Jackie Paaso

Have you ever dreamed of what your engagement ring would look like? Did you ever picture it being a piece of a mountain bike chain? Maybe not, but it makes for an amazing proposal.

Jackie Paaso has been one to watch on skis for almost three decades now. We pinned her down after her recent trip to Alaska as she returned home to Sweden to her skiing companion and fiance. She shares her thoughts on being on the road for the 2015 Freeride World Series, her love for mountain biking and what a changing climate may mean for back-country and competitive skiing.

SB: How long have you been skiing and what has your career looked like thus far?

JP: I’ve been skiing for over 28 years now. I started competing in freestyle skiing back when I was nine. I was really into mogul skiing until my early twenties; then I started to lose the passion for the sport to be able to compete at the level I originally wanted to ski at. I had dreams of the Olympics and skiing in the World Cup but they eventually faded. I dabbled in park skiing for a second until I was introduced to freeriding in my mid-twenties.

an image of Jackie Paaso, Women Skiers, Skier,skiing

Photo by Reine Barkered

SB: What other sports are you passionate about?

JP: I grew up playing soccer and mountain biking when I wasn’t skiing. I even played soccer on the collegiate level for a few seasons. I’d have to say next to skiing, mountain biking is my other big passion.

SB: Where is your favorite place to go bike riding? How long have you been doing that?

JP: I haven’t spent that much time there yet but I’d have to say Whistler is my favorite place to go bike riding. It’s got everything you would want. It’s a hard place to top for downhill riding. But I haven’t really explored that area much for enduro and cross-country. The park is hard to beat though. I started riding mountain bikes when I was nine years old. I started racing when I was 12 and when I was in my early twenties I took a few years off from that sport. The past five years, I got back into mountain biking and it’s been great to reconnect with something I loved in the past and still love to do these days.

SB: What is the scene like among women in downhill mountain biking?  Are there many females that compete?

JP: After this past summer, I really had a chance to get a closer look into the downhill mountain bike scene at the highest level.  I had fun but I was really happy that I decided to make skiing my main focus. I met a ton of great ladies on the tour but it felt a lot more competitive than the ski scene. Even for myself, coming in as an underdog with no chance of making the podium, I could still feel the competitiveness among some of the ladies. There are a handful of great racers but it’s really tough for females to race because it seems even more difficult to receive support than it is in the ski scene. I wish that was different, I definitely feel for some of my friends that are struggling.

SB: Describe the European skiing contest scene verses the American scene?

JP: I would say that the European contest scene is a bit more serious than the American contest scene. Both have their pros and cons. In Europe, the contest scene seems to be a bit more important than in the US where filming really seems to take priority. For me the reason to compete mostly in Europe has been because of the terrain that we can access over here. In the US, I wasn’t as intimidated in the start gate as I have been over here. I think skiing over here has been the best for my personal progression.

an image of Jackie Paaso, Women Skiers, Skier, Skiing

Photo by Reine Barkered

SB:What is your favorite thing about traveling for comps? Least favorite?

JP: Least? Packing. Having to drag my luggage through airports and then having to live out of a bag for months on end. Favorite? Ummm, being able to explore a bunch of new areas. I have been very fortunate to see a lot of the world by going to competitions.

SB: Tell us about SAFE AS. Are there any other causes/nonprofits that you are currently working with?

JB: SAFE AS Clinics is a women’s intro to avalanche education clinic and has been my main focus these days. It’s mostly education with a fundraising aspect. Myself along with Elyse Saugstad, Michelle Parker, Ingrid Backstrom, Lel Tone, Sherry McConkey and new for 2014, Robin Van Gyn, have helped educate over 360 women, granted 17+ scholarships, and raised over $14,000 for the following non-profits: High Five’s, Utah Avalanche Center, Northwest Avalanche Center, The Sierra Avalanche Center and AIARES Project Zero.

I’ve also been working with The Climate Reality Project. I became a trained climate leader in Istanbul, back in 2013, and I’ve organized talks at ski academies back East.

