For some, exposure to the outdoors doesn’t come until later on in life. An inspiring Outward Bound trip in high school or a move to a mountain town in college might spark an interest in the outdoor-oriented lifestyle that is developed over time as an adult.
Kelsey Boleski, however, was born into the outdoors.
Growing up in the Mad River Valley meant learning to ski just about as soon as she could walk. Her mentors were well-known professionals, and her playground was the snow-covered trails of Mad River Glen. In recent years, a passion for skiing and a desire to find a fast-paced sport to fill the summer months eventually led Kelsey to her latest outdoor love: mountain biking.
We chased Kelsey out onto the trails and talked with her about growing up a skier and her experiences in the world of outdoor action sports. Check out this footage and interview from the latest in our Breaking the Granite Ceiling series and stay tuned for more.
How did you first get into mountain biking and skiing?
I wanted to get into biking to find a fast-paced downhill oriented activity for the summer while I was waiting for winter and skiing to arrive. I borrowed a friend’s heavy old downhill bike and pushed it uphill and rode down. Then I spent some time demo-ing a bunch of different kinds of bikes and now this is the first year I was able to get my own. It’s been amazing!
Skiing is a different story. That I was born into. My mom was a ski instructor, so she definitely pushed the sport at an early age, which I’m very grateful for. I started skiing when I was probably two and haven’t stopped since.
Did you grow up on the east coast?
I did. I grew up in the Mad River Valley, which is one of the best outdoor playgrounds, especially if you’re a skier. I grew up chasing around influential skiers, like Lars and Silas Chickering-Ayers who both went on to become freeskiing world champions. The late Ryan Hawks, who many have heard of from the non-profit his family started in his honor, the Flyin’ Ryan Foundation, was one of many inspirational ski coaches growing up and continues to be a role model for living my life to the fullest.
I was raised to be a skier. Being in ski boots and freezing my butt off, it just feels right.
Mountain biking vs skiing, which one wins out?
It’s getting tough! I’ve definitely got the biking bug.
There is something completely freeing about being on a bike. Just like with skiing, it can be a physically and mentally demanding sport but all the while it feels good, even when it doesn’t. It’s a sport I greatly enjoy doing with friends, but ultimately what it comes down to is me and my bike, working together to have the best day possible.
Biking has been so great as my “off season” activity. The winter after I first starting biking I noticed that it didn’t take me as long to get back into the flow of things. Mountain biking is another fast-paced decision making sport. I felt like I was training my brain, in terms of line choice and thinking on your toes, rather than just lazing around in a pool tube and drinking beer all summer.
Thankfully, skiing and biking occur during opposite seasons, so I get to enjoy the best of both.
Are there similarities between the skiing and mountain biking cultures?
Totally. Both attract the kind of happy-go-lucky, free-spirited people who love to go fast, drink beers, and ultimately just have a ton of fun. Friends and community are definitely important aspects of both. And both require you to push yourself to your physical and mental limits.
What would you like to see change about how women are represented and/or involved with the outdoor industry?
Broadly speaking, something that’s always bothered me has been the oversexualization of women, especially in skiing. Rather than highlighting a female’s insane skills or whatnot it’s more like how many layers of clothing can we take off or let’s take pictures of her in a bathing suit, and that’s the image that would be chosen to go in the magazine. Growing up I would read about these women who were super influential to me and see them in scandalous photos, or even if they weren’t in really scandalous photos, the focus was never solely on the sport and skill like it is with guys. Even in movies, they’re in there and that’s awesome, but there definitely aren’t as many action clips of females as there should be.
Things have been getting better for sure, but still if you compare one skier that is drop dead gorgeous and good at what she does but not phenomenal, she’s usually the one getting more of the media attention over her more skilled peer who doesn’t look like a model.
How do you think we change this?
There’s a difference between oversexualizing and appreciating the human body and what it can do, especially if it’s athletic. We work hard and our bodies are proof, including the scars and bumps and bruises and funny shaped noses. But when a magazine puts forth a completely photo-shopped image of a female in her bikini in Aspen, well, it’s a bummer to see.
I think some professionals sometimes forget how many younger women look up to them, especially nowadays with social media being so easily accessible.
Having great organizations that promote getting girls into the outdoors at an early age is essential and they need to continue to grow like they have. I think, in general some females might be intimidated, or feel like they need to act differently when guys are around. Creating a fun, pressure-free environment where females can learn and grow is so important.
What advice do you have for someone getting into mountain biking?
Demo gear, a lot. Outdoor Gear Exchange does a lot of demos and gives you a ton of ways to get out there and try stuff without having to spend a ton of money. Take advantage of any free trials and figure out what kind of bike and terrain you like. It doesn’t hurt to start out with a hard tail because that will help you develop some basic technique. Then evolve into a full suspension bike.
One of the best ways you can get better at biking is to just go ride. Get out there and scare yourself a little bit. You will fall and it will make you better. The more you can trust your bike the better off you’ll be.
Get a basic tool or repair kit and know how to use it. It can make a big difference between having a great day and being out in the middle of nowhere stranded. Very basic skills will help you at least limp out of somewhere, so learn things like changing a flat tire.
Invest in a dropper post. It changes the height of your bike seat while you’re biking so you don’t have to get off the saddle and adjust every time you’re going up or back down. It makes for smoother transitions.
Oh, and helmets. Please always wear a helmet.
This interview is part of our Breaking the Granite Ceiling series. We’re taking a look at the state of gender diversity in the outdoors through the lens of some of the raddest athletes we know; women within our community who continue to break the granite ceiling one climb, hike, ride, and paddle at a time.