Jeannie Wall interview: North America’s Skimo Pioneers Series

This is a second 5-question interview with someone that can be considered as one of North America’s skimo pioneers.

» The first one in this series was an interview with Andrew McLean.

» Interview series archive - North America’s Skimo Pioneers Series.

Series supporters:

This interview series is presented by Skimo.co and Cripple Creek Backcountry.

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5 Questions for Jeannie Wall

Jeannie racing somewhere in Europe, sporting the first generation of the legendary Scarpa F1 boots.

Jeannie racing at Pierra Menta, sporting the first generation of the legendary Scarpa F1 boots.

Many of you most likely have never heard of Jeannie Wall so here are couple of facts to provide you with context:

  • Jeannie raced skimo between 2002 and 2006,
  • she placed 5th at the 2004 World Championships in a vertical race,
  • finished 4th at the 2005 Pierra Menta,
  • and she won won the famous American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in 2002

Q1: Jeannie, what is your sporting/racing and outdoor activities background?

Team sports through high school, then triathlons, Nordic racing, ultra running racing, some bike racing,  intermittent climbing and bc and resort skiing.  Ran around the woods, lake and hood as a kid. I had a lot of energy :)

Q2: When and why did you decide to give skimo racing a serious shot? What did you think of the sport at that time?

After I missed the US Olympic Nordic Team in ‘02, I went on to win the overall women’s title at the 2002 American Birkebeiner Nordic ski race, which was a dream. But I was tired of Nordic and its politics and not being in the mountains. I loved downhill skiing, the mountains, and climbing, so right after the Birkie, I jumped into the Jackson Hole Nationals Rando race.

I already knew I loved the sport as I had done an overnight skimo race in mid 90’s in Sweden, the Kebnekaisa Classic 2-day race. As a team of 3 women, we dug and slept in a snow cave, it was crazy stormy out. The wind was howling and everyone was digging bivy caves into this snow burm, and we felt like a chain gang. I absolutely loved it, but we had no races like that back in the US at the time so I pursued Nordic racing.

Then in 2002, we started having more US rando races and the combo of uphill/downhill/endurance and other skills opened up a new world to me that was so much more fun, interesting and challenging for me than Nordic. I was hooked after Jackson.

Q3: Can you list a couple of your biggest accomplishments in skimo, in other sports and/or in the mountains?

Nordic:

I went to the Olympic Trials in Alaska when I was 26 having done only 5 nordic races in my life, and no coaching, I knew nothing really, just loved to ski and did a lot of it. I ended up getting two 6th place finishes and missed the Olympic team by one slot. There was a big article in the local paper on me. It was thrilling as I had no expectations. But my biggest reality check on politics came with it. I was told I was “too old” for the US Nordic team.

I decided not to give up my day job and went on to win most skate marathons in the country, but was forever deflated to not have a chance to get some US team coaching and race for the US in those years just after that. I lost all respect for the US Ski Team administration after I saw them do the same thing to many of my fellow racers and friends.

Skimo:

Racing the Pierra Menta with Emma Roca was all time high, not because we had a good race, but because I learned so much more about what a partnership in racing could and should be. She taught me so much about the give and take, it’s part of why I’m now so taken with climbing. Honestly, it is exhilarating to win races, but the experience of skimo that endures with me are the people I met and skied with, it was the richest and most fun group of passionate people I can imagine and I feel so lucky to have been part of it all and their lives.

Being in the top 3-to-5 with the men in most US rando races, and winning the women’s was great, but as we know, it was a very small field at the time. I’m so glad it’s growing. Being in the top 5 in my first world cup race in Andorra was super inspiring as I had no idea where I stood and was terrified. It was the same with being in the top 5 of the World Championship uphill race. I had frustratingly slow skins, but to be up there with the top women in Europe was so fun and inspiring.

I think the biggest accomplishment I can take from my skimo racing is to have learned from Emma, to have learned that’s it not about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game, it’s how you support your partners and others with you in the mountains, no matter what. With climbing that can mean life or death. With racing, it is a matter of integrity, meaning and the richness of life and races. If someday, I can say I really understand and live accordingly, I’ll have accomplished something meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just another race.

[For more details on North American skimo history see our Manual for Ski Mountaineering e-book.]

jeannie-wall-interview-1

Ski mountaineering in Switzerland.

Q4: What sports and activities do you enjoy the most these days?

Climbing in the mountains both alpine and rock with great partners. Backcountry and ski mountaineering with great friends I trust and enjoy, waking in my Westy Bus with my guy and a fresh cup o’ jo, that’s where I find much of my joy and sustenance.

Q5: With years of experience from multiple sports, what would be the two most important pieces of advice you would give to new comers into skimo?

Find a fun partner and do a team race!  Go suffer on skinny race skis downhill as much as you can. Go to Europe and race and meet all the amazing people in and around the sport.

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