Undisputed queen of the backflip and reigning Queen of Corbet’s, we’re stoked to welcome Veronica Paulsen to the TGR roster this year to show us her version of what it means to shred Jackson Hole’s bottomless pow. Rising from competition mogul skiing roots in the Bay Area, Veronica decided to upend her life trajectory to focus on what was her dream: becoming a professional big mountain skier in the mecca of it all: Jackson Hole. This year, after a breakthrough performance becoming the first woman to land a backflip into Corbet’s Couloir, she teamed up with her friends and the TGR crew in Jackson Hole to put together an all-time edit celebrating ski bum culture and what it’s all about here. We caught up with the K2 Skis and JHMR athlete midway through the season in between epic storm cycles to hear more from the reigning Queen herself. Stoke the Fire tickets are on sale now, find a tour stop near you!
Could you start just by introducing yourself and give us a little background on who you are.
My name is Veronica Paulson. I'm a big mountain skier living here in Jackson. I've been out here for six years. I grew up mogul skiing and competing in that for a while and then transitioned and started working with photographers and filmers and trying to push my skiing out here in Jackson.
How is this for size? | Stephen Shelesky photo.
Tell us a little bit about growing up and how you actually got into skiing.
Yeah. I grew up in the Bay area and started skiing Squaw Valley. Actually, because my friend from school came from a skiing family. My parents didn't really ski, but I quickly became obsessed with it. And my parents would drive me up to Tahoe, even though they didn't ski. Joined the mogul team, and that took over my life for about 10 years. I just traveled around the US and competed in moguls. After college I decided to retire from moguls and try my hand at big mountain skiing.
What was it about just that initial spark that got you obsessed about skiing?
I think it was just the confidence that skiing gives you and skiing with all my friends and trying new things. And everyone's had that power day when they were a kid and you tried your first 360 or whatever, and that's what really hooked me.
So you're in Squaw and competing in moguls and this or that. When did you kind of first hear about this place called Jackson Hole?
I've been actually trying to remember that recently. And I think it was probably just from ski movies because we always were watching, like Jonny Moseley and Shane McConkey and all these big time skiers from Squaw and where they were going and a lot of them were skiing in Jackson. I actually forgot about Jackson for a while and when I was deciding where to do my big mountain skiing, I randomly met a girl from Jackson in Argentina and it kind of clicked right then. I was like, Oh yeah, I'm moving to Jackson, but I didn't know anybody here. And I kind of just drove out with a full car and met people on the mountain.
Classic hits with classic style. | Stephen Shelesky photo.
Can you just tell us about that decision? The decision that you made to commit to moving to the Tetons?
So I was retiring from mogul skiing and I had had a couple bad years where I was plateauing and wasn't kind of breaking through to that next level of competitive mogul skiing. And since I was having such a bad time, I wanted to do one more ski bum year and just kind of refuel the fire, remembering why I liked skiing in the first place. And I was graduating from college, so I wanted to take a year off and I wanted a change. So I had lived in Park City and I had lived in Squaw and I wanted to try something completely new where I didn't know anybody and I didn't know any of the terrain, so Jackson was what I settled on. I was so excited and I wasn't nervous at all. I just knew the skiing is great, the snow is great, I'm going to meet cool people. My parents were a little nervous for me. My dad actually helped drive me out here. And I remember he helped me unpack all my stuff. And then I drove him back to the airport and he took a second and was like, "Are you sure? You don't know anybody here. Are you going to be okay?" And I think the first two weeks I was calling my dad every day. And then after two weeks I was like, "I met some friends. Okay, bye." And then didn't call him for a month.
During that first season in Jackson, what's your first impression of this place?
Oh my God. It's just unreal. It opened so many doors. It was my first time backcountry skiing. I remember just being so... Every time you ride Thunder and Sublette and you're looking on the lift and people are just hucking left and right. It reminded me of Squaw, like the KT chair and the same vibes that I got when I first started skiing. So I really liked it.
Cheesin' | Stephen Shelesky photo.
How would you describe the ski culture in Jackson?
I mean, yeah. So, the ski culture in Jackson. It reminds me a lot of Squaw. Everyone's trying to one-up each other and trying to push themselves. But at the same time, there's such a community and everyone's helping each other push their skiing. And so I made some of my best friends in the whole world now, my first year out here in Jackson and we were exploring the mountains and just helping each other, trying to ascend as big as we could.
Do you ever think about how when moving to Jackson, was there any pressure for parents or society on what you think you should be doing?
