Jeff Engerbretson passes down his exploration ethos

For Amie and Jeff Engerbretson, the search for powder is a family affair. Amie, 31, who was raised in Lake Tahoe, Calif. by her professional-skiing father, Jeff, 54, grew up thinking that it was normal to make a career out of winter sports. In the winter of 1986/87, Jeff began his pro-skiing career and in 1986 starred in a travel TV show Inside Skiing that took him around the world. When Amie graduated college and decided to pursue a similar profession, her dad was fully on board. Since then, they’ve been able to share in their exploratory pursuits and jointly add backcountry skiing to their professional repertoire.

Dad and pro skier Jeff Engerbretson shares the family business. [Photo] Amie Engerbretson

My dad was the one who showed me that making your life as a skier is the best way to explore; it’s a tool, a vehicle for exploring. My dad dropped out of college at the University of Idaho and moved to Tahoe with the hopes of becoming a pro skier—which he made a reality in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He took that and used it as a way to travel the world. 

In 1986, he became a skier for a travel show for skiing called Inside Skiing and ultimately transitioned to becoming a filmer, cinematographer and photographer. Through the TV show, he was able to ski in 27 countries. I was young while this was all happening, and I would watch my dad go gallivanting around the world to these cool places. It always seemed really exotic, because he’d be in China, then Sweden, then New Zealand, and watching him go all over was impactful and sparked an interest in me to travel. 

While I was going to college in Chicago, away from the mountains, I had this realization of how lucky I was to have grown up in the mountains. I called my dad six months before I graduated and told him, “I know what I want to do with my life!” He was like, “Awesome. What’s that?” I think he was expecting me to tell him I was going to move to New York and get an advertising job, and I told him I wanted to move home, start competing in skiing and try to get sponsored and travel. Most people’s parents would freak out, but he was really excited. And it was fun because in the early years of my ski career, he helped me a lot and continues to do so. 

He gave me my first pair of backcountry bindings, Alpine Trekkers—they were actually his old pair—and I broke them on our first tour. We didn’t backcountry ski together when I was a kid. In a lot of ways, we learned to backcountry ski together. Back when he was professionally skiing, backcountry skiing was just developing, and it was a very different time. He calls that era the “cowboy era,” because people weren’t very educated, and they didn’t always have the right gear. 

My dad came from a modest family of schoolteachers in northern Idaho, but his father was a professional angler, and that’s what turned him onto the idea of being a pro skier. He felt that his profession was a great way to explore all these different corners of the ski world. I think a lot of kids grow up with the idea of following in their parents’ footsteps: you go to college, you get a job. In my case, I was just really lucky that pursuing the family business meant skiing around the world. 

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