from training at the Olympics; my first World Cup podium at Deer Valley that qualified me for the Olympics and my parents getting to watch it; spending a few days in Prague with two of my close friends on the team; reindeer served on hot stones in Are, Sweden; traveling with Mike Papke (head coach for the Bridger Ski Foundation) on Nor-Ams and laughing to the point of tears almost every day.
ES: You're doing really well on the world cup tour this year. (Congrats!) How does that feel? What will you do to keep pushing yourself? What drives you?
HM: My season is going really well. It feels really good, especially since I’ve been throwing one of my more difficult tricks in every event (the d-spin). My main goal, and what drives me, is to push the sport. I want to be exciting to watch, and I’m always pushing myself to improve and throw bigger tricks. I think it’s the future of the sport, and I really want to be on the forefront of that innovation in women's mogul skiing.
ES: What are some of your memories from skiing as a kid?
HM: When I was driving up to Moonlight Basin last week I had flashbacks to driving from Bozeman to Big Sky with my family when I was younger. I’d get so excited to go skiing that I could barely wait to get out of the car, and I always found the view driving up the road breathtaking. We’d ski hard all day, and I’d get in the car to head home and fall asleep before we even turned out of the resort. I’m so thankful for the dedication and sacrifices my parents made for all of us to ski. It all started in the mountains of Montana.
ES: Why Moonlight? What would you like that partnership to turn into?
HM: I’ve wanted to represent a Montana ski resort for a long time. I love where I’m from—the people in Montana, the activities, the lifestyle I grew up in, and I’m really excited to represent that.
I would love to be an ambassador for Moonlight moving forward. I want to learn the mountain inside and out, be able to show people around and share the beauty of the outdoors. I’d love to stay in the ski industry when I retire from mogul skiing, and I dream of coming back and living in Montana.