Yeah, definitely. I went to a pretty high level, this pretty elite college, a small liberal arts college. And I majored in computer science. So most of my friends were going straight into the workforce. My parents never put any pressure on me. They always wanted me to just kind of follow my own guide. This is kind of a random story, but at my graduation commencement speech, the woman was a computer scientist. And she was talking about how she had almost taken a gap year to ski in Jackson and had actually decided to go straight into grad school to MIT. And she said that was the best decision she ever made. As soon as she said that everyone sitting in the crowd around me just looked at me cause they knew I was going to move to Jackson. Yeah. I think I felt that pressure from society, but most of the people I try to surround myself with are people that understand what I'm doing and people that enjoy doing the same thing. So I guess it didn't phase me too much.
It's almost like once you get here and you click with the right people, you realize that just everything makes sense. And it's almost like the people who are just like, I didn't take this year off or do this or that, they don't really understand what they're saying and they haven't had the experience.So, that was my plan. I was like, one year just ski bumming it, trying to see if I could enjoy skiing again. And then yeah. Didn't want to leave. I was retiring from a mogul skiing and wanted to have one more ski bum year and reignite my passion for skiing. But once I got here, it totally clicked and I didn't want to leave.
Veronica Paulsen does not shy away from the biggest hits in her hometown. | Nic Alegre photo.
You've clearly been pretty driven since you've been here. Can you explain that drive that you've had every year, trying to step it up and figure out your big mountain skiing?
Yeah. I think a lot of that drive came from my mogul skiing career, and I was just used to, every day that I was on skis, focusing and trying to improve something every day. I think it's an easy place to work hard and push yourself because that's what everyone is doing around here. That's kind of what I came here to do. I did come here for a ski bum here, but I'm not the kind of person to just kind of hang out. I always knew I was coming here to push my skiing and see what I could do.
It's almost like the culture here almost just embraces or motivates experience. It's more important than money, it's more important than anything else. It's actually like the culture here kind of drives you to want to get better and get that experience.
As long as you're excited and willing to put in the work and willing to learn, then the people around you are going to be excited about including you and showing you around.
How would you describe the ski bum devotion of Jackson Hole?
It's pretty wild for people who don't live here because you'll see people who are some of the best skiers you'll ever meet, who are totally content just waiting tables or being the bartender or the boot fitter, but are so driven in one aspect of their lives. And I think they realize that... they figured out that that's what's important, like you said before, is they're not so concerned about money or success in that terms, but to them, success is just happiness and fulfillment and exploring the mountains with their friends.
How about that typical ski day at Jackson?
Typical ski day Jackson? Well, the frantic 7:00 AM trying to get three people in your car to park at the ranch lot, making it into the tram line, sipping your coffee, waiting there for an hour or so. But when you finally get up there, and whether you're skiing right under the lift or out in what you thought was a secret spot, you're probably running into your friends and everyone's trying to hit the same zones. And yeah, that's my favorite part about skiing in Jackson, is every pow day your friends are going to push you and help you test yourself.
So you've been pretty goal oriented the last few years in relation to Corbet's Couloir. Can you take us through that journey?
Yeah. So the first year I got into Corbet's, I think only because it was so new and some of the other more known skiers didn't want to do it. And so it was just a few local girls and me, it was Caite Zeliff, Sophia Schwartz, Tami Razinger and myself. And I honestly didn't know I was going to do the backflip. I kind of had an idea in the back of my mind that maybe I would, but I wasn't committed to it. But as soon as you get on top there and you see the big red bull banner and all your friends are at the bottom and you look into Corbets and it's the best you've ever seen it, we all the girls kind of got together and we hyped each other up. And so there were three of us that year that tried the backflip. And that was the first time that I thought looking back, it's so funny because at the time I tried it and I was like, that was pretty good. I was really close. I think I can land that. But I look at the footage of my first year and I'm like, Oh my God, that was so bad. But that's what kind of got the ball rolling. So I spent the whole rest of that year, practicing, flipping off cliffs and flat takeoffs and trying to simulate Corbets as much as I could. So that the second year I came back much more prepared and I knew what I was going into, but same thing with that one, I just wasn't used to that much airtime. So I think I nailed the pop and took it to my feet, but it was just so much compression that I wasn't used to. So that kind of got my wheels turning and I knew I just had to push it bigger and bigger. So I worked on that the whole rest of the year and the next year. And then finally, yeah, the last year came in super prepared. Finally nailed it.
