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From Hotels to Hucking Cliffs: The Large Life of Hadley Hammer

Editor's Note: One of TGR’s newest athletes, Hadley Hammer, opens up about growing up in Jackson, a late start to the world of professional skiing, her transition to the silver screen, and why she just can’t give up a life in the Tetons.

Hadley taking in Arctic views during the 2016 Girls Gone Polar trip. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

Hadley Hammer’s debut into the world of professional skiing came a bit later than most. She was already 25 when she entered her first freeride competition, but having been raised in the wild mountains of Jackson, Wyoming, her transition from the corporate hospitality world back to life on skis was only natural.

When the Tetons Are Your Playground

There’s definitely something to be said about growing up with the Tetons as your playground. Hadley described Jackson as “still a little loose” when her parents would drop her and her two brothers, Mike and Max, off at the resort to play all day. Knowing anything about the sheer size, steepness and extremity of Jackson terrain, it comes as no surprise that the Hammers shared the mountain with a crew of other to-be famous shredders, like snowboarder Travis Rice and Hadley’s best friend, US Ski Team racer Resi Stiegler.

From youngest to oldest: Max, Hadley and Mike. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

Growing up in an adventure mecca like Jackson allowed Hadley to dabble in a little bit of everything. She started off as a figure skater before trying out ski racing for two years. Afterward – though don’t tell too many people – she switched to Nordic skiing (she swears it’s a really great way to get in shape). Then when Jackson Hole offered its first ever freeride team her junior year of high school, she was one of six – and the only girl – to sign up. Jumps and spins on skis are kind of like figure skating, right?

Walking was overrated in the Hammer household. Photos courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

When we would jump off the roof of the house, our parents didn’t love that.

Mostly though Hadley’s early ski “career” consisted of skiing with her family, particularly her brothers, who she says are “absolutely hilarious.” When the lifts closed, the Hammers would take the shred to their backyard, building rails out of stolen construction beams and jumping off anything imaginable. “When we would jump off the roof of the house, our parents didn’t love that,” Hadley said laughing. But whether they were building forts or adventuring outside together as a family, the Hammer household fostered a confidence in creativity and a love of outdoors above all else.

Every great movie star started out as a child model…

The Hammer kids grew up goofy… not much has changed. Photos courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

“Growing up in Jackson is so funny because you’re in this world and you almost don’t realize how good you have it,” Hadley told me over tea at Pearl Street Bagels in Wilson after a day of intensive backcountry training with TGR. It took Hadley four years of college on the East Coast (she studied hospitality and economics at the University of New Hampshire) and two years of grueling 90-hour work weeks in Washington, D.C. before she answered the call of the Wyoming wild and returned home.

From running hotels to hucking cliffs

Hadley was still working in hospitality management in Jackson when she accidentally fell into the world of professional skiing. Her younger brother Max was still on the U.S. Ski Team and working out at Mountain Athlete, a local gym with some other pro skiers and boarders, including Griffin Post, Crystal Wright, Jess McMillan and Matt Annetts. Her brother could tell Hadley was absolutely thrashed by city life and invited her to come get in shape. Hadley got lumped in with the rest of the group, and before she knew it, she was signed up for a competition circuit in South America that summer.

Hadley's first Freeride Comp

Her first competitions went really, really badly. Like, dead last kind of bad. Hadley had never had formal competition training, but skiing was way more fun than having screaming guests. While not skiing even close to the level that she would eventually compete, Hadley quit her management position at a hotel in Jackson in exchange for big lines and fast times on the comp circuit.

Early competition days. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

“I did super poorly in the comps, and it’s fun to watch the videos from those comps because you’re like, “Woah, you look like such a gumbi. You can barely get down!” she said. “But at that point I knew I wanted to keep doing those comps. I really liked them.”

That winter, she returned to Jackson, ready to fully commit to skiing.

Hadley gets serious

Photo courtesy of Teton Gravity Research.

Hadley has always looked towards her adventurous family for support, but her dad was actually pretty nervous about her competing. Not because they’re dangerous but because he did not think she was a good enough skier yet to compete. “He was like, ‘I don’t think your skiing level matches what I can see in your creativity level,’” she said. Hadley admits he was probably right. The next winter, she signed up for a bunch of comps but ended up breaking her back in the middle of the 2011-2012 season.

“It was cool getting an injury that early because it reinforced that I really wanted to do it. You get an injury and it’s always this decision-making time: okay, are you going to stick with this skiing career or are you going to hang it up because the injury was enough to divert you?”

Hadley was not deterred. She dove into physical therapy to prep for ski season the following year. Once winter rolled around, she went to the resort every day and pretending each run was a competition. “I was so psycho,” she said laughing. “I would ski the Alta Chutes and have the lifties time me.”

In her first couple years on the comp circuit, Hadley took advice from everybody. “It was real basic stuff, like don’t look down, use your ankles, use your knees, flex the front of your boots,” she said. “I was so determined that I was taking in all the information and skiing with whoever would ski with me.”

