Outside Magazine: My Perfect Adventure: Kaya Turski

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By Outside Magazine: Monday, December 03, 2012

One of the world’s best female slopestyle skiers tells us what she would do on a perfect day if she weren’t skiing, how losing a close friend affirmed her life philosophy, and why two tough years of injury helped make her stronger than ever

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Kaya Turski  Photo: Chris Shonting/Red Bull Media House

There’s no doubt that Kaya Turski is a trailblazer. One of the world’s best female slopestyle skiers, the 24-year-old from Montreal has tested the limits of her sport time and again, like in 2010 when she earned the highest score in slopestyle history at the Winter X Games, or earlier this year when she became the first woman to ever land the switch 1080 trick. Now Turski, who won three consecutive X Games and was ranked No. 1 in her discipline for four straight seasons by the Association of Freeskiing Professionals, is ready to blaze a whole new trail: She’s heading to the Olympics in 2014, when slopestyle skiing will make its debut at the Games.

Turski’s father taught her to ski when she was just three years old, but her foray into competitive athletics actually came in a different form: rollerblading. As a teenager she developed her air awareness and balance at international rollerblading competitions, but when the sport started losing popularity she slowly transitioned to skiing.

Here, Turski tells us what she would do on a perfect day if she weren’t skiing, how losing a close friend affirmed her life philosophy, and why two tough years of injury helped make her stronger than ever.

Describe your perfect day, from dawn ’til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
I guess it depends. My perfect day in the winter would be a nice mild, sunny day after an overnight snow. I’d go ski some powder runs with a couple close friends, say Kimmy Fasani and Kim Lamarre, and then we’d have a really fun day cruising the mountain, exploring, and maybe playing around in the park. I’d end the day with a casual dinner with some friends, to share good laughs and just enjoy the evening.

If I weren’t skiing, my perfect day would be a super casual, mellow day on the coast somewhere, anywhere with the ocean and a beach. I’d wake up, get the espresso machine going, and take my yoga mat and freshly brewed coffee to the beach, where I’d just zen out and get ready for a nice day. I’d cruise the beach and the local beach city, enjoy a nice healthy lunch, and then go paddleboard, surf, bike, and enjoy the outdoors. I’d enjoy this with a couple of girlfriends. I suppose I really like to keep it mellow.

If you could travel somewhere you’ve never been, where would you go and why?
I would really love to go to India, Nepal, Tibet, or Thailand, where I could visit Buddhist temples and experience the culture firsthand. I’d like to do that because I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism and think the religion is really eye-opening. I love how it’s about finding the good in me, not looking outside for happiness. I’ve learned that so much is created from within, and the outside world only changes with perspective. I’ve worked a lot on compassion and being a more open person, and I’m really enjoying this path.

I’ve also always wanted to check out a tropical rainforest, to immerse myself somewhere deep in the forest. I’m fascinated by all the wildlife and plants, and how alive and lush everything is.

Where is the best place you’ve ever visited? What made it so special?
I’ve checked out some amazing places, but my top three, in no particular order, are:

1. South Island, New Zealand. As a skier, I go once a year and always stay in Wanaka, a small town on Wanaka Lake that’s surrounded by beautiful mountains with white peaks. It’s absolutely stunning. It’s also got a really great energy to it, and people there are very friendly.

2. Whistler, British Columbia. You can feel how alive the vegetation is up there, and the air feels so clean and fresh. There’s something about this place that lifts me. I go up to three times a year, either to compete at the Telus Ski and Snowboard festival, to train on the glacier during the summer, or to get in some springtime skiing. The town itself is something very special that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s filled with lots of unique restaurants and boutiques, and decorated with a beautiful spirit. People are always smiling and having fun.

3. The California Coast. From Carlsbad to Encinitas, Venice Beach and Santa Monica … I’ve fallen in love. I love how calm the ocean can make you feel and I love the sunshine every day. People seem generally happier and more open, and the lifestyle is really healthy. Basically around every corner you can find a local organic lunch stop or a coffee shop, and the abundant assortment and accessibility of healthy foods is there. Everywhere you go, you’ll find people who are outside riding their bikes, skateboarding, going for a stand-up paddleboard run, surfing, or doing some other fun activity.

If you could have lunch with any adventurer, explorer, or athlete, who would it be and why?
I would have lunch with Rafael Nadal, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, because I’d love to pick his brain a little. I’ve never met him but like watching him on TV. I love his demeanor on the court—polite, in control, and overall he has a very strong presence. I think he’s amazing.