How did that feel?
Pretty wild. Yeah. You can hear it on the GoPro. It was probably the most accomplished I've ever felt and the biggest accomplishment I've ever had in skiing.
What did it feel like after that happened and realizing how many people you inspired by doing that?
That was the craziest part because I like how much it meant to me and how much it meant to all my close friends who had helped me prepare for that moment, but getting to the bottom and opening my phone, and it was just blowing up like Instagram, text messages, everything was pretty wild. Yeah.
That's amazing. So in your mind, how would you describe a ski bum?
A ski bum is someone who puts all their focus in skiing, is super, super driven and hardworking towards skiing and nothing else in life. A ski bum is always looking for the best deals on free food and free beer. Usually a lot of their equipment's kind of half broken or torn, but it doesn't matter because they're going to be the ones that everyone's watching under the lift line.
When you were kind of trying to figure out this big mountain side of it and just entrenched in Jackson, were you working any jobs? What were you doing to kind of figure out the ski bum dream?
Yeah, I was a hostess at Osteria, this fancy Italian restaurant at the base of the village. So I was skiing all day, like bell to bell, and then would kind of have to run into work and half shower and make myself not smelly, put on some nice clothes, and show people to their table. I was coaching also for the free ride club. And I love that, I actually still do that a little bit, so that was my favorite job. I spent the summers raft guiding and working at pretty much every restaurant in the Valley. Yeah. That's the best part about this winter, it's my first winter not waiting tables.
Can you name this run? | Nic Alegre photo.
Do you find that working those jobs that you were surrounding yourself with people who had a similar mindset?
Oh yeah. My first year working at Osteria, all those people I met working there are still my best friends today because we were all doing the same thing skiing every day and then going into work and working until 11 and then getting up early and doing the same thing the next day.
So your first couple of years here, did you have any mentors, any inspirations, any people that kind of helped lead you down this path?
Yeah, I mean, besides the circle of friends that I kind of surrounded myself with, I found a couple of people that were from here to show me around or had been here a little bit longer than me. I feel like most of my mentors weren't... they're not big name skiers, but there's this guy, Bob, who was on the Canadian national mogul team back in the 80s. And he showed me Granite for the first time and gave me a lot of back country advice on how to do things safely.
What do you think it is about skiing that brings you the most happiness?
I've thought about that a lot actually. And I think honestly, it's the people that I get to surround myself with. As much as I love skiing, I wouldn't be able to do it this much if I didn't like the people that I was skiing with. I think what brings me the most happiness in skiing is the community that we have out here and the friendships I've been able to form.
Well, what goals do you have now for this season?
I'm wondering if I want to say all my goals. There are a couple new tricks that I want to learn. So I really am excited to start learning from Tim and Kai in particular. I also want to work on hitting some bigger lines with big cliffs and more exposure. And that's another reason I'm really excited to work with Jim and Caite. I think they can help me with that. And mostly just learning from the different skiers in the TGR crew. I think everyone has a different style that they can help me with my skiing.
What’s on your hitlist?
Well, I want to land a double backflip. I want to try a flat three into Corbets this year. I want to hit Smart Bastard, I want to do all the Gothics, I want to flip off No Name Cliff. Those are the big ones. Alta zero, North Shore. Yeah. I want to learn how to use my snowmobile.
How would you think the Jackson community, and just skiing just the mountain itself, and the ability to ski 4,000 foot runs prepares you for your goals?
There's no better training ground than Jackson. In my opinion, just skiing. Like you said, the vert we do with the terrain that we have. It's unreal. I think back to my first winter here, and I was skiing with people that were doing top to bottom Gondi line laps, and I used to have to take breaks and at the bottom I'd lie and be like, Oh, I fell and lost a ski. That's why it took me so long. I didn't just have to stop and massage my legs for a second. But being here for so many years, you see yourself progress each year. And now me and all my friends, we're doing top to bottom tram laps and shredding like anyone else out here.
Signing off on another amazing season, with many more to come. | Nic Alegre photo.
Simple one here: what just gets you stoked?
I mean, just like anyone else, a pow day with my friends out in the mountains. Being on Cody on a pow day with my friends is my absolute favorite place in the world. And that's just what gets me the most stoked. You get on top of there, you can see the whole Valley and you're on top of something that's scary and exciting and cool to ski and there's. Yeah. I haven't seen any other place in the US at least with this kind of access that we have here.