The Karleen Jeffery Interview

Shooting pool at the Totem Inn again on another stormy April evening in Valdez, Alaska. Matt Goodwill rolls up with some Crown and Cokes and tells me to rack ’em-my quarters are up. Goody breaks and sinks a few, then I go and sink a few and hand the stick to my partner. Goodwill’s partner, a redhead in her early twenties, has been dropping balls all night like a shark. She walks up casually, takes a sip from her drink, looks over at me and nods toward the corner pocket.

The eight-ball falls and the redhead steps over and shakes my hand-my first impression of Karleen Jeffery: a sharpshooter and a gracious winner. They continue to run the table for hours, winning more Crown and Cokes than they can possibly drink. And that’s exactly what they both came to Valdez to do this week-win.

When the storms finally cleared, the 1997 King of the Hill contest went down: one day of downhill, one day of freestyle, one day of extreme, and many nights of partying. The previous week, contest organizer Nick Perata had been skeptical as to whether or not this little-known Canadian was up to the challenge of the Chugach Mountains. But after the final heli had set down, Karleen was the woman wearing the Queen’s Crown and holding the ceremonial winner’s sword-dethroning reigning champ Julie Zell for the first time in three years. No one could deny that this newcomer had made a stunning entrance into the scene of big-mountain riding.

Karleen may have been a fresh face along the shores of Prince William Sound in the spring of 1997, but she’s no stranger to winning snowboard contests. She won the first event she entered, the Canadian National Championships in 1990-just six weeks after learning how to snowboard. Since then, Karleen’s string of first-place finishes has included: The Mt. Baker Banked Slalom (an unequaled five times), Sweden’s King of the Hill contest twice, North American Boardercross Championships, Swatch Boardercross season opener in Solden, Austria, and most recently, the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge in New Zealand.

Karleen grew up in Kelowna, an “overgrown small town” in British Columbia’s interior. As a third-generation skier, it was only natural that she would take to the mountains. Grandpa Jeffery was a skiing pioneer in the Northern Rockies-in 1930, Doug Jeffery, his brother Vern, and three other Jasper boys were the first to ski from Jasper to Banff through 230 km of untracked wilderness. Her father competed as a member of the Canadian National Ski Team in Nordic jumping, cross-country, and Alpine racing. Carrying on the family tradition, Karleen started skiing at the age of two and began racing when she turned eight: “I raced all of the disciplines growing up, slalom, G.S., Super-G, and downhill, but the speed events were definitely my favorite. My parents were really into it as well. As long as my brother and I kept up our studies, we were allowed to skip school-sometimes for weeks on end-to travel and race.”

Karleen’s strong skiing ability did not go unnoticed by the local

snowboarders at Big White, her home mountain. In the spring of 1990,

after another day of bashing gates with the ski team, Karleen and her brother gave a ride home to high school classmates Neil Edgeworth and Sean Johnson. “Neil and Sean had been trying to persuade me to try snowboarding for weeks,” remembers Karleen, “and on the drive back to town that day they just would not stop. They were ranting on and on about this crazy plan that they had all worked out for me. I had to learn to ride as soon as possible because the National Championships were just over one month away and they were sure that I was going to win. I was quite skeptical and told them that I didn’t really want to waste a day on what looked like a lame sport … little did I know!”

Despite Karleen’s reluctance, Sean persisted. “He said, ‘Okay, if you don’t want to waste a day learning, how about a night?'”

Karleen finally relented, and ju as Sean and Neil had predicted, she went on to win both the halfpipe and G.S. at the Canadian National Championships that spring. The hook was in. In order to finance her newly discovered love of snowboarding, Karleen hit the trenches in what is a mainstay for seasonal employment in British Columbia: tree planting. “I persevered through five hellish summers of planting, knowing that for every day that I worked I could spend another two days on the slopes. If there is one thing that I learned from tree planting, it is that hard work and persistence pays off.”

With three seasons of snowboarding behind her, 1993 was a year of change for Karleen. She enrolled in an art program at the local community college for one semester and then set off backpacking in Europe to see firsthand what she had been studying in the textbooks. “I really enjoyed touring the galleries and seeing the works of Van Gogh and Rembrandt, but traveling alone in the big cities was really stressful … I must have come across every kind of freak and pervert imaginable!”

Karleen’s travels eventually took her to Chamonix, France. The imposing mountains that line the Chamonix Valley, such as Mont Blanc and Le Dru, not only inspired her artwork, but they also provided an outlet to pursue her ambitions in snowboarding. “It is the best place that I could have chosen as far as lift access to the big mountains and knowledgeable partners. Riding in Chamonix is challenging every day. After five years, I’ve only seen a fraction of the potential terrain.”