SB: As an integral part of the SAFE AS team of women, how do you apply your knowledge of back-country safety in a competition scenario?

JP: In a competition it is a bit different. Most of our knowledge is used before the competition. We make sure we feel comfortable on the venue. We avoid certain areas depending on the snowpack and are alert and aware at all times. We are out there watching out for our friends. We have guides that secure the venues but it is good to know personally your terrain and not just depend on the guide.We try to anticipate how things are going to look like from behind. I try not to focus on what I can do wrong. I visualize my line and how I can make it down safely.

SB: You are well known for your aggressive riding, and big drops in competition, do you feel fear before dropping cliffs, if so, what do you do to overcome it?

JP: That’s where that visual inspection comes in. It gives you the chance to check out your line and how the slope is looking. Just having a solid inspection and having a back up plan if I get to a certain area and I have to do something differently. If I had a big cliff in my line and I may have to back off and choose something more mellow because I don’t feel good about it. I go by feel and go with my gut. When I’m confident with my line choice I am able to just go without shaking.

an image of Jackie Paaso, Women Skiers, Skier, Skiing

Photo by Reine Barkered

SB: One fear of every competitor is that of falling. What goes through your head when taking a big fall like the one in Verbier? What are some things that you took away from that experience?

JP: The fall I had in Verbier was definitely one I would not like to repeat. Mainly because I scared all my friends and spectators. I can’t really say that I learned much from it, it was a crash and that is a big part of skiing. Falls happen, hopefully most of the time in areas where there is not much exposure. When in areas with more exposure your plan is definitely to be on it and not fall and that is a risk that you have to ask yourself if you can or cannot handle it. You have to question “is it within my ability?”

SB: What skills are you working on?

JP: Well, right now I am rehabing for the next two months. I injured my knee in Alaska. I would like to apply some mountaineering skills. I would like to open up more areas that I am able to access.

SB:  Mountaineering takes skiing to another tier within the industry. Has the loss of friends and fellow pros affected the desire to pursue mountaineering at all?

JP: I don’t think so. If anything it has made me even more interested. I realize how important it is to travel more safely in the mountains. I want to take more time to focus on what I view as a weakness of mine by not having strong mountaineering skills. I want to have the all the knowledge I can get to make the best decisions I can when I am on the mountain.

SB: What advice would you offer younger women who seek to compete in snow or any other sports?

JP: Get out there, practice and train. Those have always been big things for me. Don’t be intimidated by the lack of females in the sport. Follow a big group of male skiers and learn from them if you aren’t fortunate to have a group of girls. Take the next avalanche course available in your area.  Also, get as much education and time in as possible.

SB: You are a participant in the The Climate Reality Project. Do you come across a lot of climate change skeptics within the ski industry?

JP: Not really. Most of my friends believe that something is going on. Even if natural cycles are happening you can’t deny the obvious pollution. Chamonix is the most polluted city in France. Even if this is a normal weather cycle, there are things that need to be done to make the environment better. We need to be aware of how much we use and waste and how we treat the Earth.

SB: Would you say that there is  more of an open discussion about the “Climate Reality” in Europe as opposed to the States?

JP: In some states it is an easier discussion, like in California for example. But it’s the same in Europe. Some portions of Europe its easier. They live differently in Europe. They are more conscious about the environment. They are not going on road trips just to go on road trips. Americans love their cars but gas is more expensive over there. They realize that burning gas is bad for the environment and having to pay a higher price makes them think about carpooling and bike riding.

SB: Do you feel that climate change is having an impact on competition or the future of competitive snow sports?

JP: I think so. Just in the past two seasons, it has been incredibly difficult. Not one competition has gone smoothly. We have had to change venues, states and resorts, even countries in some cases just to make events happen. Lower snowpack makes for sketchy venues and we are seeing resorts opening later and closing earlier than any other season.

SB: Avalanches have claimed the lives of several high profile skiers and snowboarders over the past several months.  In your opinion, is climate change affecting how we interpret snow conditions when in the back-country?

