Sierra Quitiquit’s fluorescent orange fanny pack is bobbing up and down like a buoy in a hurricane. She’s charging through an up-tempo workout in bright green spandex pants and a purple Smt-shirt at Park City’s Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center, her long ponytail jogging along for the ride. These days, fanny packs are most common at retro 80’s theme parties and on the swaying hips of music festivalgoers—but for Quitiquit, the accessory is more function than fashion. “Purses are just so bad for my body’s alignment, so I rock a fanny pack most of the time,” she says. Then she bangs out high-knee track sprints, lateral hop agility drills, and 24-inch box jumps.
Functional accessories are not the only part of Sierra’s life in service of the constant search for balance. She moves through this power hour circuit session with the drive and intensity of a serious athlete, but her long, thin legs prance with the fragility of a model in heels. As a newly minted pro skier under big sponsorship contracts with Spyder, Volkl, Marker and Discrete she’s landed feature roles in two of this year’s major ski films—Sweetgrass’s “Valhalla” and Warren Miller’s “Ticket to Ride.” She’s also a professional model, as in 200-foot Times Square billboard ads for American Eagle and full page spreads in Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen. She’s also a yoga teacher, a surfer and all-around free spirited hippie chick.
“I’m kind of an oddity in the ski world… I can’t be captured with any one-liner,” she says.
But a multi-talented female oddity might be just what skiing needs right now. “Valhalla” amassed a great deal of hype surrounding its September 13 premier because it’s more than your standard ski porn—the kind with meat-hucking cliff drops to hard rock music and park rats throwing flatspins off kickers with pants down to their knees. “Valhalla” has a narrative arc, it has fictional characters, and it’s artful. Rather than throwing the horns and shotgunning Red Bulls in mid air, skiers and snowboarders are sailing through high alpine pillow lines in musical slow motion, sometimes nude, and meditating on glowing red mountaintops. It’s more profound than what the world is used to in a ski film and hopefully more engaging to viewers who want to watch a well-produced movie.
One question “Valhalla” has brought up is whether big-budget film companies will move into this space soon, with attempts at actual plot and story. It’s hard to say if this is the start of an emerging trend or just an exciting niche that’s getting a lot of buzz. But throw a girl like Sierra into the mix, with her attractive personality, experience in front of a camera and her ability to “slay blower pow on some sick spines in AK,” and you’ve got potential for wide-ranging appeal.
So where did this 24-year-old mystic pixie come from? She grew up in Park City, Utah, with three brothers close in age, but their parents began home schooling when they were barely tweens, a.k.a. piling the family into a green 15-passenger Ford Econoline for several years and hitting the USSA ski racing circuit all over the Intermountain and Far West Divisions.
The kids were coached by their father while poaching the training gates of organized teams. Losing was not an option. “My parents made so many sacrifices for skiing that there was a lot of disappointment if we weren’t winning…It seemed normal at the time,” says Sierra, who placed first in the Intermountain Division Junior Championships when she was just 8. “Growing up competitive and striving to be bigger, better, faster, stronger and all these things that I learned growing up ski racing from a young age—it doesn’t get more competitive than the Park City ski team—was a great application for modeling because it’s the most competitive industry a girl could ever work in.”
But major injuries were a constant and the family fell apart with the death of her oldest brother. Their parents pulled the kids out of the racing scene for several years. Sierra was 15 when she ended up at a boarding school in Switzerland, where she’d secretly take the train to Andermatt on weekends, bumming a couch and a ski pass. She fell back in love with skiing and has been salivating for powder ever since, between stints at massage therapy school in Costa Rica and a summer in Alaska “living off the land” and working the desk at K2 Aviation.
Then came the modeling. While on her way to Panama for a massage job at an international surf competition, Sierra’s mom bamboozled her to layover in Houston. Next thing she knew, Sierra was being dragged to the mall’s makeup counter and then an audition for “America’s Next Top Model” in 2010. She stunned the competition with her bubbly smile and uncommonly real persona and soon got a callback to Los Angeles. The show wasn’t for her, but modeling paychecks were a far cry from the $45 shift pay she was previously making flipping burgers. Fast forward two years, and she’s jet-setting all over the world shooting for Nike, LuluLemon, Athleta and more.
Despite all this modeling mayhem, Sierra sees herself as an athlete first, which explains why she turned down a huge deal last year with The Ford Modeling Agency, as in the powerhouse company that represents supermodels like Christie Brinkley, Elle MacPherson, Kim Alexis, etc. “I just don’t associate with the modeling culture,” she says, “When I was younger, I most wanted to be a downhill skier.”
The problem with dropping big cliffs and skiing super fast steeps with a 5’10” model’s body is when it comes time to crash. “I’m not built to take that kind of impact,” admits Sierra, who has broken her femur, torn her meniscus, cracked her humerus in three places, snapped her collarbone, broken her nose compressing into her own knee, dealt with chronic whiplash and cervical misalignment for the last decade, and recently tore soft tissue in her shoulder.
Sierra was injured for most of last season, a stark momentum killer in your first year as a pro. In “Valhalla,” she played the character Ayla, a sort of mystic nature woman who “floated on a grace all her own, without any of the world’s weight we all accumulate,” but she doesn’t actually ski in the film—a rather nettlesome detail that keeps Sierra anxious to prove herself. “The challenge is I haven’t shown anyone what I do on skis yet,” she says “Everyone freaked when I put out a video edit with me doing yoga in my underwear, but I also hit Fat Bastard [a 30-foot Jackson Hole cliff] in the same video and threw a three off a spine in Alaska!” Despite this, other courting sponsors originally wanted to sign her as just a ski model, like for photos of her holding up boots a la Bob Barker’s Beauties.
And that’s something Sierra will have to contend with for a while. “It’s a challenge to earn respect as an athlete when because people are so quick to run the picture of me in a bikini. The media is so quick to capitalize on sex appeal to gain viewership. As both a model and an athlete, my challenge is to earn respect as an athlete without denoting my sexuality,” she says.
It’s lightly charted territory, trying to make a name for herself as a legit female athlete in such a male-dominated sport without sacrificing her feminine appeal. Beautiful tennis players like Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova have struggled with the same dilemma. Sierra does ski in “Ticket To Ride,” ripping a wide-open face above the Arctic Sea in Iceland alongside Big Mountain World Cup champion Jess McMillan and Olympic Gold Medalist Julia Mancuso.
There are tall orders to fill with the swath of high expectations Sierra has encountered. The big question is whether she’s ready for them, or perhaps more importantly, is the macho-centric sport ready for her to break the mold?
“I think the ski industry suffers because a lot of our ambassadors are embarrassed to show their feminine side,” she says, “But as a society, we’re starting to realize that it’s cool to be balanced and it’s not always about throwing the horns up and being more machismo. There’s a softer side that can be expressed and shown in all things.”
If the skiing world is indeed gearing up for some kind of existential awakening with more films like “Valhalla,” there may be more of a place for women like Sierra—feminine weirdos who are quirky and fun and still beautiful ripping it up. All Sierra has to do is be herself and ski her ass off, two of her favorite things in the world.