What’s something you can’t travel without? And why do you need it?
I think it’s my iPod, just because music influences my life a lot and adds so much to my experiences. I love triggering memories with music—that’s one of the most amazing things about it, how you can attach experiences to certain songs. I use music to get energized or to mellow out. If I’m en route to an event or a workout, I like to get amped with Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Biggie, Dr. Dre, or some other hip-hop. Lately I’ve been really into Florence & the Machine and Lana Del Rey. I love cruising to that in my car or skiing to it; I feel like it gives me a great flow.

When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda?
Locate a good coffee zone, settle into my living space, and take a deep breath after the travel.

What motivates you as a skier?
I love pushing myself and testing my own limits. Basically I compete with myself every day, and I’ve learned so much about myself through it. It’s given me a lot of self-confidence and provided an outlet that I can count on.

As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, when and why did your plans change, and do you have any regrets?
As a child, I wanted to be an artist, a jeweler maybe. I also wanted to be a marine biologist. And I wanted to win the X Games and the Olympics. Ha. Some things have changed, while some things have been clear to me since the beginning. I still really want to scuba dive, so that would be my fix of marine wildlife. And I’m still very artistic and creative, so I’ll always be an artist. Olympics … bring it on!

When and how did you first start freestyle skiing?
I was a skier as a child and then I snowboarded for a couple years when I was nine or 10 years old. Then I got really involved in rollerblading at the skate park and would spend weekends at the local park, practicing tricks and flying through the air. That’s where I developed a solid foundation of air awareness, balance, and a good feel of transitions. I competed around the world in rollerblading but the sport was struggling a lot and slowed down for me when I was 15.

During my last year in high school, I was invited to a ski event by a sponsor, a local ski and rollerblade shop, and I instantly fell in love with the sport. Something just clicked; jumps and rails made sense, and I caught on quite quickly. I spent nine months saving up, finished one semester of college and moved out to Whistler on my own to enjoy a season of skiing and to see what I could do on skis. And then everything picked up from there.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring professional skier?
Find the source of your love for the sport and always roll with it. Never forget that spark. When you put your heart and soul into something and love what you do, you can’t really lose.

Have you ever had any role models or mentors? Describe the most influential and what he or she taught you.
Back in my rollerblade days, Fabiola Da Silva was a professional rollerblader who competed with the guys. She basically put the girls on the map in the rollerblade world and was the most badass chick I’d ever seen. I always thought: “If she can do it, I can do it!” And that confidence stuck with me. Fab made me believe in myself. I was fortunate enough to meet and compete with her, which was such a great challenge and experience.

When I got into the world of freeskiing, it was hard not to be infected by Sarah Burke’s determination, perseverance, and talent. I was instantly in awe of what she did on her skis, and also of what she represented in the sport and for women. She was a very sweet soul but had a strong presence and directed the sport of freestyle skiing for women, always fighting for our spot in events like the X Games, Dew Tour, and the Olympics. She basically showed the world that girls could do it too. She was simply amazing.

After I met Sarah in 2006, she became a good friend—I could share my ideas about skiing with her, and also about life as a professional skier. I think she understood me better than most people do—I think we had a lot in common. Even though Sarah isn’t with us anymore—she died due to an injury last year—I feel that she’s always here with me, with all of us. Her amazing energy isn’t gone—it’s floating along and helping bring out the best in all of us. She will always be one of my greatest inspirations.

Do you have a life philosophy?
After having the honor of getting to know and be inspired by someone like Sarah, and then losing that precious someone unexpectedly, this has never been more clear: Live life with all your heart. Love it with all your heart. Life’s simply too short not to savor all the beautiful moments, not to do what you love and to reach for anything less than your fullest potential. Never sell yourself short.

Have you ever made a mistake or experienced an injury that made you think twice about competing again?
I had to take two years off due to an internal injury followed by a torn ligament in my knee in 2008-09. Those were the hardest two years of my life. I had been fresh on the scene, on fire, and it felt like everything had been taken away from me when I hurt myself. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and I somewhat closed myself off from the world. I wouldn’t say the injuries were mistakes—there are inherent risks in skiing, and, in my case, the injuries probably resulted from a mix of bad luck and a lack of the physical prep that’s needed for the impacts you take in the sport. It was a bad time, but looking back I don’t think I’d change it for anything. It taught me a lot about myself, especially that I’m resilient and determined. I’m also a better and more experienced skier because of those injuries.

If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why?
I’d like to be a psychologist because so much of what I do is mental. So much of life is mental. It’s pretty wild what you can do if you prep your mind for it. I’ve been learning a lot about it this past year, and human potential fascinates me.

Name three things you still want to cross off your life bucket list.
Go on a tropical rainforest excursion.

Meet Jay-Z and Beyonce.

Sky dive.

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