Hadley podiums for the first time at Subaru Freeskiing World Qualifier at Moonlight Basin. Photos courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

Her brothers were a huge asset during these early training years. Mike and Max are very different both in how they ski and how they learn. When Mike wants to learn something, he will assess it, break it down, and work on it until he feels like it’s perfect. Max, on the other hand, is more flowy. Hadley is one of his biggest admirers. “Things just come to him,” she said. “He’s insane to watch on skis.” For Hadley, her brothers gave her a cool combination of talent and work ethic to look up to.

RELATED: Hadley Hammer Opens Up About Her Mentors

After months of hard work, seeking mentorships and a billion tram laps later, Hadley finally podiumed her first competition in the 2012-2013 season—a quick turn around for someone so late to the game.

Transitioning to the silver screen

Hadley’s debut in film began with a North Face short about her and Angel Collinson going to Summer Camp up at Mount Hood. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

In the past few years, Hadley has transitioned from competing to a film career. You probably remember her kickass segment skiing the “Jackson Classics” with Angel Collinson in Tight Loose last year. This past month she’s teamed up with the other half of the Collinson dynasty to explore what she considers to be the “anti-classics” of Jackson.

RELATED: The Rowdiest Female Skiing of 2016

“I think it’s a testament to Johnny coming in and having such a playful view and fresh look at the mountain,” she said. “It’s just Jackson in a very different style.” She and Johnny Collinson have skied everything from Jackson Hole's sidecountry to the residential streets of Wilson in what is sure to be a standout segment in next year’s annual ski film.

Even with a few solid segments under her feet, Hadley feels like she is still trying to get a hang of the whole filming thing. The slow pace of competitions is more of Hadley’s style: “You have a full day to sit and stare at a mountain as long as you want until it’s dark to find a line that really inspires you,” she said. “You’re also with really cool people. You’re just traveling with 30 homies!”

Filming is totally different, especially when you’re navigating a resort with a bunch of talented and eager skiers like in Jackson Hole. “It’s a lot of logistics, and a lot of it could be filming at a resort,” Hadley admitted. “There’s an element of hurrying because you need to get to a line before anyone else does, and that’s not really my personality. I’m more of a slow mover. I’m a slow thinker.”

Johnny and Hadley scouting out lines this January in the Jackson side country. Photo courtesy of TGR.

Luckily, she has the ever-comical Johnny with her to break the ice. Johnny is really creative and accepting of whatever goes wrong or right while filming, which has definitely taken the pressure off during shoots.

Skiing with Johnny has also given Hadley a different way of looking at the mountains. “I feel like I ski my best in a big line with big air,” she said. “Johnny is such a good skier because he can shred the big lines, but also growing up with Alta, and knowing the boys that he grew up skiing with, he’s so playful with terrain and can jump and spin off of anything.”

In her defense, I think she may be being a bit hard on herself and a little run down after a long month of filming. I tagged along on a film shoot a few weeks ago around Wilson and she killed it.

Home is where the mountain is

Hadley, Griff Post, Max and his fiancé enjoying a little freeskiing in Chamonix during comp season a few years ago. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

As long as Hadley is learning something new, she does not see her ski career ending anytime soon. She is thankful for her experience in the corporate world and knows that she has a strong enough resume to fall back on if she ever decided to hang up her sticks. In the meantime, though, every time Hadley goes in the mountains she believes she gets a new experience that she can add to her toolbox. Eventually, she can see herself transitioning to more extreme mountaineering.

Skinning with Rachel Reich Northern Norway for Girls Gone Polar. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

Last spring, Hadley extended her winter through mid-June with a big mountain trip to Alaska and then a super unique all-girls skiing and sailing trip through the Arctic Circle in Norway. Growing up in Jackson, it comes as no surprise that feeling small in big mountains is where Hadley feels most at home.

Hadley, at home in the mountains. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

“I want to think about how to integrate more of these big trips where you’re in the middle of nowhere into my film career because that’s the pace I like,” she said. “Generally, the pace is a lot slower—walking up things, feeling like you’re in the mountains and the only things that matter are survival. You’re skiing, but you’re also getting your own water, cooking your own food, keeping warm. Your computer and phone are hundreds of miles away in a suitcase.” Hadley has a trip to Russia planned for later this spring and said will take any opportunity to get back to Alaska or Europe.

The Tetons will always be calling Hadley back home. “My family is here...I think the community here is incredible,” she said. “And the mountains are insane it’s crazy. It’s also so pretty, it’s stupid sometimes.”

The Hammer family – all grown up. Photo courtesy of Hadley Hammer.

When Hadley isn’t skiing, she is making gourmet dinners for her friends (she has mad kitchen skills, our editor Leslie can attest), running impromptu marathons, climbing and playing the river, essentially running around the same mountains all summer, or reading. She could read for hours.

But a perfect ski day for Hadley is skiing at home: “Wake up early, get breakfast. Meet your friends at the Village and just ride every chairlift until your legs fall off.”

Hadley crushing her home mountain of Jackson while filming with TGR last year. Photo courtesy of TGR.

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