At snowbunnymag.com we love to connect with amazing girls on the hill. You know what we’re talking about; those local girls that rule it on the slopes, and are the friendly faces in the lodge after a day of riding big lines.
We first met Katie Van Riper while attending the SAFE AS Clinic at Snowbird Utah last December. This beautiful 26 year old bubbly blond, with a friendly personalty and magnetic smile, was one of the girls that stood out from the crowd. She soon become more than just a face in the crowd; she also became a friend. From Carrabassett Valley, Maine she learned to ski at only 2 years old, and still considers Sugarloaf Ski Resort her home mountain. She explained that “I basically grew up on the resort, so it feels like home more than anywhere else. I have a lot of love for that place and the people that make their life there.”
Although Sugarloaf gives her a sense of home and nostalgia, she is charging her second season on the big mountains of Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort. As a snowbird employee she is “living the dream;” working, skiing and enjoying her passion for the mountains daily.
Recently recovering from a major illness, and a major surgery, she is back on her feet skiing big lines, and can be regularly seen in the social media, and billboards representing Snowbird Resort. A bundle of energy and excitement, Katie is passionate about many things, including animals, an interest that she tends to “nerd out” on with all kinds of fun and interesting facts.
Katie’s passion for life, interests, and beauty both inside and out, make her a blast to be around, whether on the hill or just hanging out…
We are happy to know this Bunny!
SBM: Was skiing a family affair?
Katie: Yes! But we aren’t the family that has generations and generations of skiers – My mom grew up on a potato farm in Northern Maine and taught herself how to ski on a tiny local hill in her late, late teens. When she went away to college she befriended the schools ski crew who would trek to Sugarloaf and back on the weekends. After college she moved to the town of Carrabassett Valley (where Sugarloaf is located) and never left, until she retired and started spending the winters in Utah. I’d say she was really the driving force in getting both myself and my Dad to ski.
Both my parents worked Carrabassett Valley Academy (a private high school that trains winter athletes), and were living in an apartment at the school when I was born. I’ve always thought our relationship with the school and the athletes has had a pretty big influence on my life. I went on to attend CVA as a winter-term student my freshman, sophomore and junior years and went on to ski race for Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, so a lot of our lives have revolved around skiing.
SBM: What is it about the mountains the makes you passionate?
Katie: I’ve spent my entire life in the mountains and they never cease to amaze me. They are always changing, always shifting. Depending on the season or the snowpack the same pitch can be intimidating, playful, dangerous or simple, which makes every day a new experience. They are always massive and humbling but beautiful and wild.
I also can’t say enough about the communities that make up mountain towns. They are usually small & tight-knit and everyone is there for the same reason, to experience the mountains. There is something really unique about them that helps make the sport of skiing what it is. I’m really passionate about the success of small rural communities and I like to think that working in ski resort marketing helps to promote the sport and in turn add to that success.
SBM: You are the Marketing Coordinator for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort; describe your job and how you ended up with a career in skiing.
Katie: I definitely wasn’t one of those kids that grew up knowing what they wanted to do as a profession. I knew I wanted to be involved in sports and I loved to write and connect with people… I tried a few different majors from Athletic Training, to English and finally landed on Communications which ended up being a great fit. I always wanted to figure out a way to blend my passions with a career, and when I graduated college I was just wrapping up 8 years of ski racing so that was the thing that was always on my mind. A Plymouth Ski Team alum was the Marketing Manager at Loon Mountain at the time so I spent the fall following her around as an intern. When I graduated I got a seasonal marketing job with Sunday River Ski Resort which is owned by the same company as Loon (Boyne Resorts). I got promoted that spring to the Promotions Manager position for all of Boyne’s New England Resorts and then moved on in to the Partnership Marketing Manager role overseeing all of Boyne Resorts mountain properties sponsorship and partner relations, which I did until I moved to Utah in July of 2012.
