Tom Kelly: Shannon Bahrke keeps skiing fun
It was a gorgeous day at Deer Valley Resort as a young family cruised up the chairlift from Snow Park. Mom and dad flanked the two young kids – ready for a December ski day.
Mom’s eyes gazed at the steep pitch of Champion. A bit of emotion gripped her as she thought back to that day 18 years ago when she won an Olympic silver medal. She remembered the seeming improbability of it – “this isn’t supposed to be me, is it?” She vividly recalled finding her family amidst the thousands of screaming fans. Yes, it was supposed to be her.
Two-time Olympic freestyle moguls medalist Shannon Bahrke Happe (pronounced happy), trademark pink hair peeking out of her helmet, points out Champion to the kids. They’re more interested in their own ski day. But they’ll appreciate it someday.
Happe moved from Lake Tahoe to Utah in 1998 to prepare for the 2002 Olympics. It became a place that would change her life with the Olympic medal, and has proven to be a wonderful area for she and husband Matt to raise daughter Zoe, now six, and young Tucker, a year and a half.
Christmas week is special for Happe. As part of Deer Valley’s Ski With a Champion program, she’ll spend much of the next week skiing with guests, sharing her bubbly, vivacious personality and introducing them to what has become her favorite ski resort.
“I love this time of year because I get to ski with my favorite families,” she said. “But, most of all, I look forward to being out there with my own family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We’ll be skiing, sledding, playing in the snow and hoping for a giant snowstorm so we can build a gi-normous snowman.”
Daughter Zoe is starting to really understand skiing. “I wasn’t sure she was feeling it in the past,” said Happe. “But this year when I tried to help her on a powder day she just said, ‘Hey, mom, it’s OK – I got this.’” And the little girl ripped through the powder like a hot knife through butter.
As an infant, Tucker spent last season in a child carrier. This month, he took his first strides on skis. “I was so nervous,” said Happe. “There I am, in front of the whole Deer Valley ski school, showing Tucker how to ski. He stood up and went 15 feet.”
Tucker still spends most of his time in a carrier on mom’s chest, which often garners wayward looks from skiing guests. But they quickly realize the pink-haired lady has the skillset.
“Tucker is heavier this year and his feet hand right where the back of his ski boots hit me in the knees,” laughed Happe. “It isn’t optimal but we’re both smiling.
Shannon and Matt are instilling in their kids the same thing she experienced growing up on the west shore of Lake Tahoe.
“I had the childhood everyone dreams of,” she recalls “I grew up in the mountains with beautiful fresh air. I played a lot of sports – I swam in Lake Tahoe, we played soccer, we ran track, we played softball and played in the woods. But the best thing was that in the winter we got to go skiing.”
Her mom and dad instilled that love of skiing in her beginning at age three. She was just a little girl having fun, no gloves, no goggles, hair flowing. When she began competing, well, she was awful. “I got my butt kicked every which way,” she recalls. “But I thought, if these other girls can do it, I can too.”
She also had a role model in Jonny Moseley. “Having Jonny come back into our Squaw Valley locker room with the U.S. Ski Team jacket and telling us we can do it too – that’s where I really believed.” She remembers that day in February, 1998 when Mosely won Olympic gold in Nagano. She was at an event in Canada, watching with her team late at night at a ski lodge.
“That just lifted our Squaw Valley team up,” she stated. “Someone from our team was the best in the world. And he did it in style. He put an exclamation mark on it. That was such a defining moment for me.”
The next year she moved to Utah, enrolling in the University of Utah and training at Deer Valley, connecting with friends she had met from Wasatch Freestyle over the years. She set her sights on 2002. But it was a tough, competitive road with a talent-packed team.
While it all seemed so improbable, she made it happen. That has been the story of her life. Eight years later, in the twilight of her career, she won again – taking Olympic bronze while teammate Hannah Kearney won gold. Again, it was improbable – coming back after being sixth in the first run.
Today, she remains very much the Energizer Bunny. As an entrepreneur, her Team Empower Hour has brought motivation to thousands, engaging her fellow Olympians in telling their stories. Her book, Mommy, Why Is Your Hair Pink, has excited kids and families. And her role as a skiing ambassador has kept her active on snow, sharing her personality and her passion for skiing to others.
To me, Shannon has always embodied the fun and family in skiing. She’s the quintessential skiing mom, exuding confidence but never letting challenges get in the way of having a fun time outdoors. And what a perfect way to spend Christmas, enjoying the holiday snow and a hot chocolate with grandma and grandpa in the lodge.
Wisconsin native Tom Kelly landed in Park City in 1988 (still working on becoming an official local). A recently inducted member of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is most known for his role as lead spokesperson for Olympic skiing and snowboarding for over 30 years until his retirement in 2018. This will be his 50th season on skis, typically logging 60 days in recent years.
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