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From Moguls to Mountains: The Sophia Schwartz Story

How one skier is learning to do it all, with help from mentors, goals, and a fierce desire for personal growth.

Sophia Schwartz was a decorated mogul skier—she spent three years on the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. But by 2017, she was ready for a new challenge. So, she moved to Jackson, Wyoming, and started learning everything she could about big-mountain skiing and ski mountaineering. Schwartz stars in the new film “Jack of All Trades,” currently playing in the Women’s Adventure Film Tour, in which she tackles three main goals: landing a double backflip, climbing and skiing the Grand Teton, and linking up the so-called Jackson Hole Trifecta, three technical lines in the Jackson Hole backcountry, in a single day. Next up for this Flylow athlete? Climb and ski 20,310-foot Denali, in Alaska, this May, and give back to her community by serving as a mentor to others.

Sophia's 2020 trip to climb Denali was cancelled, but she knows the mountain isn't going anywhere.

Sophia's 2020 trip to climb Denali was cancelled, but she knows the mountain isn't going anywhere.

I’m very goal oriented. I think goals have this beautiful balance of being experiential, wanting to know what it’s like to do something. They help give me structure. Leaving the U.S. Ski Team and this world of structure, I found that goals helped steer me. While I love skiing, I don’t think I could just cruise around every day. Connecting with people to learn new things is what draws me to the sport.

It’s fun to normalize skiing at a high level as a woman. When you see it, you can believe it.

We were supposed to leave for Denali at the end of May 2020. On a training trip, while camping, we got a satellite message saying Denali was closed. It was a bit of shock—realizing that COVID was not going to be over in two months and settling into this idea of instability for a long period of time. I definitely felt a sadness around wanting to be on an adventure with my friends and not seeing that come to fruition but also knowing that Denali wasn’t going anywhere.

Denali is this perfect blend: It’s something that will challenge me a lot, but it’s also a door opener to more adventures. Ideally, I’d love to continue onto more remote expeditions. When the trip last year was canceled, it put that idea of growth on hold. We have a permit for the end of May, so we’re trying again. It’s nice to get to come back and recognize that I grew in other ways.

I so value the autonomy of telling the story I want to tell. It’s more work in some ways, but it’s worthy work. I have this inherent drive. In some ways, the films I make are the coolest kind of diary I could ever collect. I want to watch them 30 years later and feel what it was like to stand on top of that line.

The films I make are the coolest kind of diary I could ever collect. I want to watch them 30 years later and feel what it was like to stand on top of that line.

The films I make are the coolest kind of diary I could ever collect. I want to watch them 30 years later and feel what it was like to stand on top of that line.

I hope to be more open and honest about talking about privilege. There’s this stigma of acknowledging that you have privilege. It’s OK to admit opportunities you’ve had. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It takes work to then elevate other people who haven’t been given the same opportunities. I wanted that to come out through “Jack of All Trades.” It’s fun to normalize skiing at a high level as a woman. When you see it, you can believe it.

Growing up, I skied everything. I was a mogul skier, halfpipe skier, aerialist, slopestyle skier. I always had the background of moguls being my primary passion. Freestyle still had all of these events in one place, so you could go to Junior Nationals and compete in all of them. I was pretty obsessed with skiing.

It was my rookie year on the U.S. Ski Team. I had no expectations, but I was finishing top 10 in World Cups. I ended up losing a three-way tie to make the Olympics that year, in 2014. I wasn’t terribly disappointed: The reasons I wanted to go to the Olympics were around the experience and getting to ski World Cups and travel the world was an incredible experience. So, I qualified top 10 in the world, then I was just sitting on the couch watching the Olympics.

One of my favorite things is that many of my heroes and mentors have become my friends, and many of my friends have become my heroes and mentors.

One of my favorite things is that many of my heroes and mentors have become my friends, and many of my friends have become my heroes and mentors.

After this stellar year on the U.S. Ski Team, my next two years were incredibly rocky. I left my coaches that I’d worked with for a long time, from pressure from the U.S. team. It didn’t work and my skiing wasn’t progressing. I ended up getting dropped two years later. That summer, I over trained and I ended up breaking my back and had a stress fracture. It was a good reminder that what I loved about skiing was progression and I could find that in other ways.

I’ve always loved coaching. Coming from my mogul career, my coaches became phenomenal friends. I had a coach tell me once, ‘At the end of the day, these programs are building lifelong skiers, not about building Olympians, even though you may go onto be that.’

I’m very nerdy and calculated and intentional. After I left mogul skiing, it boiled down to these three hubs of big-mountain skiing: Whistler, Salt Lake City, or Jackson. Where should I go? I felt that Jackson had the best opportunity to learn. I saw it as a mecca of incredible women’s skiing. I nerded out: I contacted every pro skier woman I could think of and asked if I could buy her coffee and pick her brain.

I felt that Jackson had the best opportunity to learn. I saw it as a mecca of incredible women’s skiing.

I had a friend who was working for Coombs Outdoors. It’s cool to reframe and put that energy into how can I make skiing really fun? Coombs is really helpful to me for my own mental health. It’s not about winning, it’s about what does skiing mean to you? It’s giving back to this community, but it’s not a one-way street. I’ve been skiing with this group of high school women for a year now. That long-term connection is what I was after. It’s much different than just being a ski instructor for someone for one day, then never seeing them again.

The mentorship I’ve found getting into the mountains has been a blend between established skiers and true friends. One of my favorite things is that many of my heroes and mentors have become my friends, and many of my friends have become my heroes and mentors.


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