- Guide in Alaska and Antarctica
- AK Rep for RAMP and Fly Low
- All around badass
“My mom told me when I was young once, ‘you need to grow up and be a ski bum because I never did that.’” To reduce Brooke Edward’s life to being just a ski bum, however, cheapens her vivacious existence. True, Brooke did take one winter to live out of a van with her boyfriend and dog during which time they rafted, mountain biked, and skied the country. However, “bumming” has never been her way. That winter, among other things, she learned the value of the karmic couch. Her motto seems to be: put good into the universe, work hard and play hard and life will pay out in dividends.
As a kid, Brooke’s parents took her and her sister backpacking on the Olympic Coast where they’d find a wild beach and become spellbound by winter storms. “It wasn’t your normal beach vacation where you’d even touch the ocean. It was, like, pouring down rain sideways and huge surfs and crazy storms, but we would rent a little cabin on a bluff and just walk the beach and look for rocks and driftwood and clay and it was great. I think [my mom] inspired me with just falling in love with wild energy and all its elements no matter what the weather.”
Wild energy captivated Brooke’s imagination throughout her life and perhaps as early as sixth grade Brooke realized her calling. At environmental camp she saw people living her dream life. “[Guiding] just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that you could get paid to take people into the wilderness.” From then on, Brooke’s plans were inlaid with a desire to pursue the wildly unknown and share it with others—an abstract desire that gestated into something tangible as an adult. Brooke landed her first guiding job cow-girling in Jackson Hole for a summer after college before leaving the country. Whatever she was searching for in life, she needed to go somewhere in the world where it could smack her in the face. She hoped to find that volunteering abroad. “My only criteria were to not put in any money and not get out any money, have it be non religious and be about a year.” Through research she homed in on the Peace Corps.
In the Peace Corps, Brooke worked in a small village in West Africa in a program dedicated to staving off the expansion of the Sahara. Techniques are being developed that maximize resource efficiency yet work harmoniously with local culture, and Brooke’s role was to disseminate these methods. “We took super duper simple technology that they already had the tools for and just taught them [different techniques]. I had this little youth group of eight to twelve year-olds that I would teach all that stuff to and they would teach their family so it wasn’t a crazy white lady coming in who doesn’t know anything about carrying water or growing millet.” One method she taught involved planting a thorny species called Acacia that grows into a living fence instead of chopping down wood to fulfill the same need. She also introduced an insulating mud stove that burned far less wood than their current method, as well as various counter-erosion techniques. In Africa, Brooke “got the bug of learning from travel and it only increased that desire to want to show people those kind of places.” She found satisfaction in teaching others as well as in expanding her own worldly understanding through hands-on participation.
After the Peace Corps, Brooke returned to the States, did a year of Americorps at her old college and subsequently pursued her masters in environmental education in an unusual way. “It was a traveling school bus called the Audubon Expedition Institute and each semester was in a different region. It was all outdoors and all experiential, so in the Northwest semester you studied all environmental issues that were relevant to the Northwest—logging, dams, nuclear energy, salmon—and you spent the whole time camping. Instead of reading about an issue you learned about logging by meeting with Weyerhaeuser, meeting with the Earth First! activists, meeting with the Forest Service, and camping with loggers on their land for a week. It was really a cool spectrum.” She wanted to apply what she was learning to guiding and so she centered her special projects on how she could continue to combine her passions in ecotourism. “Environmental education did seem like it had a home in guiding. Essentially, lots of people choosing a vacation now want to learn as you go.”
