Opinion » Alta States

Alta States

Lisa Korthals - defining the edge



"If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it."

Reverend Jesse Jackson


She doesn't come across as extreme. She looks way too sane for that. Balanced. Patient. Totally under control. In fact, she looks exactly like what she is: a happy Pemberton mum and local realtor. There's zero sense of danger to her behaviour. Zero sense of ego. Just listen to her voice - so calm and measured and peaceful. It's never about her.

And yet. And yet...

Lisa Korthals has always been a bit of an enigma to me. Maybe it's because there are two narratives to her story. On the one hand she's the afore-mentioned low-key mum with the welcoming smile and good word for everyone. On the other, she's this bad-ass mountain chick who's accomplished more in her four decades on this planet than most of us can dream about.

Consider her "professional" CV for a moment. River guide. Heli-ski guide. Alpinist. Rock-climber. CSIA Level IV ski instructor (one of only a handful of women in this country to reach that level). Powder Eights World Champion (with team mate and long-time friend Lee Anne Patterson). First woman to climb-and-ski Alaska's forbidding University Peak (along with husband Johnny "Foon" Chilton). And the list goes on.

Her commitment to mountain adventures knows no bounds. I mean, this is a gal who revealed to me (while giggling semi self-consciously) that she got pregnant with son Tye while climbing at Nevada's Red Rocks...

Need I go further? Still, I will. This is a woman with an incredibly rare feel for the snow. She doesn't just turn her skis in the white stuff. She dances with it. Makes it hers. And it doesn't matter where you plunk her - steeps, flats, bumps, whatever - she plays with the terrain like an old friend. She makes it look so-o-o-o easy.

Quietly powerful and surprisingly strong - with the kind of poise that only millions of miles on skis can bring - Korthals constantly inspires her skiing charges to leave their fears behind and experience new on-mountain sensations. She's a mentor and a friend. Confidante and cheerleader; shepherd and coach. And she's very, very good at what she does.

So how the heck did she become who she is? What's at the root of this woman's dual story? What kind of an upbringing did she have?

Lisa doesn't answer right away. First comes a smile. "My parents were both athletic people," she explains. "But as far as getting us all skiing, my mother was definitely the instigator. She was a super-keen skier."