A lifelong skier, Rachel Croft, 29, had quit competition before deciding to try again in 2017. After talking with a sports psychologist, she surprised even herself on the freeskiing circuit, snagging wins at both the Revelstoke and Taos 4* Freeride World Qualifying (FWQ) events. The victories, coupled with a fifth place finish at another 4* event at Kicking Horse, British Columbia, earned her a coveted spot on the elite Freeride World Tour, a five-stop series with events spanning three continents in 2017-18.

Splitting time between Steamboat and Winter Park (our reader’s choice for top adventure town, see page 20), Croft credits her resurgence to a new-found mental approach that places a premium on skiing lines for herself and not worrying about what the judges—or anyone else for that matter—thinks. This season, she’s taking the same “who cares” approach to the Tour, where she will have the opportunity to travel to exotic locations like Japan and Andorra, while also gunning to be one of 28 athletes on the Tour invited to the penultimate event of the season hosted on Verbier’s notoriously gnarly Bec des Rosses. Here’s what makes her tick.

How did you become a skier?

I grew up in Washington and learned to ski at Crystal Mountain. My grandpa was part of the Founders Club. We’d go up there all winter long, one day every weekend. I love it at Crystal because when it’s raining in the parking lot you know it’s snowing up top. And that wet stuff is my favorite kind of snow. It sticks to everything and four inches feels like a foot.

How did you end up in Colorado?

I had been to Whistler a few times on family vacations and I didn’t know there were villages at the base of ski areas. I really wanted to move to Whistler but the Canadian work visa thing is hard to pull off, so my parents suggested Vail. I applied for work with Vail Resorts and got a job at Keystone. I then moved to Targhee and coached for a season, but that position was only one day a week. A friend who had been coaching at Winter Park was leaving, so I applied for his job at the resort and I’ve been coaching freeskiing there ever since.

Winter Park is still pretty funky and low key compared to other Colorado ski towns. what’s it like being a full-time resident?

It’s interesting because it’s a lot of Denver people and second homeowners from the Front Range [editor’s note: Winter Park is part of the City of Denver’s parks department.]. I ski midweek, which is great as far as lift lines go. Weekends can be crowded, but if you know where to go it’s easy to find the stashes. As far as living in the town of Winter Park, it’s awesome. We lived right across from Hideaway Park Brewery last season and did après there, and in Idlewild Distillery almost every day (laughs). It’s cool to be in that small of a town [permanent population 1,029] because you know everyone. It’s special to live in a place when you know the local business owners on a personal level.

You had an amazing 2017 competition season. What were your personal highlights?

Revelstoke was my favorite event, because my success all started there. I went into it with zero expectations and ended up winning. I’d planned it as a vacation to visit friends and tour on Rogers Pass. We did—after I won.

Goals for 2018?

I don’t have any expectations. I would love to qualify for Verbier. As far as strategy, I am hoping to stick to my style—finding technical lines and straight lines versus hitting big airs. That’s another reason why Revelstoke was my favorite event. I skied a line that departed from what I had thought the judges were looking for, and I had no expectations. On the tour, I want to keep skiing lines that scare me.

In your off-snow life you’re a massage therapist. How does that mesh with your competition life?

It is really grounding. I have my routine that I edit to cater to peoples’ needs. If I’m working on someone’s shoulders or knees, for example, I can go in there and really focus for an hour.  It’s very relaxing compared to the super crazy adrenaline rush from competitive skiing.

What’s the single most important thing you tell the athletes you coach?

I talked to a sports psychologist. It made all the difference in the world for me. I had quit competing because I wasn’t enjoying it, but then I did some sessions with the psychologist and talking to her put me in a completely different head space. Now I’m having fun again. I think everyone can figure out how to enjoy competition if they talk to the right person.

How important was it for you that you grew up in a family of skiers? 

My grandparents on my mom’s side both skied until they were 85. Both of my parents ski. It’s always been a cool family bonding thing. My mom is Japanese, so it’s a big deal to have a Freeride World Tour stop in Hakuba. I hope she can come, and I have a couple of relatives there, so I’m excited!

Longtime ski journalist Tom Winter is the Americas Manager for the Freeride World Tour. To follow the tour and check in on Rachel Croft’s progress, head to freerideworldtour.com.