By Doug Hare EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – 18-year-old Riley Becker’s earliest memories of skiing are being toted around in her father’s backpack when he was a ski patroller at Big Sky Resort. Once she strapped on her own skis, she would follow him around everywhere he went.
As a sophomore at Lone Peak High School, Becker and her father summited the Matterhorn, an iconic 14,692 ft. mountain straddling the border of Switzerland and Italy. The following year, for her 16th birthday, her dad had promised her from early on that her present would be a heli-skiing trip in Alaska. True to form, the father-daughter pair ventured to the Chilkat Mountains of Haines, Alaska to explore one of the most daunting mountain ranges in the world.
“When I got there, I guess I was having so much fun and when I’m not stressed I’m able to ski really well and play around with the different terrain and conditions,” Becker said. “They liked how I skied on everywhere they dropped me, I guess,” Becker said.
The guides and SEABA HELI representatives were so impressed by her skiing that by the end of the trip, they approached her about becoming a sponsored athlete. She recalls her excitement the following winter when she got a call asking if she could go heli-skiing the next day to help them film. “I was like ‘Dad, please!’”
Asked how she manages to deal with the fear of standing atop Alaskan spines, Becker smiles and says that she was never scared. “It was like Christmas with all that powder,” Becker said. Before climbing the Matterhorn, Becker and her dad travelled to Chamonix, France to practice mountaineering for a week and train for their ascent. That experience is what she credits with overcoming any anxiety about being in the mountains. “I had to get over myself real fast.”
Last year, Becker transferred to the Big Sky Discovery Academy. “It’s a lot more flexible. Grades and education are super important to me and I thought that way to excel at academics and skiing was to make the move to Discovery,” the senior said. Becker intends on attending the University of Utah next year which she notes has access to six ski resorts less than an hour away.
Becker credits her talent for sliding on snow with her genuine love of all aspects of skiing. She has been racing since she was 6 years old and still competes with the BSSEF ski team. But she also enjoys backcountry outings and ripping through powdery glades at top speed. “It’s actually really fun until you run into a tree,” Becker said with a laugh.
She’s also no stranger to ending up on podiums after big mountain freeride competitions. In 2017 at her first ever freeride competition on the Headwaters terrain, she won her division and then parlayed the confidence from that result into another win at Beartooth Basin later that year.
“I’m able to watch videos of myself and I’m pretty good at seeing what I need to work on and fixing it,” Becker said. “I don’t think [skiing] is something that you can ever master, you can just get better and better every year, every time.”
Becker is also quick to credit her coach Keely Kelleher with helping her improve her skiing abilities. During the warmer months, the precocious athlete stays in shape by trail running, playing soccer and working out at Lone Peak Physical Therapy.
When asked about if she wants to pursue a career as a professional skier, she says that the thought has crossed her mind. The toughest obstacle for her might be reaching out to sponsors. “I don’t like to reach out to them. It feels like cheating. I need to work on that,” she said with a smile.
With the ski season fast approaching, Becker is excited to continue to refine her ski technique. Becker emphasizes that she is very much a visual learner on the slopes. “Listen to people who are better than you, and not only listen but watch them. I feel that I’m able to improve by skiing behind someone really good and I’ll watch them and take what I like and kind of blend it into my form,” Becker said, describing her style as scrappy, structured and playful.
For her next big adventure, Becker dreams of returning to Chamonix, where burly mountains and big exposure continue to beckon the best skiers in the world. “It’s just fun skiing with her. She has a lot of fun skiing and it shows in her style,” Eric Becker said.