Longevity is the theme of Kit DesLauriers’s life. From the endurance required for big mountain days to staying strong and injury-free when training in the gym, focusing on the long game has helped DesLauriers become one of the best ski mountaineers in the world. With a career spanning more than two decades, DesLauriers has climbed and skied the Seven Summits, ticked first ski descents of the highest peaks in Alaska’s Brooks Range, and won the World Freeskiing Women’s Championship, twice. In 2015, National Geographic named her Adventurer of the Year for her work combining scientific research and skiing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The day after climbing the Middle Teton with her two daughters, DesLauriers talked to us about finding balance as a wife, mother and professional athlete.
In my 20’s I was into climbing and skiing equally, but the pivotal moment for me was on my first international climbing expedition to Sikkim, India in 1998. It was a long trek into basecamp, a seven-day walk from the closest town, and we didn’t have our skis. I looked around at these giants, and I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why are we still walking for something up the valley? I wish we could just stop here, climb up there, and ski down.” That’s where it happened for me. I didn’t give up climbing at all, but I knew I wanted to focus on climbing things that I could ski down.
When I was 20-something, I went on a trail run with a friend near my house in Ophir, Colorado. She was a competitive mogul skier, and she asked me, “What’s on your list?” I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it—a list!” I lived in Ophir and worked in Telluride. Every day on the drive I’d look up at Silver Mountain and Silver Chute. That was the first mountain that I could remember where the line spoke to me. We put together a group of women and went that spring. I had become an expert skier and what I noticed on that trip is that I was able to keep my mind calm. I enjoyed the focus. I saw another woman kinda lose it and we had to talk her through it. I found it in stark contrast to how calm and peaceful I felt up there. When we got down, my friend said, “You know you’re really good at this.”
While training for an expedition or a specific objective, I’m always setting smaller goals to get ready for the big one. Then when it’s over I allow myself to chill out for a while. Now they call it periodization, but it’s something I’ve always done. I allow myself to be in those different periods that include high and low moments. Maybe it’s an injury or an illness that you wonder if you’ll come back from. I’ve been there. Right now I’m super fired up on long days in the mountains and training in the gym and happy to say that I’m feeling really strong.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I went for an easy hike with a friend in the Tetons. I turned around and looked up at the Grand over my shoulder. I said to my friend, “I wonder if I’ll ever want to do that again? Will I be one of those mothers who gives it all up? What would that be like?” My friend said back to me, “Why even worry about that now? You’ll know when you know.”
For the past eight months I’ve been working with a strength coach, Chris Butler. Two days a week we focus on my shoulders, back, engaging my lats and glutes more, and recruiting my hamstrings better. In a mountain-dominant culture we’re so quad-based. At 48 yrs old, I’m finally learning to train my weaknesses and honoring the truth in all of that.
I eat really well. I’m gluten-free and mostly dairy-free. I grow my own vegetables and like to hunt elk. We buy wild salmon and grass-fed meat. I experimented with different recovery drinks, but until Momentous, had never done those things religiously.
When I first started training with Chris, I would be so sore after workouts. So, I started experimenting and realized that if I have Momentous right after training then my body wouldn’t be sore. I can go out and do something else that day or have a big day in the mountains the next day. I pack my shoes, my wrist guards, and my recovery drink, and that’s just the way it is.
It’s really difficult to balance everything time-wise. It’s easy to sink into a low moment, where I feel like I’m not getting anything done personally or professionally. We all beat ourselves up a lot, but one of the most beautiful lessons that kids can teach you is to simply be in the moment. It goes back to that periodization concept, where I’m really busy, working and traveling for a few months. Then, I have those times where I’m home a lot and hanging with my kids. I just try and let that be.
If you practice seeing fear from further away, then you can better deal with it and you have more options. Fear can be paralyzing, and you must get rid of it to move forward.
I’m the person that will bring in help when I need it. I plan my days carefully around my kids, work and training. Some mornings I leave at 5:30am for the trailhead and let Rob get the kids out the door, or I’ll have a sitter come over early if Rob is away and I can get an alpine start. Or sometimes she’ll spend the night and I’ll go on an overnight mission. Other moms might only squeeze in what they can while their kids are at school, but because I’m a professional athlete, I have to carve out more time.
I had this moment the first winter after my oldest daughter was born. I was trying to ski a sidecountry line with consequence at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. I stopped before I got too far into it and did a quick evaluation of what was going on in my head. Being a parent was new to me, and I had this a moment of supreme clarity. If I was thinking about my daughter and being a parent, that’s the greatest disservice I could give to her, because then I’m not going to do what I’m doing well. There’s a greater likelihood of making a mistake. I’ve realized that in those moments, not thinking about being a parent is the greatest gift I can give to my kids.
There’s this Buddhist teaching about fear: Would you rather see a thief at the top of your driveway, standing at your front door, in your entry room, or standing over your bed? If you practice seeing fear from further away, then you can better deal with it and you have more options. Fear can be paralyzing, and you must get rid of it to move forward. I try to see fear when it’s far enough away that I can stop it. A lot of what I do is risk management, this constant evaluation. I often say I don’t have fear, and I think that’s true, but I do allow myself to get scared and then figure it out.
—As told to Julie Ellison