After 35 years, extreme skier Kim Reichhelm still finds the reward in Women’s Ski Adventures
Extreme skier Kim Reichhelm is considered one of the most influential skiers of all time by publications like Powder and Ski Magazine, as much for her mentorship and ski clinics as for her ski movie credits and world championship titles.
Reichhelm, a former professional ski racer and two-time World Extreme Skiing Champion who splits time between Aspen and Baja, launched her Women’s Ski Adventure program in 1989; the “Ski With Kim” offerings have since expanded to include co-ed experiences as well, with destinations that stretch to Japan, Chile, Greenland and Alaska.
Reichhelm started the Women’s Ski Adventures because she wanted to help women develop their ski techniques while also cracking through the fear factor that Reichhelm says can hold some of them back from enjoying the sport she loves so much.
Aspen Skiing Company promotes the adventures as one of several “Specialty Camps and Programs.” Reichhelm said she offers the “big-picture coaching” while hired ski instructors provide more technical tips during the program.
An Aspen adventure this week kicked off the 35th anniversary of the program.
“Risk taking, overcoming fear, you know, these things, they take time and especially for women, you have to understand and embrace our fear,” she said in an interview on the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain on Jan. 2.
This approach is kind of like therapy, Reichhelm said.
And, according to skiers like Susan Espinoza, it works.
“It gave me so much confidence in things that I never thought I could ski and it also opened my eyes up to the playfulness of the mountain, and that everything is like a joyful little fun thing that you can go do,” Espinoza said while riding up the Ajax Express lift with Reichhelm on Jan. 2.
Espinoza had recently bumped into Reichhelm at a ski shop in town and the two decided to take a few runs together so Reichhelm could offer some powder-skiing pointers before Espinoza’s heli-skiing trip to Canada.
Riding up the Ajax Express chairlift, Espinoza remembers when she first met Reichhelm ages ago for a private lesson, expecting an “aggro” attitude from the “legend” of a champion extreme skier who instead arrived in a baby blue ski outfit with a bubbly disposition.
“It was just cute Kim in this sweet little outfit, but then you go in, it's like this crazy shredding that happens,” Espinoza said.
That bright, friendly approach made a difference, Espinoza said.
“Maybe there's something about that, that makes you feel more at ease that it doesn't have to be so crazy aggressive in every way,” she said.
Reichhelm is used to busting preconceived notions about how serious skiers should look and act. She remembers the days when ripping laps in an all-pink outfit elicited incredulity rather than kudos from others on the mountain.
But she says that’s changing now, and for the better, in the role models that young skiers now look up to.
“Being beautiful and sexy and a world class athlete aren't mutually exclusive,” Reichhelm said. “So that part is really cool for me that women can be sexy and beautiful, and a world class athlete, and that didn't exist and is really changing.”
Reichhelm can be counted among those role models, according to her longtime friend Rocky Kroeger.
“We have these three skier daughters, and who would have ever thought they’d turn into ski fanatics?” he said after joining Reichhelm in the Silver Queen Gondola with his wife Heather Kroeger. “ But I think Kim had a little bit to do with that. She's always encouraged them, and been a good role model for them.”
The Kroegers were quick to offer praise while they rode up the gondola with Reichhelm. Like Susan Espinoza, Heather Kroeger appreciates Reichhelm’s mindful approach to skiing and said Reichhelm has a “unique ability” to help women advance on the mountain.
“I've skied with a lot of male heli guides, and their style is always sort of push, push, push,” Heather Kroeger said. “And I can handle that, but like, I don't know if I can handle that anymore at age 52. It's an age thing for us too. We need to be respectful of how we're aging and skiing and how we are respecting our bodies as we age.”
Reichhelm recognizes that she’s getting older, too, alongside her repeat clients, many of whom she said are now in their 60s and 70s.
“It's the psychological point that I'm at, that I realized that I will never be as good as I once was, that I'm not going to be able to ski the way I used to be able to ski, that I can't just throw a 360 because I feel like showing off,” Reichhelm said. “And that is the hardest part I think, emotionally: knowing that to preserve my body and to continue to keep skiing and continue doing what I love, which is women's ski adventures and my adventures around the world, that I can't ski at the level that I used to.”
That doesn’t mean she plans to stop skiing or leading ski tours any time soon, though.
“I didn't have any idea how rich the process would become, how rewarding and wonderful,” she said.