It was a sunny, high-pressure January day in Jackson Hole, and Lynsey Dyer was late. I’d been squinting into the sun for thirty minutes, trying to pick her out of the crowd. When she finally showed up, she’d have been hard to miss. She was dragging skis she designed and pressed herself, clad in a teenage mutant ninja turtle onesie. She pulled a heinous, Christmas patterned two-piece suit out of her backpack for me, and told me her number one goal is to make skiing fun again.
It’s one goal among many, really. As we spun hot laps in the uncommonly warm January sun, Dyer, a skier who has been in the spotlight for over a decade, came into relief. She’s a pioneer, both on the mountain and as a community builder, and a public figure who has faced plenty of criticism for her convictions. She’s the first woman to direct a feature-length ski film, the founder of one of the oldest and most visible women’s collectives in skiing, and an artist and activist with big ideas about the mountains that manifest powerfully in her life and work.
Born and raised in Sun Valley, Idaho, Dyer was surrounded by skiers from birth. Her dad was a professional downhill skier from Washington state, and her parents met on the mountain. They quickly introduced her to ski racing and her love for the sport—and her talent—began to grow. She won the Junior Olympics in downhill at sixteen, catapulting herself into a world of intense competition and bullying that turned her off of racing. Her affection for the sport and connection to the mountains ran deeper than simple competition and accomplishment.
“I was never really passionate about ski racing. The reason why I loved skiing and continue to, is because I’ve never found a sport or any other activity where you can experience group flow. I’ve never felt anything more profound and that’s why I’ve committed everything to it,” said Dyer. “Group flow to me is having an on the edge experience in a natural environment, losing track of yourself, losing track of time, and pure bliss, with all your friends around you at the same moment.”
At first blush, Dyer can come across as a bit of a hippie. Ideas about flow, the divine feminine, mother nature, and the power of the mountains to heal and educate heavily influence the way she approaches the world, her relationships, and her career. But they come from a place of genuine passion and conviction, and those ideas have steered the course of her life. They drove her to found She Jumps, a non-profit dedicated to getting more women and girls outdoors; and Unicorn Picnic, the production company behind the first female-directed, women-focused ski film in history, Pretty Faces. They have set her, now, on a path towards becoming a professional mountain guide, to help more people get deeper into the mountains.
“If I just help facilitate the opportunity, the mountains have incredible ways of transforming people. It’s not just a sport, it’s a connection to nature. It’s a connection to yourself. It’s confronting your own fears and moving through them. When you have those experiences you walk into everyday life differently. I just want to give—especially women—that sense of confidence that the mountains have given me,” said Dyer.
Dyer is magnetic. As we ski around Jackson, we gradually pick up friends until we’ve grown into a group of twenty or so. She cheers on little girls, gently ribs know-it-all men on the chairlift, and takes photos and videos of just about everything. She’s stoked, despite the fact that she’s skiing hardpack, low-tide in bounds snow after coming off of two weeks of heli-skiing British Columbian powder.
Dyer attended Montana State University in Bozeman, where her love of big mountain skiing was heavily influenced by Montana’s rowdy terrain. With a not-so-gentle hand, her cousin, AJ Cargill, a big mountain skier and patroller based in Jackson Hole, was steering her towards the world of big mountain competition.
“She had come down [to Jackson] skiing a few times and I made her jump off a few things, making her have a good time you know?” Cargill told me over dinner and beers with Dyer, both of them laughing. “So I was going to this competition, and I was driving right through Bozeman anyways, and who would I rather go skiing with? I’m dropping in! Pack your bags! We had to make a pact, like don’t tell your dad. She was 18 already, I wasn’t kidnapping her and taking her out of the country.”
After that first competition at Red Mountain, Dyer began competing regularly, eventually winning the Freeski World Tour in 2005.
