Kit DesLauriers likes to say she’s a Rocky Mountain girl born to New Englanders.
The famed skier and mountaineer did, in fact, spend a portion of her childhood living in Westport, Mass. Her grandparents also lived in the coastal town, and it’s where she spent many summers during her youth. She also married into New England skiing royalty when she met Rob DesLauriers — of the Bolton Valley, Vermont, DesLauriers family — while on a ski mountaineering trip to Mount Belukha, the highest mountain in Siberia.
But there’s no doubting that DesLauriers’ true home is in the Rocky Mountains, which is where she will be recognized later this month when she is officially inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Sun Valley, Idaho.
DesLauriers certainly has the credentials for such an honor. She was the first person to successfully ski the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents), her career highlight, but only one of several “firsts” on her skiing résumé. She also is a vocal advocate for protecting natural environments. She volunteers her time to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is a member of the board of directors for Alaska Wilderness League, completed a six-year term as a director for the American Alpine Club, and donates her time as a member of the Protect Our Winters Riders Alliance.
The 52-year-old DesLauriers lives with her family in Wyoming.
New England Ski Journal: You grew up in Westport. How long were you there and do you still identify with the town at all?
Kit DesLauriers: I was born in Albany, New York, and we moved to Westport when I was a few months old. We moved around quite a bit. I didn’t have the kind of childhood where I could tell you my address. It’s where my grandparents lived and a number of family members. But I lived in Westport for five years in my early childhood. Then we moved to the north shore of Long Island, then we moved out to Arizona.
My parents moved back there and it was my grandparents’ home, so I spent every summer there. I identify with it, but I don’t call it home. The Rocky Mountains are my home.
NESJ: Due to the pandemic, you’ve had to wait two years for your official induction into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. How has it felt to have to wait that long before finally getting your night of honor?
DesLauriers: It doesn’t matter. There are bigger fish out there. What does matter is my dear father passed away a year ago in January and he’s the one who shared his love of skiing with me. I’m sad that he won’t be there.
NESJ: What does the recognition mean to you?
DesLauriers: You know, I never do what I do for recognition. I do what I do for the love of it. It’s true, whenever other people recognize your accomplishments, it’s a moment for reflection. It’s a moment we step outside of ourselves and we realize that, maybe to a greater extent than we ever had before, what we’ve done with our lives and our careers in the snow industry, made enough of an impact on other people to give you this honor. It’s rewarding, I would say. It’s not rewarding because I care about having accolades, it’s rewarding because I know that I’ve contributed to the lifestyle of snowsports in a way that had an impact on others.
NESJ: When did the idea, or at least the real possibility, develop that you could be the one to tackle the Seven Summits?
DesLauriers: I was not raised in a traditional ski culture. My kids have been skiing since they were 18 months old. I grew up, occasionally, nordic skiing, and even with that, it was informal. It was walking around in a farmer’s field with cross-country skis on my feet. I didn’t grow up near a ski area with an opportunity to ski until I was 14. And even in those years, it was traveling for a week or two a year for skiing. So I came to skiing much later than people often do.
So, I was 34 when I competed for the first time, which was on the World Freeskiing Tour. I had already worked on my skill-set to be at a level where I thought I deserved to be there. So, I was always pretty much on the podium and won the overall title in 2004 and again in 2005.
I was sort of new to competitive skiing when, in 2005, when I was 35, I was competing at Snowbird and had the opportunity to meet Mr. Dick Bass, who was the owner of Snowbird ski resort. He was the first person to climb the Seven Summits. We had dinner together and he gave me a signed copy of his book (1986’s “Seven Summits”) and I read it. That was when I thought that all those mountains seemed skiable. I did some research and found out that the project, in its entirety, had not been completed. So, that was when I had the idea, in the spring of 2005.
NESJ: First person to ski all seven summits, first woman to ski from the summit of Mount Everest, first female solo ski descents of Grand Teton and Gannett Peak, first female to win back-to-back Freeride World Tour championships, first female ski descent of Vinson Massif, Antarctica … the list goes on and on. How vital was it in your quests to be able to label them with “first?”
DesLauriers: I like unknowns. I like the challenge of the unknown. Not because it is going to put a tick on my resume, but because it’s exciting for me to be in that moment and to have to figure things out for myself. Of course, it was important to be the first person to ski the Seven Summits and that was the drive. I don’t know if I would have picked that as the objective if it had already been done. It’s a big project and I don’t think I would have had the funding. It was a big project to finance and support if I didn’t have that. So I can’t downplay that. A lot of the excitement for me is (asking), ‘Is it possible? Can this be done and can I get it all right?’ The research, the planning, the preparation, that’s exciting to me.
NESJ: These days, you seem to spend most of your time focused on making change for the future of our sports. How have you latched on to the importance of preserving our environment?
DesLauriers: My 40s were about, how do I fit in with the rest of the world? How do I contribute to the greater understanding of our world? Protecting the environment has always been key for me. I’ve always felt that way since before I was a recognized athlete. That’s actually where a big piece of my drive comes from, connecting to the natural world. In college (University of Arizona), I studied environmental science. Justice has been a theme that has been very important to me on many levels, to the degree where I thought I would be a lawyer at some point, even an environmental lawyer.
I see these changes and I see these really beautiful, remote places. Once you have people recognizing you for what you do, you realize that you have some amount of a voice in the matter. So it’s become important for me to tell the stories of what I see. I’m not afraid to speak up for what I believe in. It’s always been important for me, whether I’m talking about the snowpack here in my home range at the Tetons or any other justice issues that are going on, I look at it as not just an environmental issue, I look at it as an environmental justice issue. What’s right and what’s wrong?
I am motivated also by doing projects where I can use my skill-set of being comfortable in remote travel environments to lend my help to protect places like this. At the moment, I’m working on a project to measure snow depth on the coastal plains of Alaska. It’s being done already by scientists. But can I help those scientists and then help share the storytelling around the realties of what’s on the ground up there, which is a thin, fragile snowpack with low density? From my experience, it tells me it won’t support the heavy equipment necessary for the extraction industries. I feel motivated to share those stories with the people who may not know all those details. Because science doesn’t always get shared in the mainstream.
NESJ: Do you have a feeling of pride watching your kids start to pick up the same passion for skiing and mountaineering that their mom and dad have?
DesLauriers: Pride is a tricky word. I’m mostly happy for them that they choose things that make them feel excited about life and happy being in the mountains and challenging yourself, even if it’s at the ski resort. I’m the last person to push them to do these things. So when I see that they’re asking me to do things (this winter, both girls told their mother they wanted to start to compete on the freeride circuit), it’s fun for me because they’re coming at it from their own desires. I don’t push them to do anything. It makes me happy because my kids will always know that the outdoors is their home, and that’s been a driving, moral value of mine. It’s like an ancient way of being for humans. We used to all live outside in the natural world. In general, there’s not much connection to the natural world now. So it’s always been important for me for my kids to know that the natural world is their home.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at email@example.com.