No disaster or crisis led Canadian skier Steph Jagger to chase winter around the world. Her quest to ski 4 million vertical feet in one year arose from a more general feeling that most of us experience, but don’t heed as the messenger it is: discontent.
“I could see down the road 30 or 40 years, and it didn’t excite me,” she tells me. “I’ve come to believe that discontent is the basement, the foundation, in the house of change—and I had some changing to do.”
Jagger’s new memoir, Unbound: A Story of Snow and Self-Discovery, lays out how a weekend warrior took “weekend” out of the equation.
“I’ve always been athletic,” she says, “and this was a physical feat, but the real challenge was more mental and emotional.” As Jagger grew muscles, lost toenails, managed stress and dealt with uncertainty, she took on that challenge, starting a conversation with her body that continues to this day.
“We should allow ourselves the satisfaction, awe and wonder of what our bodies are capable of,” she says, “and know that our different callings will change them in different ways. Writing the book was just as much a feat of endurance mentally as the ski trip, but it required different things—to sit in stillness, for instance. I gave myself permission to do that.”
As Jagger developed her physical strength, she came to better understand her feminine strength. “When I was younger, I took my cues about power from the men in my life, but now I recognize the source of power that comes from the feminine. It’s an ongoing question of what’s going to be created through me and what I’m going to manhandle. They’re inseparable.”
Her quest took her from New Zealand to Patagonia to Japan to Wyoming, and as one mountain gave way to another, skiing—which had always been a source of freedom for her—became something more personal.
“It felt like a moving meditation,” she says, “and when you spend 10 months in a moving meditation, you end up pulling apart some issues.”
The travel itself provided a different kind of freedom, allowing Jagger to shed the expectations that came with life at home. “When you travel, you’re seeing the world, but it’s also a mirror that can show you a very true and authentic version of yourself, especially when you travel on your own. You get to drop the baggage of who you’re supposed to be. I’m not suggesting we become inauthentic, but that we can try on different facets of ourselves, ones that sometimes get lost in our ordinary lives.”
Jagger accomplished her goal and then some, skiing 4,161,823 vertical feet and breaking the world record, but she believes more in beginnings than endings.
“I’ve crossed finish lines, and that has opened doors for me,” she says, “but starting is more potent in many ways. People are challenged to begin because when they think about their goal, they focus on how to make it all happen. You don’t know how all of it will happen. The power is in the ability to say, ‘I’ve heard some call, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I can see the next step in front of me, so I’m going to take that.’ What you need shows up along the way.”
There is no Guinness Book of World Records citation to note Steph Jagger’s accomplishment, no ceremonial fanfare, and that’s fine with her. She lays out the problem as placing too much value on things. “The world is built on the following belief system: If I do something, I’ll have something, and when I have that thing, I can finally be something. What we should be looking at from the start is who to be. Set out from that place, even a grain of it, because if you start from there, you’re going to do dramatically different things than if you start from somewhere else, and when you do those things you’ll end up with the impossible dream, the one so different that you couldn’t have dreamt it up.”
Steph Jagger will speak about her book at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26 at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Free.