If you like Warren Miller movies chances are you have seen Jess McMillan, the girl from Jackson Hole who has featured in a record 7 Miller films. The former Freeride World Tour Champion was hugely popular downunder this year helping promote Miller’s Line of Descent movie shows in Sydney and Melbourne.
Snow Action’s Owain & Carmen Price caught up with her to find out more about what it’s like growing up in America’s ballsiest big ski resort? Her husband and gun photographer Eric Seymour supplied the awesome images to go with the interview.
Opening Day at Jackson Hole makes the perfect time to check out her story – Jackson is looking spectacular already in November, so hopefully another amazing season is on the way!
Growing up in Jackson Hole seems to do wonders for your ability – from Travis Rice to the late great Doug Coombs to Ms Freeride World Tour Champion 2007 Jess McMillan there’s a production line of legends. What’s the difference up there?
I have always thought of Jackson Hole as the perfect training grounds to be able to ski anywhere in the world. The terrain is unique in that it is sustained. For example, many resorts have a steep section into a flat section. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has 4,000 vertical feet of sustained pitch. It’s awesome! The community is also a factor. Jackson Hole is packed full of incredible athletes. From Olympic Champions like Tommy Moe and Breezy Johnson to National Geographic Explorers of the year like Jimmy Chin and everyone in between.
There is something magical about the valley. There is an essence in the air that makes you feel like the impossible is possible. There is a reason people like Yvonne Chanaird call Jackson Hole home.
Travis Rice told us that there was never much of that skier/boarder division/attitude crap in Jackson Hole either, basically because everybody had that big mountain sense of skiing/riding real mountains. Can the same be said for male/female divides – did you just get out and rip together with the boys as a kid and everyone was judged on how they ride?
Growing up in Jackson, there was never a sense of male female. I always identified myself as a skier/athlete before my gender. The mountains do not care if you are male or female. With that said the Me Too Movement has also influenced mountain towns. Now there is even more offered for women with the Elevate Women’s Camp and Women’s Experiences.
Looks like dropping cliffs is just part of growing up too, was it always as easy as you make it look now?
LOL! I wish I could say yes, but the answer is no. Years of training have gone into stomping cliffs. Each season I start out with small cliffs and progress into larger ones. It helps me train mentally and physically for the big cliffs drops that you see in the movies at the end of the season.
On your Volkl profile it mentions you rate Alberto Tomba as your hero/role model growing up. Did you have ambitions to be a racer then and compete much?
I grew up ski racing and raced at the Collegiate Level before transitioning into Freeride. I always loved Tomba’s attitude. He liked speed and pushing the limits. He always seemed to truly love being on skis and defying gravity.
The whole new school revolution landed when you were still a teenager, were you – and the core crew at JH – instant converts or did that take a while? We noticed a gnarly old monoski dude dropping Corbett’s last visit, seems like some old habits die hard up there.
Jackson Hole has definitely embraced and celebrated the “New School” movement, but there will always be something to say about that perfect turn. What I have learned as I’ve moved through the mountains and stepped into bigger faces, longer lines is that it is vital to be efficient and strong. Being able to arc a ski is a skill that one will have for their entire lives.
As for mono-skiing, I support anyone who is having fun in the mountains. And have you tried mono-skiing, it’s incredibly challenging.
Ditto that – it was awesome to watch him rip Corbet’s on a monoski. I couldn’t nail 3 turns consecutive on Thredbo Supertrail on a mono. Ok, 2 consecutive turns.
While we’re on the gear front, for those of us who are still waiting for the sponsor’s call and don’t have a quiver of new Volkls to access, what would be your one ski Jackson Hole recommendation for Aussies and others heading there?
I always recommend a ski that is around 100 under foot. Stick with a brand that you know and love, but you may want something that is a little wider than you are used to. 100 under foot is great in all conditions. From hard pack to deep pow days, it’s a great width for Jackson Hole.
Doing research for our Warren Miller tribute last issue we noticed no female skiers actually made the credits for the first few years. Things changed of course, but not many athletes male or female would have racked up 7 straight Miller movies. How did that happen?
It is so great to see so many women in ski films these days. For me, it is a hard question to answer.
Growing up in Jackson, the girls were and still are right there with the boys. I think for a long time the industry didn’t realize how many women were out there on the slopes. It’s awesome to see the industry recognize how many women are out there ripping around and support them.
You also rocked the Freeride World Tour for quite a while. How did you get into that?
I was coaching ski racing and a friend of mine told me about the Freeskiing World Tour. I had never heard of it, googled it, and figured I would give it shot. My first competition was in Snowbird, UT. I signed up and was devastated to learn that I did not ski well enough to qualify for the next day of competition. I asked the judges if I could fore-run for experience. They said yes. I showed up the next day and learned that someone had pulled out so I would be allowed to compete. I ended up fourth overall for the weekend and was immediately hooked. Freeskiing competitions were a way to learn, to challenge myself, and travel the world. What could be better?
It’s a tough schedule with events so subject to conditions and weather, is it something you would recommend kids have a shot at? The Qualifying Tour seems to be growing steadily now with events all over – Chile, NZ, Japan.
One of my favorite quotes is, “There’s no bad snow, just a bad turn.”
We would all love incredible conditions ie waist deep powder and steep landing. I think there is a famous song about this, “You can’t always get what you want.”
Skiing all types of conditions will only make you a better skier. When the conditions are hard, there is an opportunity for every skier to grow mentally and physically. I think the most common mistake young skiers make is that they do not adjust their line choice for the conditions. To win a competition you need to ski a line that is within your ability the very best you can. If you ski above your ability or the conditions, you will end up on your head and not on the podium.
Got any tips for people heading to JH who didn’t grow up there – like a terrain plan to work our way into things, not to mention generally for overcoming our fear factor?
All you hear about Jackson Hole is the steep chutes, big cliffs, and vertical. There is so much more to offer. We have incredible groomed trails that are beginner and intermediate.
Jackson Hole is also one of the best places to start on snow with the new Solitude Station facility.
I always suggest hiring a guide when you first arrive to Jackson Hole. I do the same when I travel. A guide will help you access the best terrain and snow for your ability. It is hard to know where the good snow is if you haven’t been there all season. Guides have been skiing every day and know how to find the best snow.
Do you do any coaching/guesting on the clinic programs – our contributor Rhylla Morgan had a ball on the Elevate Women’s Camp there last year.
I coach 3 different camps throughout the year:
1) Women’s Elevate Camp – Jackson Hole;
2) Powderquest Women’s Ski Touring – Nevados de Chillan, Chile;
3) Iceland: Ski Touring and Heli Skiing.
Jackson Hole accommodation packages and deals
Getting excited about going – or going back – to Jackson Hole?
Travelplan have been sending people there for 40 years. They have great deals including:
Jackson Hole, Teton Mountain Lodge Ski Deal
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Jackson Hole Ski Deal
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