“I did not want to compete, I just knew that I needed to prove myself and that’s how I proved myself. My focus was to get into the films and inspire people through films and art. So I won that year, and the next year is when I finally fought my way into getting a chance to film with Teton Gravity Research in Jackson Hole,” said Dyer.
After her first day of filming with TGR, she blew her knee.
“That was a hard lesson to learn about not being true to myself,” she said.
The following year her film skiing career truly took off. For seven years, she filmed with TGR, Warren Miller, and Sherpas Cinemas, but eventually found herself disillusioned with the whole process.
“I had never seen the film made that I assumed was super obvious. That I saw, that I was inspired by as a kid. That’s when I decided that it was my responsibility to make that film,” said Dyer.
Dyer’s interests are diffuse—she builds skis, helps Eddie Bauer design their technical outerwear, makes art, directs commercial film projects, appears in the odd reality TV show, and, of course, skis all over the world—but where she stays consistent is in her commitment to following her intuition. That commitment led to SheJumps and Pretty Faces, and it led to Dyer becoming, in many ways, the face of women’s empowerment within skiing.
“When I made up the name SheJumps, I didn’t like the name, and now everything is ‘she sends,’ ‘she climbs,’ ‘she blah blah.’ It’s funny too, with Pretty Faces, the play on the word, there’s a new climbing film called Pretty Strong, and the entire [Pretty Gritty] campaign for UnderArmour. I realize, when you start something it’s really freaking scary. Now it’s kind of confirmed that we were ahead of the curve. But, man, when you’re a pioneer you get all the stones thrown at you. You have to have pretty thick skin. Then other people follow behind. You don’t necessarily get the accolades, I guess. But I’ve seen it now in just how things have shifted. So that’s cool,” said Dyer.
I asked if she had thick skin, like good pioneers do.
“Yeah, I do not. I don’t take things personally but I still feel every arrow that’s been thrown, for sure,” said Dyer, referring to the sexism she’s faced throughout her career, like having bikini photos published without her permission in an article about the “hottest” women skiers; and to the tired lines of criticism that plague feminists and their causes: that creating femme-focused spaces is divisive and that the ski industry doesn’t have an inclusion problem.
The next day we bootpacked up Teton Pass with Kent McBride, a local guide and friend of Dyer’s, and toured out to a zone where mellow, low-angle snow and open meadows awaited. Jackson’s early season snowpack was particularly unstable, and our rowdier objectives had to be sidelined for a later, safer day.
Like most pro skiers, Dyer is image-conscious. She’s always shooting photos and videos for her Instagram, curious to hear what other people think of her, perpetually searching for opportunities to increase visibility, and ready to fight back when directors and producers don’t represent her the way she wants to be represented. But when we got an hour or two into the backcountry, Dyer seemed to slow down.
We toured through snow gone to glitter under a layer of surface hoar, past dozens of whitebark pines, Dyer’s favorite tree. Dyer rattled off the saga of the tree besieged by climate change and pests, detailing the limited efforts to save the area’s dwindling population. She pointed out every animal track, chattered constantly about the snowpack, and brought us to her favorite grove of trees, a tightly-packed stand of aspens golden in the late-afternoon sunlight. Her excitement at simply being out there—despite being hemmed in by marginal conditions—was palpable. It didn’t matter that we weren’t skiing waist deep snow or steep couloirs.
“The mountains have been known as this place of extreme—you have to be extreme or gnarly to be cool and accepted. I’m trying to bring it to a different audience, like little girls. So if that’s my audience, how do I make it interesting for them? I make it really fun and magical, and it makes them want to come out,” siad Dyer. “I have this story that I love. This dad was struggling with how to get his daughter into the outdoors and then he saw my movie. Afterwards he showed up, he dressed up in a giant purple dinosaur suit, and took his daughter skiing, and that is what made her want to stay out all day. I just loved that story. And now they’ll always have that bond: Daddy showed me this magical thing.”
Photos courtesy of Lynsey Dyer