Ski mountaineer Caroline Gleich wouldn’t stop using social media, even if she could
Caroline Gleich, the first woman to ski all the lines in the Chuting Gallery, Andrew McClean’s guide to steep backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, has a complicated relationship with social media.
The Park City resident, who goes by the handle @carolinegleich, has about 147,000 followers on Instagram who mostly watch her train and go on adventures over 2,000 posts and climbing. She has had her fair share of trolls and stalkers, and when it comes down to it, she would much rather leave her smartphone at home. But even if she had the opportunity to say goodbye to social media forever, she said she couldn’t. There’s work to be done — a better society to be built — one climb, rappel, and ski run at a time.
“For me, it’s just been a natural extension of who I am; to be outspoken about political issues,” she said. “I just want to do as much as I can with the platform that I have to create a more compassionate, conscious dialogue.”
On June 30, she finished the Twisted Fork 64K ultramarathon, but before she did, she posted a video to Instagram asking her followers to donate to two fundraising campaigns benefiting migrant families separated at the border with Mexico. The post coincided with the Families Belong Together march, which saw thousands of participants in hundreds of cities across the U.S.
“Because I couldn’t march, I wanted to find another way to devote my run to that cause of trying to reunite immigrant families,” she said.
She was hoping to raise $1,000 for the American Civil Liberties Union, and $1,000 for an online campaign with Together Rising, a charitable nonprofit. By the time the race started, she had reached her goal and then some, raising a total of $3,000.
“I was really happy about that,” she said. “I make my full time living as an athlete and I’ve always believed that business should be a tool for the greater good. There’s a way to make business have a positive impact on people and the planet.”
She sees human rights issues as interconnected with environmental ones; the idea being that the more people care for each other, the more they care about the environment, and vice versa.
In May, she went to speak with Congressional lawmakers as part of the Climb The Hill campaign in Washington, advocating for public lands with the nonprofit Access Fund and the American Alpine Club.
She’s also commented in opposition to the plan to install a tram to the top of Mount Baldy at Alta Ski Resort, which she mentioned in an Instagram post over the winter.
“I think the ridgeline looks better clean; what do you think?” She asked her audience.
Gleich said most of the responses were positive, but she said she does occasionally lose followers – which translates to endorsements and money.
“I think it’s more important to stay true to who I am than to stay worried about getting everyone’s like and approval,” she said. “It’s really easy to water down the version of who you are and what you want to achieve to make it more likable, but I just think that isn’t honoring who I am, and I think we can do more as a society and as people.”
She said the outdoor recreation community has a particular burden because it is, by nature, a privilege to be a part of, which is one of the reasons why she can’t imagine walking away from social media.
“I really believe the benefits outweigh the costs for me,” she said. “When you open a ski magazine, you still don’t see as many women, so it’s not as easy through the traditional media for a woman’s story to be told. And (social media) allows me to tell my story the way I want to tell it, and it also shows other women and other people who may not feel like they belong in the mountains, because they don’t see images of themselves in advertising and media, that they do belong there.”
Since finishing all the routes in the Chuting Gallery in spring of 2017, Gleich has taken a step back from steep skiing. Last season she competed in several ski mountaineering races, which focus on speed more than traversing intense terrain.
“After doing something that’s really scary, you have to take a break and give your mind and body a chance to recover from being in that fearful place,” she said. “For me I don’t think it’s healthy to go try and ski steeper and steeper stuff. I needed a little bit of a break from that.”
But the break is over. Gleich and her partner, Rob Lea, are planning an expedition to the China-Nepal border this fall to climb and ski Cho Oyu, the sixth highest peak in the world, which reaches 26,906 feet in the Himalayas.
Until then, she’ll be training in the Cottonwoods, preparing by logging as many vertical feet as possible. Better believe she’s bringing her phone.
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“We can’t keep kicking this thing down the road. The longer we do, the longer it’s going to take to come out the other side.”