Chrissy Lindstrom learned how to downhill ski the same way as many Minnesotans under a certain age: on wooden skis in the backyard.
What started as fun became a pastime, then a passion, then a lifestyle and, finally, a mission.
“Skiing is by far my favorite sport because it’s outdoors,” Lindstrom said, “And you’re out all day long, so it’s also an adventure. It’s a bug that bites people hard enough that they quit college or their jobs to become ski bums.”
Don't call Lindstrom a ski bum, though. She has worked hard to become a true ski professional as a ski instructor for more than 40 years.
"I coach and teach because I want to pass on my passion for the sport and instill in my students that same desire so they pass it on … and on," she said.
She attended rigorous Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) courses and reached the highest instructor level (3) by age 23; she attended the first PSIA National Academy in Park City, Utah, at 27. She then spent three years working at Snowbird ski resort in Utah as an instructor. She eventually became a U.S. Ski Association coach and a NASTAR (aka the National Standard race) champion for her age group in 2001. (The same week she turned 50.) Through the years she has taught skiing with Buck Hill, Blizzard Ski Club, Ski Jammers, and coached racing with the Gilboa program at Hyland Hills. She wears her 40-year PSIA Level 3 pin proudly on her ski jacket.
Lindstrom, 66, now runs her own ski school called Wings for Women, with an all-female staff that teaches beginners to aspiring racers. “Students tell us that our Wings lessons have brought back the fun of skiing,“ she said. “It stretches their skiing ability limits and helps them develop that can-do attitude that carries over into other endeavors in their lives.”
Here are interview excerpts:
On creating a ski school for women
Women want women’s programs, and they work. A lot of women would be fine skiing the “Rambo”-style with the guys in the class. But more prefer the women’s environment. Part of that is the cheerleader factor. They’re super supportive of each other. They see other women dicing the turns, out there in the cold, and they say, “I can do this because she can.” If it’s a 6-foot-5 guy, something gets lost in the translation. When a woman has a woman instructor, they say, “That’s how my body moves.” There is visual processing of having a woman modeling the sport for another woman. We move like each other.
On the evolution of women’s ski equipment
We are in a wonderful time in the ski industry for women. Manufacturers have taken notice that women are not “little men,” and now design equipment specifically for a woman’s smaller stature, different center of gravity and strength. Ski technology has been on a tear for the past 12 to 15 years with new construction materials and completely new design shapes. It’s not a gimmick. All of it works. It allows people to expend less energy and hold an edge much better. Today’s skis and boots allow us to ski well into our golden years. For those who may have left the sport, it is time to come back because you can indeed ‘buy a better turn’ and get back to the sheer joy of being outdoors doing a sport you love.
On the barriers to skiing
In Minnesota, I think the barriers are low. Lift tickets are a very reasonable cost. There are multiple ski areas close to the Cities, so there is good accessibility. The ski shops have lowered the barriers financially for people to get into the sport. They have wonderful packages for children with skis, boots and poles, where you turn them in at the end of the season and get 50 percent of purchase price back. For adults, their pricing is very competitive to anything in the western U.S.
On selling the idea of a minus-13 degree ski lesson
I have a problem with weather stations. They go on and on, and bemoan the cold and the wind chill factor. We just had a ski lesson where it was minus-13, and we had 100 percent participation. These are women recreational skiers. They didn’t drop out. Part of what we do at our ski school is to help people understand that there is plenty of really good learning that can take place on a cold day. We go in and out of the chalet and keep things moving. I think we could really be helped with outdoor sports, and winter outdoor sports in particular, if reporters could get on board that weather is not a barrier in Minnesota. I lived in Dallas, Texas, for two years. Weather was a barrier there: It was too hot.
On a winter-lover in Texas
I won the Dallas Grass Ski Championship. We had skis on little tank tracks, and we skied down a rock-strewn ravine wearing shorts. It was probably the most dangerous skiing I’ve ever done. I’ve tried just about everything skiing-related.
On advantages of learning to ski in Minnesota
Buck Hill has put more racers on the U.S. Ski Team than any ski area in the United States. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Part of what we can do in the Midwest is get repetition. It’s like Serena Williams hitting tennis balls one after the other. Out West, you have to sit on that chair for 20 or 30 minutes between instruction cues. We can accomplish more on our short hills. We teach at Welch Village because it has the longer hills and the steeper terrain. We help students develop their skills faster with drill and repetition on slopes that simulate mountain terrain.
On a way to improve skiing
Many people are not aware of the importance of weight training to develop the strength and endurance necessary to make the skiing easier and safer. All weight training requires a minimum of six to eight weeks to develop a new level of strength. If you have a trip planned to the mountains in six weeks, you’d better hit the gym yesterday.
On her most-harrowing ski experience
I was caught in a fairly significant avalanche, fortunately with pros who knew exactly what to do. I was skiing a chute area at Snowbird with the assistant ski school director and three members of the PSIA national demonstration team. We were halfway down when we heard someone above shout, “Avalanche!“ We skied directly to the sides and the rocks, and then climbed as far as we could up those rocks. The slide came rolling down where we had been, creating giant snowballs the size of Volkswagen Beetles.
On how to avoid a potentially harrowing experience
We were inbounds and in an area that was open for skiing. So how do you prevent this? Know the risks of the area you are skiing even if it is in bounds. Have an exit plan if things just don't look good. Never be afraid to ruin your skis on rocks if you are in a dangerous situation. Extreme skiing classes teach a whole host of avalanche awareness skills, so sign up for one if you want to ski the backcountry safely.
Lynn Keillor is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.