JP: I haven’t really looked that much into it. But because weather patterns are changing and characteristics are different then yeah. We have to be more aware of the changing weather patterns. We just have to be cognizant of the new patterns and recognize it is different than seasons in the past.

an image of Jackie Paaso, Women Skiers, Skier, Skiing

Photo by Reine Barkered

SB: You said in an interview for Powder Magazine that you “try to do what the men do.” Do you have any women skiers that push you to go harder, bigger, faster?

JP: Yes, of course there are women out there that motivate me to ski better, harder, faster and some to go bigger. I’ve never really considered myself a fast or hard skier. I was never a racer. So there are many ladies that are skiing hard and fast that help push me in those areas. There are fewer that are going big but ladies like Elyse Saugstad that send cliffs like the men definitely push me to go bigger.

SB: Tell me about your engagement to fellow athlete, Reine Barkered! Where did you guys first meet? How did he propose? Any big wedding plans?

JP: The engagement was a huge surprise. Not the actual question but the way he went about it. He did a really good job making sure that I had no idea what was is going on. If you know me, you would know that is pretty hard to do. First, he surprised me with a dog sled ride with one of our friends. I originally thought that was my Christmas present. After about an hour or so on the sled, we ended up at a cabin in the middle of the woods. It was dumping out and there were candles around the outside of the cabin. It was a beautiful sight. I thought it was just a random group of people out there until I saw Reine pop his head out of the cabin. Not until then did I have an idea of what was going on. Later on that night after our friend dropped me off, he proposed.

We met back in 2010 on the Freeride World Tour (FWT). At that time we were both dating other people. It wasn’t until the following season, when we were both single that we started hanging out.

We haven’t officially set any wedding plans yet. We have decided that it won’t happen this summer but the following. It’s been too busy this winter to make wedding plans. We have talked some about what we both want. Most importantly we want to have time to meet with everyone. We are thinking about something in the mountains. Not too large but then again we haven’t really put any thought into the list. I can imagine when that time comes it will be hard to leave any good friends out. We’ve met so many from all of our travels.

SB: Tell us about the ring?

JP: Reine and I decided not to go with a traditional ring. The actual ring he proposed to me with was a part of a bike chain. Reine didn’t really like the idea of spending a ridiculous amount of money on a ring. One day I mentioned that I used to want a snowmobile when I was younger but these days a bike sounds better to me. He actually really liked that idea. So my “ring” was a really nice Scott Genius mountain bike! For symbolic reasons, we found a bracelet design (a traditional Swedish design) that we thought would make a great ring if possible. Our friend, Rebecca Ericson, makes these beautiful leather bracelets with silver plated pewter detail. She had never made a ring before, but when we told her our idea she was all for it. She did an amazing job with the rings. I say rings because in Sweden both the male and female get engagement bands.

SB: Have you found a dress?

JP: I’ve looked a little at dresses. I’ve found a picture of something I really like. The plan this summer is to meet with my mom and see if it’s something she can make. I think it would mean a lot to her if she were able to make my dress. It’s something she’s done for others so I know she’ll do an amazing job with it.

SB: As competitors, how do you two support each other, encourage each other?

JP: We are able to look at the face in very similar ways. A few of the other girls on tour look at areas differently than men but we share a same skiing style. We can give each other advice on what will work and what won’t. Having a partner know exactly what you are going through- fear, excitement, stress. It helps to have them to understand how it all is.

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About Whitney Chandler

I am a Colorado native with an unfettering love for the West. I grew up riding, hiking, biking and climbing the Rocky Mountains and am looking forward to exploring what Idaho has to offer since moving here in August of 2014.
I am a recent graduate of Colorado Mountain College with a Bachelor’s in Sustainability Studies. I want to ensure that these mountains are still providing epic seasons for future generations to enjoy. While holding down jobs at Moon’s Kitchen and Java in Hyde Park, I enjoy writing about environmental issues, stories that empower women and poetry.