There's no guidebook for how to be a mountain guide, pro athlete and mom. But Jessica Baker's learning how day by day, and she loves sharing her experiences with others. We asked her what it's like to balance her goals in the mountains with mom time. Here's what she said.
There’s nothing traditional or predictable about what I do, but I think that’s part of what drew me to this way of life. I’m a professional skier, mountain guide, and athlete. I’m also a mom, a wife, a sister, a gardener and yogi. I’ve never been one to sit at a desk—I was antsy throughout school—but I love to learn, explore and expand my mind and skills. Being a professional athlete and guide has allowed me to push my physical and mental abilities. My lifestyle and profession feed me. I look forward to going to work, and my “office” view is spectacular.
Balancing my professional life with my own goals in the mountains is one of the toughest things I struggle with in my profession. I spent years of my life exploring skiing and climbing terrain for myself, for my own personal goals, fueled by selfish motivation. As my career evolved and I had accomplished many of my personal athletic goals, I started to share my skills, whether guiding, working for my sponsors or competing on the big mountain freeskiing circuit, which ultimately cut into my personal time as an athlete. But to make it as a professional athlete, and to expand and evolve, I’ve found this to be the most sustainable over time. And I enjoy sharing my passion with others, so it’s a good fit. It’s just a matter of finding my own time to go into the mountains. ideally with my favorite partner, my husband. So I try to do something for myself at least once a week in order to maintain the stoke and drive that got me where I am. Sometimes my schedule gets too hectic to accommodate those personal trips, but when I do, I find it very rewarding and inspiring.
I’m fairly new to having a family, I gave birth to a baby girl just under a year ago. Let’s just say it’s a big experiment at the moment. I’m a huge fan of sharing my experiences with my family. I try to bring both my husband and my baby girl along with me when I can. This past spring we went to Alaska for six weeks together. Our baby came along on a sport-climbing trip with us in the Southwest desert. We will be going to the International Snow Science Workshop together, and many more adventures to come.
I often think of the indigenous American women I’ve read about, or even some current cultures in Africa, that just strap a baby on and continue on with life, work and daily adventures. Baby isn't a hinderance, but rather an addition. Of course, there are times where I’m limited. Baby and hubby can't always come along due to exposure or logistics. I do feel my work schedule can be challenging for finding good baby care because my husband and I often have alpine starts, getting up between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. And often we don't get home until later in the evening. Thank goodness for our nanny and family help.
I’m also more selective when choosing my endeavors. I don’t take on the riskiest guiding assignments, and I’m more aware of the risks involved in my profession. And since baby came along, I’ve taken more time off to spend time with my baby. I feel lucky because the alternative nature of my work allows me the flexibility to spend more time with my baby when I want to. So it’s a work in progress. So far I haven't been able to find a handbook on "How to Be a Professional Athlete and Mom,” so I’m following my heart and making the best decisions I can. Check back with me in a year, and I’ll update you on my experience as a professional athlete and Mom part deux.
My astrological sun sign is Libra, the scales—always trying to achieve balance. I believe I’ve spent a larger chunk of my life seeking balance in all that I do. Perhaps it’s an unrealistic pursuit, because I don't think we ever achieve true balance. However, the pursuit of it helps me see things from a variety of perspectives, and keeps me open to new experiences and ideas.
Finding balance in my life can come in small and big packages and everything in between. It can be as simple as getting some much needed email time while my baby is taking a nap. Or writing my hubby a love note to stash in his summit pack for the day so he finds it on the summit and he knows I’m thinking of him. Or when I get to ski a line I’ve been eyeing for years, and then come home to my sweet baby girl at the end of the day. Balance is turning off my cell phone for the day and just enjoy my surroundings. Balance is finding the right amount of work, play, family time and rest—in no particular order. And finally, balance is being able to live in the moment as much as possible, from reading to my baby to breathing the fresh air on top of a peak. Being present in the moment allows me to engage in life fully—and that’s the ultimate balance for me.
To make the most out of every trip in the mountains, it’s important to build in "buffers." A series of buffers adds up to a stellar trip in the mountains. Here's how I do it:
I start with my personal fitness. I train at Mountain Athlete two to four times a week to stay strong, and I build my endurance and stamina by going on long runs, hikes, climbs and bike rides in addition to my work. I train year round, five to six days a week. Never underestimate the power of a fit body.
I start my days in the mountains early, so time is on my side. I usually have an objective I’ve studied, but I’m also ready to adjust accordingly due to weather, snow or route conditions. Having alternate plans or the ability to adjust my plan is key.
Packing for a trip into the mountains is also paramount. Having the correct clothing and layers for the environment can be the difference between life and death, and it can also make your trip so much more pleasurable. Laying out your gear and packing everything necessary but nothing more will save on weight, and guarantee you have the tools you need for the task.
Choosing the right partners for the trip, with commensurate skills and sound decision making is also vital. Your partners in the mountains could save your life, and they can also be wildly entertaining and funny in those moments that feel like you’re in the dredges of difficulty or an impasse on a route.
And finally, enjoying your surroundings and being thankful for the opportunity really completes a successful trip into the mountains.