Leading Ladies, 8: Suzanne Graham
Ski-BASE jumper Suzanne Graham on air obsession and becoming a doctor.
[Ed's note: This story is part eight of a series on some of freeskiing's most stand-out females, the women who are pushing the limits of what we all thought possible. Check back next Wednesday for the final installment of the series, an interview with slopestyle standout Keri Herman. And see below for ones you've missed.]4: Photographers
6: Say Their Names7: Janina Kuzma8: Suzanne Graham
A few years ago, I got a call from Alaskan heli guide Dean Cummings wondering if I would be interested in doing some ski-BASE stunt work in Alaska for a music video. I said, 'Thank you, but hell no,' and then I recommended that he call Suzanne Graham. Besides Karina Hollekim, who had recently been injured, Graham was the only other woman who was ski BASE-ing at that time. Naturally, she totally stuck it -- check out the bizarre but badass Japanese music video. Since then, she's continued to make a name for herself. Her double-backflip to win last year's Red Bull Cold Rush (seen in "Say My Name") generated buzz, and now that she's 24, freshly-college-graduated (she got a degree in health promotion and education from the University of Utah this summer) and ready to devote her spare time to skiing, well, the buzz is poised to become a full-blown roar. She spoke to me from her Salt Lake City home recently while fighting off a cold.
I'm drinking tea right now, but my favorite drink is hot chocolate. Everyone makes fun of me, but I keep a giant can of hot chocolate mix with me at all times. My favorite kind is probably Stephen's but that's expensive so my backup is the Nestle.
I started skiing when I was tiny. I grew up in Utah and my whole family is super into skiing. I remember seeing my brother do a backflip off a jump skiing and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I'm pretty sure I was 16 or 17 [when I tried my first back flip].
I got into BASE-jumping about three and a half years ago. I watched my first ski-BASE across from Alta and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I started hanging out with the guys who were doing it and I learned as much as I could about the gear. I was skydiving a bunch. I went up to [Twin Falls, Idaho, which is the only legal place to BASE jump in the U.S.] and jumped off the bridge for my first jump.
I did almost 200 jumps my first year. I became obsessed with it. I did my first ski-BASE about three years ago in Park City. I feel really comfortable in the air with skis on and I had been working on some ski-BASE specific stuff at the bridge. It's definitely not something that one should take lightly because it adds a whole other dangerous aspect to the sport and BASE-jumping is dangerous as it is.
But with my skiing background and everything, I just can't not do it. It's the coolest thing in the world to me.
This summer, we took off on a month-long trip to Norway and I got a chance to BASE jump my wingsuit for the first time. There are no words to explain it.
There are a ton of pro skiers, but people who can BASE jump as a profession? I know of two people in the world. But I'm focus on skiing as my profession. I'm not giving up skiing to pursue BASE jumping.
My biggest goal right now is just to keep loving it. I have met a lot of people in the industry who it's become their job, and they're sick of it. They're excited for the season to be over. I want to keep my passion for skiing and not get burnt out. As long as I am still healthy and strong and happy, then I am psyched.
I have that itch in me whenever I look at a cliff, I just want to ski off the top of it. If there's a line I just want to figure out a way to be in the air instead of skiing down it.
But I'm not just a hucker, I can ski too. And I need to start working on sewing those two worlds together. For instance, the Cold Rush, where I was doing double backs, I definitely need to be stepping up my game and mixing really strong skiing with that. It's hard to ski a super aggressive, fluid line straight into a giant cliff. That's the kind of skiing that I am trying to work on now.
In Utah, there's tons of snow and it's soft snow, so there are days when you feel like superman -- you can ski off anything you want. Pretty much everyone I ski with, that's all we want to do. When it snows a lot, we go jump off everything we can.
Five years from now? I could be living in Norway and have just turned into a BASE jumper, or I could be a well-known freeskier and in all the movies, or I could be in med school. Who knows? But I like it that way.
It's super dorky, but if there's a party or something, I like to bake cakes and decorate them all crazy. I'm about to make a bat-shaped cake for my friend Brandon's birthday.
People meet me and I'm kind of known as the BASE jumper girl who goes huge on skis, but I'm really shy. I'm like the short shy girl, and people are like, 'What?! You don't act like that at all.' I don't have any tattoos or piercings or anything like that, I'm just nerdy and quiet and I like books and I want to go to med school or something.
I work all these jobs like waitressing and customer service and it drives me crazy because I just want to be learning. That's why I want to be a doctor. I like to be challenged.
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