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Olivero: From Sisters Cabin to French Chalet, Summit Ski Mountaineers Grow Sisterhood

This article was first published in the Summit Daily on November 11, 2019.

FRISCO — Of the 450 people — well, the one’s officially accounted for, at least — who piled into 10 Mile Music Hall, Sharon Crawford posted up in a corner adjacent to the stage. The eldest female finisher at the Imperial Challenge cycling and ski mountaineering race, Crawford looked on with a smile as her fellow Summit County skiing sisters premiered and then chatted about a movie simply titled “Sisters of Skimo.”

From Crawford to elementary-school-aged skiers, many of Summit County’s skiing sisterhood gathered at the sold-out Frisco music venue on Wednesday to watch the 20-minute documentary. It told the tale of Summit local Sierra Anderson and her fellow Team USA teammates’ pursuit last winter of the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Switzerland.

“I think it’s amazing to see so many different women from different reaches of life and different generations coming together over this one film,” Summit High School senior and Team USA youth ski mountaineer Grace Staberg said, “coming together over the sport and community we are building here.”

After the film was complete, during a Q&A session on stage, Anderson and Staberg shared that they both will spend this winter in Europe. There, Anderson and Staberg will live with the LeBron James of women’s ski mountaineering, recently-retired French star Laetitia Roux, in a French chalet.

A year after Anderson and Staberg joined their Team USA Summit County sisters — Kate Zander, Nikki LaRochelle, Jaime Brede and others — at a team-bonding backcountry ski tour trip to Sisters Cabin on Bald Mountain in Breckenridge, Anderson and Staberg will continue the growth of the Summit County skimo sisterhood at a similar place in the French Alps.

For Staberg, it’ll mean finishing up her Summit High School education remotely via online courses while continuing to strive to become the kind of American talent that can compete for Team USA if and when skimo debuts at the 2026 Winter Olympics. For Anderson, who in the past year has become like a big sister and mentor to Staberg, it’ll mean continuing to grow the camaraderie and team energy of some of the country’s best female ski mountaineers.

It’ll also give her a buddy to train and compete with. Last season after the World Championships in Switzerland, Anderson was the lone Team USA ski mountaineer to stick around Europe, competing at subsequent World Cup events. Though taking to the circuit for the first time was a great experience for Anderson, it was something she knew she’d need a teammate for the next time around.

“I was often the only American at these races,” Anderson said. “And that really kind of triggered in me the longing for team. I came back, I met with my coach, and I was like, ‘Gosh, that was so hard, I don’t want to do that again, but I want to do that again.’ And I just started putting my goals out there, and my goal of wanting to come back and do the whole World Cup circuit, something we’re unsure if any American has been able to do, just because of geographical challenges. And so Grace got wind of my goals, and she’s a brave ambitious cookie, and she was like, ‘Yeah, Sierra, if you’re going, I want to go with you.’

“‘Alright,’” Anderson remembers she thought. “‘We’ve got a team! All it takes is two.’”

This winter Anderson and Staberg will provide a Team USA contingent on the European circuit. Though they’ll don the red, white and blue, the duo joked that they’ll be “Team Laetitia” this winter, undertaking their own Rocky Balboa-like training camp in a foreign place under the tutelage of a skimo Mr. — rather, Mrs. Miyagi.

The duo connected with Roux thanks in part to Summit County locals Ram Mikulas and Joe Howdyshell, the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Federation’s president and head coach, respectively. In viewing the past, present and future of U.S. women’s skimo, Anderson compares the situation to that of U.S. cross-country skiing and 2018 Olympic gold medalist Kikkan Randall. Anderson admires how Randall believes she’s at her best as an athlete when helping others to be at their best. Ultimately, Anderson is inspired by how Randall took the women’s cross country team from obscurity to Olympic champions over 15-or-so years.

Anderson would like to do the same for U.S. women’s skimo. Both she and Staberg are not only hopeful, they are confident their beloved sport will be added to the Winter Olympic program come 2026. The recently-awarded Milan-Cortina, Italy, location for the Olympics is perfect for skimo, as Italy is one of the sport’s hotbeds. It just makes sense.

If and when it does occur, whether Anderson and Staberg are on the team or not, they’ll simply be proud that they not only helped themselves prepare for an opportunity that might one day become a reality. They’ll also be proud that they prepared their country for the opportunity of an Olympic dream.

“We are growing the sisterhood,” Anderson said, “as we speak.”

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