For those who know First Ascent ski guide Lel Tone, either from her seasons guiding in Alaska, her tenure avalanche forecasting at Squaw Valley or her ambassador role with Tahoe SUP, it was a bit of a surprise that she was nominated for best female performance for a Powder Video Award last winter. But those who saw her segment in Warren Miller’s “…Like There’s No Tomorrow,” in which she ripped big lines in India with fellow First Ascent athlete Lynsey Dyer, could clearly see she had the talent for the big screen.This Memorial Day weekend, May 25th to the 28th, Lel will turn the tables on the talent and act as a judge at Mountainfilm in Telluride, an annual festival that aims to educate and inspire audiences on subjects that range from outdoor adventure and exploration to critical environmental, cultural and social issues. The Born Out There Blog caught up with Lel to learn a little about what it’s like to play with the boys and how she feels about heading to Telluride next weekend. – EB Editor
Interview by Lise Waring, Images by Will Wissman and Jim Harris
It seems like you were born and raised to ski. Did you ever feel any other calling for something more traditional? Was there a Plan B if skiing didn’t work out?
I wouldn’t say my other calling was something more traditional. I never wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian or anything like that, but in high school, I fell in love with modern dance. I had this amazing dance teacher, June Jeswald, a beautiful woman in her late 60s who danced with Martha Gramm. At that time in my life, that form of expression captivated me. I contemplated the idea of perusing a life as a professional dancer (not what your thinking…), which isn’t exactly a “Plan B.” I don’t think Alvin Alley would have me. Plus, I knew a life of dance would potentially take me to the city and away from the mountains I love so much.
In addition to skiing, you’re raced mountain bikes and paddleboards at professional levels. We’ve also heard that you like to drive fast. As an adrenaline speed junkie, where do you draw the line?
I draw the line a lot and step away from risk when I can. I have a lot of respect for the numbers game. After a while, it becomes the repetitive risk of exposure that gets all of us in the risk-taking line of work. No matter how careful we try to be.
Do any sports or adventures scare you? Which ones and why?
BASE jumping and wing suits. The lure of flight is stong in all of us — who doesn’t want to fly? I’ve seen lots of friends get hurt and lose their lives to this desire.
How do you gain respect in your male-dominated field?
Work hard, play hard, be a good listener, don’t ask stupid questions, be the first one to step forward to do even the least sought-after tasks, help your co-workers out when ever you can. It’s an I-got-your-back type of thing. Strive to be bigger, better, faster stronger. Have a thick skin, and never take yourself too seriously. (I’m still working on that one.) But doesn’t this hold true for everyone — male or female?
What item do you always carry in your ski jacket that makes your day better?
Chocolate and chapstick!
You’re usually more behind the snow scenes. What was it like working on the Warren Miller shoot in front of the cameras?
It was a totally different experience to be in the mountains and only have to worry about skiing well and taking care of myself. Usually, as a guide, I am worried about the safety of my clients and making good decisions in the mountains, knowing I have peoples’ lives in my hands. Sometimes that weighs very heavily and for good reason — it should! The experience in Kashmir filming with Warren Miller felt strangely liberating in a way.
How many days per year do you wear ski boots?
Too many. By mid-May, my toes have barefoot-on-the-beach fantasies.
Out of all the places in the world to live and ski, why Tahoe?
Becuase Tahoe is beautiful! The maritime snowpack is generally stable. It snows in feet, not in inches. Incredible storm cycles are almost always followed by cloudless, bluebird days. It’s always sunny in Cali, and it makes you feel guilty not to go play outdoors. Besides, where else can you paddleboard or waterski, ski great corn snow, and ride your mountain bike or climb world-class granite all in one day?
What piece of First Ascent gear would you prefer not to live without?
My Microtherm jacket, I’ve worn it so much during the heli season, that all my fellow guides think it’s the only jacket I brought to Alaska with me. You know when the boys start giving you a hard time about wearing the same shit every day…maybe it’s time to consider a wardrobe change?
You’re going to be an esteemed film judge at Mountainfilm in Telluride. Do you realize you’ll spend a lot of time sitting in a dark room? Can you sit still that long without feeling your muscles melt?
After a really busy and long guiding season, the thought of sitting still sounds quite appealing. Never underestimate the benefits of good body recovery!
Aside from sitting in the previously mentioned dark room, what else are you looking forward to doing while you’re in Telluride?
Meeting inspiring people and learning new things.
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