Karleen was fortunate to hook up with a good crew of local riders in

Chamonix: Thomas Ligonnet, Babs Charlet, and Tony Roos: “Thomas, Babs, and Tony grew up in Chamonix and really taught me a lot about safety in the mountains. Their style of riding has influenced me as well. They have a great way of blending freestyle into the natural terrain. Riding with my friends in Chamonix has prepared me well for extreme contests.”

Neil Edgeworth’s tragic accident in February of 1997 reinforced Karleen’s awareness of the importance of mountain safety. “I really had to reevaluate my approach to what I was doing in the mountains. I decided to concentrate on educating myself and encouraging others to be properly prepared in the backcountry and off-piste. Today I cringe just thinking about some of the chances that I took due to ignorance.”

Karleen’s passion for backcountry goes beyond just snowboarding, though. “Lately I have been rediscovering my roots. I would like to expand my knowledge of backcountry travel and do some self-supported trips. Telemark skiing and ice climbing are two things that I can definitely see myself doing more of in the future.”

If Karleen’s idea of getting back to her roots is strapping on a pair of

skis, then she sure did it with style this past summer. Karleen won The Rip Curl Heli Challenge in New Zealand by taking first in all three disciplines-a clean sweep despite the fierce competition. The most awe-inspiring feat, however, was that Karleen also competed in the ski event-and took second.

After each snowboard run, she’d switch into her ski boots, get back into the heli, and head back up the mountain to compete as a skier. On the final day, Karleen won the Chinese Downhill race twice-first on her board, then on skis-taking the same fast line, but using a different ride. “I was really nervous going into the competition because I hadn’t skied very much in the last few years. Earlier in the summer, I had focused a lot of effort into increasing my fitness level. This definitely paid off in New Zealand, giving me the strength and endurance to compete in two competitions at the same time.”

When the local Kiwis caught wind that she’d won both downhills, people began calling her “Gnarleen.” It made sense at the time, because ruling at both skiing and snowboarding is gnarly-to almost everyone but Karleen: “When I began snowboarding, my skiing experience really helped me to excel. Now, going back to skiing, I find that the reverse is true. My

snowboarding has enabled me to ski different lines using terrain features

that I would have previously overlooked.”

Karleen may ski well, but her main focus is still snowboarding. When asked where snowboarding will take her in the future, she lights up: “To the mountains, of course. Mountaineering seems to be a natural progression from where I am right now. I’d like to apply the climbing skills that I’m learning and use them as a tool to take my snowboarding to new and higher places. I want to continue pushing the limits of women’s snowboarding-doing first descents, and exploring new places to ride. The more I learn about different areas, the more that I realize that there is just so much to do out there. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the potential in my home province. The Coast Mountains, The Adamants, The Bugaboos, The Rockies-there’s just so much unreal terrain out there for those who are willing to put in the time and effort to journey beyond the confines of resort skiing.”

Whatever Karleen sets her mind to, she will accomplish, for the simple reason that it is her goal. She reflects the true soul of snowboarding by pursuing her goals regardless of who-if anybody-is paying attention. Because her focus has been on becoming a good all-around snowboarder, and not on becoming a media icon, she’s spent a good part of her professional career in the shadows of the snowboarding limelight. Hopefully, those who are reading about her for the first time will now know what those who have witnessed her ride have known for years: Karleen Jeffery is one of the best freeriders in the world. And whatever she decides to focus her energy on next-she’ll probably be one of the best at that, too.xcel. Now, going back to skiing, I find that the reverse is true. My

snowboarding has enabled me to ski different lines using terrain features

that I would have previously overlooked.”

Karleen may ski well, but her main focus is still snowboarding. When asked where snowboarding will take her in the future, she lights up: “To the mountains, of course. Mountaineering seems to be a natural progression from where I am right now. I’d like to apply the climbing skills that I’m learning and use them as a tool to take my snowboarding to new and higher places. I want to continue pushing the limits of women’s snowboarding-doing first descents, and exploring new places to ride. The more I learn about different areas, the more that I realize that there is just so much to do out there. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the potential in my home province. The Coast Mountains, The Adamants, The Bugaboos, The Rockies-there’s just so much unreal terrain out there for those who are willing to put in the time and effort to journey beyond the confines of resort skiing.”

Whatever Karleen sets her mind to, she will accomplish, for the simple reason that it is her goal. She reflects the true soul of snowboarding by pursuing her goals regardless of who-if anybody-is paying attention. Because her focus has been on becoming a good all-around snowboarder, and not on becoming a media icon, she’s spent a good part of her professional career in the shadows of the snowboarding limelight. Hopefully, those who are reading about her for the first time will now know what those who have witnessed her ride have known for years: Karleen Jeffery is one of the best freeriders in the world. And whatever she decides to focus her energy on next-she’ll probably be one of the best at that, too.