Right now, the Marketing Coordinator role at Snowbird is pretty dynamic, which I love; It’s almost torture to be based at a ski resort and spend most of your time in an office (without windows I might add) but the position covers everything from placing print advertising, managing our advertising content calendar, trafficking the departments design jobs, proof reading our digital content marketing, fulfillment of partner contracts & trade relationships, development of advertorial print content and a handful of administrative duties.
SBM: What is the best part of working at Snowbird?
Katie: I’m a glorified ski bum! I get the best of both worlds working at Snowbird. Of course there are some less than ideal aspects; my office is in the basement, the pay is low, it’s a trek to get here and my schedule is dictated by the cycle of the season, but there are so many great things that outweigh the bad.
Professionally I have learned more in this role than any of my other positions and the Assistant Marketing Director has become something of a mentor to me – she
is educated, insanely smart and has taught me a lot about looking at the big picture. When I leave Snowbird I will be taking a lot of skills with me that she helped cultivate.
My schedule is relatively flexible, so not only am I making progress in my career I’m able to take most of the ski based opportunities that I get without push back at work – this season I took time off to be an athlete in the Salt Lake Shootout, to test and give feedback to the ski companies for their 2014/2015 lines, for a Marker Apparel photo shoot, a Rossignol Skis shoot in British Columbia, and to shoot with a handful of photographers. I get to take advantage of some work related opportunities like early trams, runs on my lunch break and get to ski/shoot with our in-house photographer every few days, so I get to be on the mountain and get paid for it more than I would with any other company. Not to mention when I’m out I get to follow around some of the best snowsport athletes in the world, which has challenged me in the best way possible and made me a better and more confident skier.
SBM: You recently lost a kidney, what happened and how did that affect your winter 2014.
I wish there was some cool story behind this, but in reality my right kidney slowly stopped functioning, most likely due to a congenital defect in the formation of the kidney. I spent over four years with this mystery pain that somehow went totally undiagnosed (not for lack of effort on my part), and I basically lost all faith in the medical field. I thought I was going to have to deal with it my whole life. It wasn’t until the symptoms started presenting as a huge, visible mass in my abdomen that really started to get attention – the CT scan showed a massive right kidney, so the scan was followed up with a Renal Scan which showed that the left kidney was doing most, if not all of the work.
Luckily it barely affected the 2014/2015 season – I had a complete nephrectomy on December 17th and was skiing 7 weeks out. I’m lucky because the nephrectomy wasn’t related to kidney disease or a cancer, so although they took the entire kidney (some people are able to keep some of their kidney tissue) it was done laparoscopically and therefore less invasive than other kidney removals. Losing an organ takes a big toll on your body regardless, and I lost about 15 pounds… I’m only 125 anyway, and on a 5’8” frame that really affected my strength. Getting back my strength and stamina took a little work, but I basically found it by throwing myself into activity – The Salt Lake Shootout (photography contest) started 8 weeks to the day from my surgery, which is four long days of early mornings, hiking and lots of skiing. I basically made a commitment to myself that as long as things didn’t feel super uncomfortable that I wasn’t going to let it slow me down or keep me from pushing myself in the competition. Besides falling asleep at 8:30 pm every night everything was fine, and I knew from there that the winter was going to be awesome.
SBM: You made very quick time in recovery besides skiing what is your fitness routine?
I’m still dealing with some fatigue that is related to the surgery, but my strength and weight are back to normal. As cliché as it sounds I think positivity helped me with recovery a lot…. Turns out a rotten organ can cast a pretty painful big black cloud over your life, and I was so excited to not be carrying that around. I cut out pain killers almost as soon as I left the hospital, which is something I highly suggest for anyone coming out of major surgery. I only had a few weeks from the diagnosis to surgery, and I was not feeling well but I tried to get my core as strong as possible. For those few weeks I did a lot of planks and knowing I wanted to jump right back into skiing tried to do every body weight exercise I could think of. Lots of wall sits. Lots of squats. Lots of lunges. As an athlete, I think we always carry some residual fitness, which helped. I wouldn’t say I have a routine – I mix it up depending on my timeframe and motivation level. My go to fitness activity is running.
SBM: What are your other go to activities in the Spring/Summer months?
