Taking The Fun Line

By Stio Mountain on

Words and Photos by Sam Watson

Spring has arrived. Last night, one of Utah’s notoriously unpredictable spring storms overproduced and unloaded a foot of late season powder on Alta Ski Area, only to give way to clear skies just before sunrise. It might be the final chance of the season to ski some of Alta’s famed deep powder. Given the time of year, the window of opportunity would exist for only a few short hours in the morning. After that, the high angle of the sun would turn the fluffy powder to something resembling leftover mashed potatoes. I had arranged to take an early chairlift ride to shoot ski photos with siblings Jacqueline and Andrew Pollard, life-long Alta skiers. I position myself mid-slope and double check my shot. “Ready?” I ask into my radio. “Yup. We are dropping in 5” comes the crackly response from Andrew, the elder of the two. We? I think. And before I have time to further process this unexpected reply, two skiers appeared in my field of view, building speed while tendrils of Utah cold smoke wrap around them. Andrew and Jacqueline were skiing in unison, neither one seemed to be following the other. Instead, the two of them ski together, one inching slightly in front of the other for a turn, then the other taking the lead. They ski past me to the bottom of the slope, making sure to get a full run in. I lower my camera and watch the two high five. Andrew and Jacqueline’s last-minute decision to ski simultaneously made a much better photo than if they had skied one at a time. And they did it simply because it would be more fun than skiing alone. The Pollards embody the zeitgeist of Alta. An encompassing mindset of a love for skiing with friends, making the most out of each day, not taking things too seriously and always looking for the most fun line to ski. Safe to say, it has been working out well for both of them.

People will often absorb qualities and characteristics of the places they live. As a skier, one couldn’t do much better than to have grown up in Alta, Utah, and have their life influenced by this skiing mecca. Alta is halowed ground in skiing. It's steep, playful terrain, with a snow water equivalence equal to that of Utah’s beer’s alcohol content and it has a reputation for producing some of the best skiers in the world. Many who grow up skiing at Alta continue to return winter after winter, their lives revolving around getting one more Alta powder day. Jacqueline and Andrew are two such skiers. Although both just finished their sophomore seasons traveling the world to compete on the Freeride World Tour, the competitive pinnacle of big mountain riding, they still ski Alta every chance they get while at home.

Andrew and Jacqueline began skiing Alta around the same time they could walk. Both credit their parents, Tom and Kate, for their early introduction to skiing, as well as for their continued love for it. Tom and Kate worked (and still do) at the Rustler Lodge, a long-standing ski lodge in Alta. Working full time in Alta meant that it was easiest to send Andrew and Jacqueline to the Alta School, a small K through 8 learning establishment located in the ground floor of a neighboring ski lodge. The lodge, and school, are located a snowball’s throw from the base of Alta’s ski lifts. In the mornings, Andrew and Jacqueline would ski from the Rustler Lodge to the Alta School and then go ski for an hour and a half after school. On weekends, when they weren’t skiing with their parents, the mountain was their babysitter.

During their later years at the Alta School, both began skiing with the Alta Freeride Division, or AFD. The AFD program takes kids who are interested in pushing themselves in the big mountain discipline and hones their skills. This is also when Andrew and Jacqueline began skiing together more as ski partners instead of just as siblings. Andrew recalls feeling responsible for Jacqueline while skiing, until he realized he didn’t have to. “I felt like I was in full big brother mode. I couldn’t ditch her skiing. Then one season not only was she keeping up, but skiing better than some of my friends who were my age!”

AFD also provided some early competitive opportunities. The grassroots comps that AFD hosted on some of Alta’s larger faces sparked a love for a new challenge in skiing- competing. Over the next few years, Andrew and Jacqueline continued to ski as much as possible and compete in big mountain events across the Western US and Canada. A breakout year came in 2018 when both accrued enough points to qualify for the Freeride World Tour. The next season, the 2018-2019 winter, was their first year competing on the Tour. “All of a sudden I was traveling to all of these places I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever go to. It was so cool. But it was even cooler to be doing it with Jacqueline.” Says Andrew, of his first season traveling full time. Jacqueline says that Andrew’s calm demeanor relaxes her while traveling, as well as in the mountains. On one occasion, the two missed a train connection somewhere deep in Europe’s railway system. Jacqueline’s immediate reaction was to panic about being lost in a strange place. She looked over at Andrew for guidance, who was calmly setting his bags down on the train platform and taking a seat. “’Don’t worry, there will be another train at some point,’ Andrew told me. And I realized he was right. He was just making the best out of a tough situation,” says Jacqueline.

After two seasons skiing on the tour, Andrew finished the 2019-2020 season sitting in 3rd place, and Jacqueline finished in 6th place. Both finishes were good enough to pre-qualify the two for the 2020-2021 tour.

In the summers, both work as river guides. Andrew works in Glacier, Montana, and Jacqueline in the desert canyons of southern Utah. Both find balance in the seasonal migration of following the snowmelt. Summer work gives them a new skillset to hone, a positive mindset to adapt to everyday challenges and an outlook that life is always better if you take the most fun line. In late November, that line always leads to Alta, Utah, where you can find the Pollards as soon as the snow starts falling.

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