Soon Brooke found her way up to Alaska and found her home—not an address, per se, but her landscape. “The second I stepped off the plane in Alaska I was like Oh! This is it! It was like Washington times a thousand. Bigger mountains, and bigger waters, and less people and people living off the land.” Alaskan summers became a cornerstone in her migrational life and she soon developed a summer routine of guiding seven to twelve-day natural and cultural history trips deep into the wilderness for Alaska Wildland Adventures, based out of Cooper landing. She sandwiched that gig between teaching semesters for the Audubon in places like the Bahamas and the Southwest. “Travel is continuing education. It keeps my mind engaged and constantly opening to new possibilities and fresh outlooks on life. The challenges that are presented by logistics being constantly thwarted by acts of nature are a chance to solve an ever-evolving and pertinent life crossword puzzle.” Ecotourism, at least theoretically, promotes an organic appreciation for a place by finding an economic edge that works unobtrusively within the landscape. Regardless, Brooke unquestionably found such an edge in her own life, by pursuing a career that blends people and wilderness in harmony with her personal landscape. In the Peace Corps, she taught locals to use the tools they already had to improve the sustainability of their communities. In guiding, she does exactly the same thing on an individual level. Brooke encourages people to discover their own fertile nature and germinate that which already exists inside of them. From there, people may reap the rewards in unforeseen ways—even Brooke.
The accidental professional
It was only a matter of time before Alaska engaged this energetic twenty-something year-round. “Alaska just made sense to me. There’s a whole field called eco-psychology and it’s, like, the places that speak to your soul and this is definitely it.” Soon Brooke traded Audubon for winters in the snowiest town in Alaska managing Valdez Heli Ski Guides. Surrounded by the founders of big mountain skiing, she was initially a self-described tomboy intimidated in a boy’s world. “I didn’t have those female mentors until later in life and especially coming to Alaska I’ve realized how important it was to me to be taken under the wing of, like, Kirsten Kramer, who was the only female guide at Valdez Heli Ski Guides when I moved there. She just showed me that I could do it, too, so I’ve really tried to pay that forward.” Although Brooke eventually resigned from Valdez Heli Ski Guides, she has continued to develop into a leader in the Alaskan ski industry. Not surprisingly, much of that is infused with women empowerment:
“I feel like it’s become a super important piece of my passion to figure out how to pay that forward. Whether that’s being the cool auntie to little girls in town, or running the girls’ day off programs just to try to get girls out there in full force in tutus and fairy wings learning to ski backwards or do a spread eagle for the first time. It’s all really empowering. Women being goofballs together, being themselves, being strong, being powerful, and then helping others access those goods.”
One such inspiring program is Backcountry Babes, for which Brooke helps run steeps camps. “Women a lot of times have the ability within themselves but they don’t believe it. It’s really cool for me to be that person that’s really just coaching them there, making it okay for them to take that risk, and giving them a safe place to engage in their own abilities within that to dive right in. Then they just sing.”
Through her enthusiasm, Brooke has become a rep for two ski gear companies, RAMP (Riders Artists Musician Project), a Park City based company that designs bamboo skis, snowboards, and stand-up paddle boards, and Flylow, a Colorado-based activewear company that has grown exponentially since she first heard of them. “To get free stuff you don’t have to be good at something you have to talk about it a lot. I think I’m just one of those personalities that’s a cheerleader and if there’s something I believe in I rave about it, and I think companies recognize that.” Although Brooke has skied a plethora of planks, RAMP are hands-down her favorite.
As the seasons ticked on, Brooke “accidentally” worked her way up the ladder to managing Alaska Wildland Adventures. This position allowed her to flex-time her work in the winter and teach tele and alpine skiing at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska where she bought a “little hippie shack in the woods.” She had a year-round job, benefits, flexibility to ski, and a home; for many this is the seasonal grand slam. Despite the praiseworthy aspects of her life, however, she realized that more money wasn’t buying happiness. “It just made me sad that I’d gotten away from guiding. The further up the ladder I moved in traditional success the more I got away from the seasonal lifestyle. I opted to pass that baton off and go back to the living paycheck to paycheck and go back to more time and less money and guide.”
Most people’s fear about entering the seasonal lifestyle, especially when they have an established career, is about abandoning the known for the unknown. Similarly, Brooke was embarking on unstable ground with no idea of what to expect, but two weeks later she had a job guiding in Antarctica for three months followed up by a position with Chugach Powder Guides in her home ski town of Girdwood. Over time, Brooke has learned to “throw [myself] out there and trust the blank slate.” This unwavering trust was about to lead her on her greatest adventure.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” Richard Bach
Read about Brooke’s growth in leadership and her segue into guiding in Antarctica in part 2!
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