When Jessica Baker reflects on why skiing in the untamed beauty of the backcountry is so critically important to her, she doesn’t describe the staggering array of stunning accomplishments she’s accrued in the sport over the years.
Sure, she’s topped the podium many times: 2000 North American Freeskiing Champion, 2004 US Freeskiing Nationals Champion, third overall Woman on the World Freeskiing Tour both 2004 and 2005, and more. She’s racked up plenty of first descents, too — in the Tetons, Sawtooths, Chugach, and Wrangell mountain ranges.
But that’s not what keeps her going. The unrivaled power of experiencing the wilderness in winter is.
As a year-round mountain guide, Jessica trades her climbing gear for skis when the snow flies. In addition to guiding across the Intermountain West, she helms Ski Divas, hosting steep skiing camps and specialty women’s camps all across the globe. When she has a (rare) day to herself? She heads into the Jackson Hole backcountry.
“I just have such a deep appreciation for all of it. Especially in Grand Teton National Park, I look to find a quieter place: something off the beaten path, maybe something I’ve never skied before,” she explains. “The feeling is hard to describe, really. It’s so important to maintain focus and be aware of safety factors, but once you’re confident in that, there’s a peace just being in that space. It’s quiet — the snow insulates sound. You make your own track, have many mountains to yourself.”
Despite the physically demanding nature of Jessica’s excursions, she finds them deeply rejuvenating. “The crisp, fresh air is so renewing, and it just grounds you back into what’s important. Into the basics.”
Jessica observes that while more women have become involved in winter sports and backcountry sports, the field has long been — and largely still is — dominated by men. With a deep knowing of how empowering and restorative her experiences have been, she’s worked tirelessly to bring more women into the world of skiing. And the element of spending time in the backcountry, she says, is incredibly impactful to so many.
“I wanted to make skiing and spending time in the mountains a safe space for women, a welcoming space,” she says.
“Women often have so much on their plates: families, children, careers. Getting to explore and hone their skills in the mountains can do so much and help them find strength and balance.” Reconnecting with nature, reveling in the solace of its pristine beauty — Jessica believes that these are healing in a number of important ways.
Two years ago, as the nation was wracked with challenging conversations and facing the still-pervasive harm caused by racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, Jessica felt compelled to step beyond performative allyship. She founded a ski camp exclusively for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color, further working toward her mission of diversifying ski and mountaineering culture.
“In early March, we invite all of these amazing women to come join us. We offer scholarships to those who might need it, and we have a huge range of skill levels,” she says. “Some of these women are beginner or intermediate, and are able to further enhance and refine their skills. Others are very experienced, and enjoy the challenges of the backcountry.
“Spending time in the mountains also reinforces that it takes effort to protect the natural world around us,” she says, identifying another impactful benefit of forging connections between people and landscape. “With this many people, preserving places and caring for the planet is so important. We absolutely need to advocate for natural spaces not only for ourselves, but for generations to come.”