Catching Up With McKenna Peterson

From mountains to ocean, how Sun Valley skier McKenna Peterson is navigating uncertain times

Fishing boat captain by summer and pro skier by winter, McKenna Peterson finds balance between the two distinct aspects of her life. Despite minimal early season snow at her home in Sun Valley, the 33-year-old is still logging days and focusing her efforts on new projects both on and off the slope. We caught up with McKenna to hear more about the yin and yang between life on the ocean and life in the mountains, and how she’s making the most of a pandemic-affected season.

For more on McKenna’s unique balance, check out her full story in The Ski Journal 14.4.

The Ski Journal: COVID-19 has affected the way almost all of us live our lives. As a pro skier, how has the pandemic changed things for you? Has it made you reassess your plans or focus on different goals?

Yes, both of those things. It’s actually been kind of nice going into this season. I feel like I have no pressure. I don’t have this packed schedule of needing to fly all over the place back and forth, and hoping that the conditions align with the trips.

This year I have nothing scheduled, absolutely nothing. It’s been very mellow, and there’s been no stress, so I’ve been skiing every day and just having fun. Usually this time of year I’m stressing about how I need to be in shape, need to make sure my legs are strong enough, need to start jumping off stuff, need to really get my head in the game. This year I haven’t had any of those thoughts. I’ve just been going out every day and having fun. That’s what’s been cool.

ABOVE When McKenna isn’t chasing big lines around the world, she is calling the shots while captaining her family fishing boat the FV Atlantis. Photo: Mary McIntyre

Is it fun just getting to spend more time on your home mountain?

Yeah, that’s been a lot of fun. Sun Valley has probably the best groomers in the country, which has been pretty pertinent right now with our current lack of snow. I’ve actually been taking out some 70mm underfoot, full metal carving skis. I haven’t done that in years, and it’s a blast, skiing fast and just whipping your legs side to side.

The pandemic aside, when this is all over, what is your dream project or location?

That is a big question. There are a few peaks up in Alaska that I’ve been looking at and dreaming about for a long time now. That will be on the docket for the next few years.

Are there any people in the ski world that you’re really admiring or inspired by right now?

There are a lot of people in the ski world right now doing great things. One of my favorite skiers right now is Lucas Wachs. I did a couple trips with him a few years ago and was pretty blown away by how humble and nice he was. He’s just a genuine human that loves to ski, so it was cool to see him in the Matchstick movie last year crushing it, skiing some real cool lines. And then all the ladies. It’s been really great to see so many women represented right now. It seems like a lot of brands are branching out and bringing on more than the one or two token female skiers. That’s been exciting to follow along and support.

Do you have any favorite music or books or movies that you’re really into right now?

The Netflix. The Netflix has been bad, but actually it hasn’t been as bad as it was last spring. And I’ve been reading some old books that belonged to my grandfather. I guess part of the pandemic is having the time to go through storage, so I’ve been helping my mom go through and organize her house, and I found a box of books she took from my grandfather’s house when he passed away. I found “Two Years Before the Mast,” which is a good sailing book that I read a few years ago, and am rereading now. I also found a bunch of Joseph Conrad writings. “Heart of Darkness” is one of my favorite books, and I’ve been reading this really old copy of a bunch of his essays.

ABOVE Another day, another time. McKenna chases snow ghosts through the forest at Kiroro Resort in Hokkaido, Japan. Photo: Will Wissman

Are there any big goals that you have and want to accomplish?

Yeah, I want to write a book.

Cool. What about? Fiction? Nonfiction?

Probably fiction based off of nonfiction. I’m not entirely sure yet. I’ll let you know when I get a direction.

Do you do a lot of writing?

I do, yeah. Not as much in the past few years, but throughout my life I’ve done a lot of writing, and I love to write. I enjoy storytelling, and I enjoy being able to organize my thoughts. When you think of a story in your brain and your internal dialogue is going over something and creating all these cool landscapes and worlds and interactions, I like being able to put that on paper because it seems so much more organized and reasonable on paper than it does in my brain. It’s satisfying. It’s something that I’m working on getting back into.

Can you talk a bit about fishing? Are there any similarities between your life on the fishing boat and your life as a skier, or are there different mindsets you have to transition between?

There’s that shared element of being outside in nature, in the beauty of it, and how that invigorates you—like when you’re out climbing a peak and the sun rises and you just get this burst of energy. You just feel so connected, and endorphins, and excited—the same thing happens on the ocean, when you’re outside and you have the waves spraying you in the face and you get fired up and excited in that connection with nature. I love that about both fishing and skiing.

But the mindset is different in the sense that when I’m fishing, I’m the boss, so I’m responsible for everything. I’m responsible for the four people on my boat and their safety. I’m responsible for the boat. I make all the decisions. I am the sole person in charge.

In the mountains, I never feel that way. In the mountains, it’s always a collaborative effort within your party, but then at the same time you are only responsible for yourself, so that’s a big difference and something I’m still working on and learning.

Where do you see yourself and your skiing in the future?

My passion for the mountains is really in remote areas and in the bigger mountains, kind of going off the grid and exploring and adventuring. I expect I will continue to do that but maybe not bring film crews along and just do it for myself. So, 10 or 15 years down the road, I see myself doing pretty much what I’m doing right now but maybe at a slower pace.

Our full McKenna Peterson profile appears in The Ski Journal 14.4. This interview is a quick update on McKenna’s pro ski life during the ongoing pandemic, but for more on her story, pick up a copy of TSKJ 14.4 here.


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