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FINDING YOUR FEET

How a world champion skier balances becoming a new mom.

By Kimberly Beekman

“That’s Griffin Post,” whispers Crystal Wright, nodding her head at a guy standing up with a buff covering the bottom of his face.

Our film crew of eight women is waiting on the benches of Corbet’s Cabin in Jackson, sitting head to head with the legendary all-bro movie and photo squads of Jackson Hole—many of whom are sporting the coveted JH Air Force patch on their shoulders. We’re all waiting for patrol to green-light us after taking up the early tram, and I’m trying to figure out who they all are. I feel like we should engage in some kind of battle, like a Chinese downhill or “American Ninja Warrior” on skis.

When I met Crystal the day before, however, I needed no introduction. I’d heard her name a thousand times over the last 15 years working as an editor of ski magazines. Crystal Wright: 2008 U.S. Freeskiing Tour champion, 2009 and 2012 Freeskiing World Tour champion, founder of the Jackson Hole Babe Force, owner of Wright Training gym, badass ski-fitness instructor, former competitive rodeo barrel racer, Jackson native—and a new mom to a one-month-old.

Crystal doing what she does. Charging always.

“That’s Darrell Miller. And that’s Bryce Newcomb,” she says, nodding her head at the gregarious, handsome guy laughing in the corner. Crystal has shot with most of these guys in years past, she says. “I was always the token girl. I skied Central with [Mike] Tierney awhile back.”

Then Bryce, as if on cue, grins at us with his charming smile and sidles up to Crystal. “I’m coming with you girls,” he jokes, sweet and flirty. And then he asks her how her baby, Cassidy, is doing.

It’s not easy to be an athlete, a business owner, or a new mom—not to mention all of them at the same time. But the instant anyone asks her about Cassidy, Crystal’s rosy cheeks break into a huge smile.

“Cassidy” means “clever and curly” in Gaelic, Crystal explains to me in the gondola the next day, but it always makes her think of Westerns because she dreamed of being Annie Oakley as a kid. We had just skied Tower 3, a steep, chalky pitch that Crystal didn’t so much ski but inhaled in, like, three greedy turns. She’s wearing duct-taped ski pants and her puffy coat because they’re the only things that fit her a month after having a baby, but she is strong and powerful—I can’t even imagine how she skis when she’s at the top of her physical game.

“It’s so nice to be an athlete again,” Crystal says, pulling her goggles up on top of her helmet. “Before she was born I could barely walk down the road.”

Her freckled face is flushed from the cold. She speaks thoughtfully, her eyes closing in long blinks as she thinks.

“Pregnancy was such a shock to me,” she says. “Not being able to get that endorphin rush that makes me happy, and just struggling with my identity, like who am I now? Who am I when I am not an athlete? I was also constantly worried, like, ‘Is she going to be ok, is this all going to work out?’ I am usually in control of things and this felt out of my control. I felt like I needed to know if it was a boy or girl to help me cope.”

It’s not that she hasn’t gone through her fair share of injury and rehab—broken ribs, broken fibula, a knee to the face off of a 30-footer, multiple dislocated shoulders (one of which she got ironically right after winning the Freeride World Tour when she waved at the cameras)—which is ultimately why she started her gym, because she wanted to help other people prevent and come back from injury. But pregnancy threw her in a totally different way, she explains.

“I got to learn a lot about my body after being injured,” she says. “But when I was pregnant, I was struggling. Just feeling so insecure. With sponsors I felt so worthless. I felt like there was a lot of weird judging of me happening, too.” She felt like people treated her differently, “like a sensitive flower,” she says. Instead of feeling respected as a badass athlete, she suddenly felt like people saw her as a walking reproduction machine.

Even though she’s back on skis now—and ripping, I might add—her view of the sport and her place within it has changed. “I miss shooting and being a part of the ski industry. I still want to push myself and be an athlete, but it’s different now.”

Case in point, she’s currently talking to me in between texting her husband to coordinate these brief runs between breastfeeding—issues that male athletes just don’t have to face.

“My priorities are different,” she says, “and the level at which I’ll push myself is going to be different. I want to contribute now not by skiing high-consequence lines but by getting more moms and women to push themselves as athletes.”

I ask her how she’s been able to keep up her business, too, and she credits her husband’s help and pure old-fashioned hard work. “Having a baby adds even more chaos to my life, and I didn’t think that was possible,” she says, laughing. “I mean, I run hot anyway.”

The daily juggle of being an athlete, business owner, running a non-profit, and being a new mom... 

She does admit she’s come a long way from when she first started the gym, though. “It’s funny I don’t describe myself as a business owner... I’m sensitive and I used to get my feelings hurt when employees quit. I’ve learned a lot.”

We unload off Thunder and head down the scraped-off groomer, ducking to the left to get into the entrance of Paintbrush. Within two turns, she’s through the cliffs at the top and halfway down, chewing up the terrain in her trademark take-no-prisoners style.

I see all the other skiers on the slope stop picking their way down to watch her, no doubt wondering what ski-world star they’ve witnessed. And then I realize I have to stop watching her and get going. Because Crystal has to get back home to Cass, and I have a lot of catching up to do.

*We regret that since reporting this article, Bryce Newcomb has passed away from injuries sustained during the film shoot that very same morning. All of us here at Blizzard/Tecnica are deeply saddened by his death. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time.