Written by: Chelsea Marie Hill
Play Hard Give Back (PHGB) and SheJumps – A series of interviews with professional female athletes giving back to aspirational women around the world…
Big Mountain skier, Ashley Maxfield, is both an athlete and artist who has overcome more than just tricky trails. Through competitive skiing, Maxfield has experienced some of her greatest highs exploring Chamonix, France, the birthplace of extreme skiing. As well as crushing lows, when she has lost multiple friends to the mountains. Neither injury nor ice has stopped her from shredding. For Maxfield, skiing is “humbling, awesome, terrifying, and super beautiful.”
Maxfield grew up in the northeast kingdom of Vermont, with a love of biking the kingdom trails and playing in the powder. “I was lucky to be near Jay Peak, which is known for its fluff and awesome trees.” Maxfield attended Burke Mountain Academy, a ski race academy, and ski raced in college. She transferred to Montana State University, where she had her first true introduction to big mountain skiing.
In big mountain skiing, or freeride skiing, the event coordinators will choose a peak and designate which areas are in- or out-of-bounds. “You have to pick your way down the mountain, hitting certain areas. I once had it described as ‘we are artists with our skis.’ Just as an artist would look at a canvas, we assess the route and determine what appears to be the best line to get down the mountain. Then, we paint our way.”
Photo: Anton Brey
Maxfield entered the competitive side of skiing once she was working for a ski resort in Vermont. The resort, Jay Peak, hosted an extreme skiing competition. Initially, it was only a mountain competition, but in 2010 it became part of the Ski The East Tour. That year, no woman in the tour competed in more than one stop. Maxfield, at age 25 and working as a soccer coach and ski race coach, entered and earned the qualifying spot for the Freeskiing World Tour. The 2010 Tour’s first two stops were in South America, with Maxfield placing 4th in both events. This jumpstarted the past five years of her career! She competed with the Freeskiing World Tour for two years, placing 3rd overall both years. During her second year, they combined the Freeskiing and Freeride to make one encompassing World Tour, which she continued with for three additional years.
Maxfield’s big blow came in 2015, when she was competing in Austria. There was dust on crust, and as she skied what appeared to be a patch of snow, she caught rock and fell on a cliff that sliced her leg muscle down to her femur. She was bed-ridden for a month. Her body was shaken, but her spirit was still seeking slopes.
Maxfield entered the SheJumps raffle for the Snow Sisters Camp, and won! She spent seven days heli-skiing in Alaska and “met a lot of rad chicks from all over the world! The most amazing part was skiing Alaskan lines in tutus!” During the trip, Maxfield still didn’t have feeling in part of her leg. “When you cut a big chunk of your muscle and nerves, it’s hard to shred! Now, I can use my leg fully again and the muscle is back, but I’m waiting for the nerves to fully return, and still missing sensation.”
The injury she sustained didn’t hold her back from staying involved though, and giving back! Maxfield contacted PHGB in her first season back, and already knew she wanted to sponsor SheJumps. Although she works with many organizations, this was “a unique opportunity to support a female-focused organization. I grew up in the mountains, and I’ve met a lot of women along the way who have been discouraged to try something because there is not a lot of help when you are older to get into a sport that you did not grow up doing. Through Shejumps, I had met many women in their 20’s and older who were first learning how to bike, fly fish, surf, ski and more!”
“I did not really become a freeride skier until I was 25! For me it’s never too late to learn. I have always loved the outdoors – hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, and kayaking. I occasionally run and have given into biking even. So, an organization that helps spread the love of outdoor things that I love…how could I not want to sponsor them so they can spread the joy of being out in nature?!”
And when Maxfield is out in nature playing, she’s usually snacking on any or all of the PHGB trail mixes. “I go through various sweet tooth modes! At different times you might want more chocolate or more fruit. I’m also gluten intolerant, so having snacks that are gluten free AND taste amazing is awesome. I honestly bring 2 or 3 different packs with me!”
“When I ski raced, I had to have the same pair of socks for every competition. Those little rituals make you feel secure! However, now it is much more about making sure I’m in the right mindset. When I choose the route I’ll compete, I pick lines I would ski every day with my friends. After losing Ryan Hawks at Kirkwood my first year of competition, I learned that it is not about picking a line I know I could win. Yes, it is competing, but you should never take more of a risk than you would everyday. When Ryan would talk about Freeriding, he described it as ‘tons of awesome people shredding around, and having fun with one another.’ This is one of the only chances in life to ski in a space where no one else gets to even touch, so why not just have the focus be to have fun? If you’re not having fun, why are you even doing it?” Maxfield has done best in the competitions where she saw the line of choice while inspecting and simply knew that was how she wanted to paint her canvas, and didn’t care how it will be scored. She listens to music to relax her, and trusts that she is exactly where she should be.
Photo: Søren Richards
“You have to trust in yourself. There was a time after college when I didn’t quite trust in myself. I wanted to be in the mountains, but felt I needed to get a big girl job. I didn’t give in though. I have always known I wanted to be in the mountains. In my early 20’s I began to shut that life off. I wish I never did! Those years of uncertainty I could have been enjoying what I trust and enjoy every day now! I wish my younger self could see what I am doing with it today…and just trust.”
The skill that Maxfield exhibits is parallel to her spirit. She is an artist of the mountains and an inspiration to young women seeking powder and passion.
Featured image photo credit: Søren Richards
Blogger’s Note: Get thrilled as the air gets chilled, and we roll out the December SheJumps Flashback, Interview, and How-To. As the holidays hit and we begin a new year with the SheJumps creators, crew, volunteers, partners, and athletes – which is EVERY woman – we will be releasing a 3-part series. The blogs will take a peek into some Heroines and history of women in sports, reveal personal and unique stories of ladies who are out-and-about right now, and then break down a helpful “how-to” that might spark your interest in a certain sport or teach you tips and tricks for the trails and adventures you already love! Keep your ears (and your gears!) tuned!