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WomanOf the Month 10-03: Kim Reichhelm

By the time she was nine years old, Kim Reichhelm was already planning to race in the Olympics and professionally, even though professional ski racing for women did not yet exist. She succeeded, racing for 16 years while competing for the US Ski Team, the University of Colorado and the Women###s Pro Tour. She then earned honors as a two-time World Extreme Skiing Champion and as the only extreme skier to win the North American, South American and World Extreme Skiing titles in one season, in 1995.

Some five years before that triumph, Reichhelm founded Women###s Skis Adventures, because she "wanted women to be able to have more fun skiing." Today her clinics host about 100 women annually, boosting their confidence and skills while they draw strength from the camaraderie and support of other women. Put simply, her clinics empower women through skiing. She also hosts a co-ed program, Black Diamond Adventures, for advanced skiers.

Reichhelm has been featured as an extreme skier on "Late Night" with David Letterman, "Good Morning America", "Wide World of Sports" and NBC "Date-Line". She has worked in television as a color analyst and reporter for ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox Sports. Her ski movie appearances include: "License To Thrill" Greg Stump, "To The Limit" I-Max Films (Stunt Double), "No Man###s Land" Christian Begin Productions, and "Sick Sense" Match Stick Productions, among others.

We caught up with Reichhelm by e-mail while she was vacationing in Australia. She talked about what she###s learned from both her successes and her setbacks, as well as the incomparable rewards of changing women###s lives.

Q. Where did you grow up, go to school and how did you get into skiing? What drew you to the sport?

A. I grew up in Westport, Conn., and skied Stratton Mountain in Vermont on weekends. My family-including my two brothers, one older, one younger, and both very athletic and successful in sports, and my mom and dad--was very competitive. Everything we did was a contest, including pumpkin carving. I loved skiing right from the start and dragged my family into ski racing in the mid-60###s. My parents were both involved with the start of Stratton Mountain School, and I attended ski academy from the time I was 12. I was always a very good athlete and did very well in most all sports. I loved ski racing because I didn###t have to depend on teammates; I could excel on my own at my own pace. It was also something new to my family, so I could be the best, for a while. The US ski team picked me up when I was 16.

Q. In high school and at the University of Colorado, what events did you compete in? And was there ever a time in your career when you were tired of skiing and questioned whether you wanted to continue? If so, how did you handle it?

A. I was always very goal-oriented. When I was nine, I knew I would ski in the Olympics and then race professionally, even though at the time there wasn###t any such thing as professional ski racing for women. I raced mostly Slalom and Giant Slalom; there wasn###t super G back then and it###s hard to be a downhiller from Vermont. My specialty was Slalom. In college at the University of Colorado there was only SL and GS.

I never got tired of ski racing. I loved it. There were times when I didn###t like my coaches and the environment wasn###t the best, but I always loved the sport. In college I learned about being part of a team. On the US Ski Team it was always individual; they even pitted us against each other, which never made for a good team feeling. In college we raced as a team. Everyone has to score to win. Even if you win the race it doesn###t mean anything unless your teammates do well too. For the first time in my life I had to give up a little for the sake of my team. The sense of contribution and accomplishment from that was the most rewarding experience of my life up to that point. It changed me forever. I was a natural leader, and I found my energies and influence could make a positive impact on my team. Camaraderie is very powerful, and the reward one receives from giving to others is overwhelmingly gratifying.

Q. When did the sport of extreme skiing take off and when did you get involved? What does extreme skiing entail, and what does the competition involve for the world extreme skiing championship? Also, why aren###t you scared?

A. I raced professionally after college and got to ski many great resorts. I always wanted to ski the mountain rather than train gates. So I started training by finding the steepest, most difficult lines on the mountain. I would look for ungroomed terrain and tight chutes. I loved it. When I quit racing, I was still traveling on the tour working for the Broadcast Company. Because I wasn###t racing, I would search out the locals, usually a pack of guys, and would follow them around the mountain. They always knew where the best stashes were.

In 1989 I met Greg Stump and filmed the movie "License to Thrill". From being in that movie I was invited to Alaska in 1991 to compete in the first ever World Extreme Skiing Championships. The competition involves a group of skiers skiing one at a time down a very large slope--in Alaska, usually about 3,000 vertical feet. Skiers are taken to the top by helicopter. Ideally it###s a run that has never been skied before. You can ski anywhere on the mountain you want, as long as the judges can see you, which they do through binoculars. You are judged in 5 categories: 1) Degree of difficulty, meaning how hard of a line did you ski (there are easy ways down and hard ways down). You want to ski a difficult line but one you can ski well; 2) Aggressiveness, meaning how hard did you attack that particular line; 3) Control; 4) Fluidity; and 5) Technique.

Five to seven judges score each category from one to 10. It###s best if the competition involves several runs throughout several days. The highest score at the end wins.

I was a little scared the first year I went up there because of the unknown. But not when I###m skiing. I know I###m a good skier and don###t do things that are over my head. Usually when someone is scared, it###s because they are not sure they can handle the situation. I always ski within my comfortable boundary. It just so happens my comfort zone is greater that of most people. But most people haven###t been skiing 100 days a year since they were 12 years old.

When I trained for extreme skiing comps I would push myself just outside my comfort zone all the time. That way I could ski at 100% in a comp and be completely comfortable with it. If I was behind going into the last day I could push it up a notch and still be in a place I###ve been before. When you push yourself too far beyond your comfort zone you will be scared and possibly get hurt.

Q. Have you had any mentors along the way?

A. My dad George is my mentor. He taught me to set goals and work hard for what was important to me. I###ve had a lot of success in my life, and I###ve also had some huge setbacks. Every setback has made me stronger and re-evaluate my goals. My biggest setbacks have been my greatest learning experiences. Because of this, I###m not afraid to take chances in life. I know if it doesn###t work out I###ll still learn from it. But by setting huge goals and taking chances I###ve been blown away by what I can accomplish.

Q. How many women do you typically host for your Women###s Ski Adventures (WSA) weeks? How did you get the idea to start them? Do you think the boom in personal growth topics for women, including Oprah and the like, have boosted women###s interest in doing something just for themselves, in the company of other women?

A. Typically a four-day, five-night clinic has between 15 and 30 women. I started WSA because I wanted more women to have fun skiing. I love the sport so much and felt that many women were not getting to enjoy it as much.

What I saw on the slopes, men teaching their girlfriends or wives, wasn###t working. Men want to go fast and ski the steepest slope on the mountain and don###t care what they look like. Women want to be in control, look good and have fun. Guys don###t understand our fear because they don###t have that nurturing instinct we have. Women learn differently t