I’m approaching my third summer in Utah, which is pretty hard to believe. My preferred activities have changed a lot since the move; in New England everything revolved around the water. In Utah, getting to water takes some effort and isn’t quite as rewarding, so I have started exploring new activities like hiking, road and mountain biking. Like in Maine, I still run pretty often, except now I’ll mix in a trail every now and then. Last spring and into the summer I was doing yoga twice a week, which seems to have really fallen off as I’ve been busy with ski opportunities, but I would like to pick that back up.
SBM: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Oh man, I have so many! After sitting down to jot some notes down I realize they are all women involved in the outdoor industry ( :
Lel Tone, Keely Kelleher and Izzy Lynch. Overall, I’m a pretty big weeny… I’m constantly trying to challenge myself to step out my comfort zone just a little bit and these are the ladies that inspire me to do that – watching these girls be bad asses on the hill is super empowering.
I’ve followed the careers of all three for quite some time, and this year I got to meet Lel and Keely which really perpetuated my girl crush. Lel is a very cool lady and my role model – she teaches people about snow safety and guides in Alaska on some of the biggest and baddest lines in the country. Keely is the ultimate winter athlete; ex US Ski Teamer, World Cup ski racer, Big Mountain skier and Warren Miller film star. She also runs Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls based around the idea of educating and empowering girls in and through the sport of ski racing, and that’s something that really resonates with me. Like Keely, Izzy has a ski racing background and I have a lot of respect for the strength and total fearlessness that sport requires… not to mention I’m a real sucker for good ski technique. Izzy has this insane, flawless, quiet style that makes for really beautiful skiing which I have admired since the first picture I saw of her shredding.
My college ski coach, Kim Bownes who has this insane amount of drive and passion without losing an ounce of kindness. It’s impossible to dislike Kim. Kim is the main reason I went to PSU and didn’t give up ski racing after my second ACL reconstruction. She also helped me get my first job in the ski industry; I wouldn’t have had half the opportunities I have had today if it weren’t for Kim’s guidance in college. Kim was one of the first female FIS Technical Delegates in North America, a collegiate ski coach for 20 years and a driving force on getting the PSU Ski Team to the D1 program it is today – I see her as a huge advocate to the sport of ski racing and woman in athletics in general.
And, of course, my mother, because she is one of the strongest and most tenacious women I have ever met.
SBM: What are you most passionate about?
I’m passionate about so many things! Obviously skiing, mountains and community development, but I can’t leave out the fact I’m obsessed with animals: Ask me about a specific subspecies of moose and I can tell you about their habitat and range. Ask me about any dog breed and I can give you their positive and negative personality traits. Need a few example of which animals are on the Endangered Species List vs. the Vulnerable List? I got you. It’s actually pretty ridiculous – My dad is a Wildlife Biologist and he really instilled a sense of respect for animals in me. We lived in a rural area, so it was easy to be exposed to all kinds of wildlife and I’ve always been ridiculously inquisitive. Later in life, I would love to figure out a way to incorporate this part of my life into a career – something along the lines of sustainable tourism.
SBM: What are you most looking forward to right now?
I feel like there is so much potential in froth of me right now! I’m exploring some really exciting opportunities professionally, traveling to Alaska in June, and looking forward to doing more with my skiing next season. More than anything I’m looking forward to being totally healthy – the process of diagnosing the kidney issue took almost four years and put me in bed for a couple of days every couple of days, it was a confusing, painful, and miserable thing to experience for an otherwise healthy 26 year old and it kept me from experiencing a lot. This fall I went to San Francisco for the first time, and one day while my boyfriend and his brother went to find surf I spent the day in the hotel, in bed. I’m psyched to not have to say “no” to experiences like that because I’m dealing with a debilitating mystery pain.
Otherwise I’m so amped on what the future holds! Every year I get to do more with my skiing and I don’t plan on slowing down.
We are very excited to be welcoming Katie to Snow Bunny Magazine as a contributor!
Visit her author bio and see articles by Katie when you click on her author name above.