With the onset of Spring we are gearing up to get outside and spend a plethora of starry nights sleeping in the dirt and under the stars. For the first time, we have chosen five official Ambassadors to represent not only the Big Agnes brand, but also what it means to embody the Big Agnes lifestyle. Our first Ambassador debut features Professional Skier and ultimate Adventurer, Kalen Thorien. We recently caught up with Kalen to ask her a few questions about what it’s like skiing in Kashmir, India, what it means to be an inaugural Big Agnes Ambassador, as well as her favorite camping story. Here’s what she had to say:
BA: You recently traveled to India to ski in the Kashmir Mountains–tell us about that experience.
Kalen: This was my second trip to Gulmarg, Kashmir, and it was everything I remembered and more. From the sights to the sounds, smells, and of course – the snow – it’s truly a magical place. The first four days we were there it snowed 9ft, and kept going. Eventually the sun came out and we were able to go to the top of the Gondola which sits at an amazing 13,500ft. Line after line awaits with everything from high alpine terrain to birch tree glades and old growth forests. After a long day of skiing you curl up to a big bowl of dal and curries and eat till you’re stuffed. A good night’s sleep leads to another epic day of riding.
The people were incredible, too. Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim country and our timing, which happened to be immediately after inauguration, left us a little uneasy. But people were generous, kind, and genuinely curious about where we’re from and how we liked Kashmir. I would return in a heartbeat.
BA: What did you realize you took for granted at home vs. third-world?
Kalen: It’s your typical things – drinking water from the tap, having reliable power, being able to communicate easily. But the biggest for me was just how much freedom I have as a woman in my country. There’s still fighting to be done, but compared to Muslim Kashmir, I’m incredibly grateful for being raised where I was, by the mother I had, and was taught I can do and be anything I want. Women in Kashmir don’t have that luxury and witnessing that made me want to fight even more for equal rights in my country and around the world.
BA: What does it mean to you to be one of five first official Big Agnes Ambassadors?
Kalen: It’s surreal. I saved for months on a minimum wage job to buy my first tent, which was a BA, and it changed my life. Now having the opportunity to work side by side with Big Agnes, help design and test product, and promote a brand that I truly believe in is truly and honor and I’m really excited for the years ahead!
BA: What and who inspire you to live the lifestyle you do?
Kalen: First and foremost would be my parents. They supported a lifestyle they knew very little about, at least in terms of a profession, but they always pushed me to pursue my passions and live my dreams. My favorite moment was when I dropped out of college to pursue skiing, nervous to face my parents, and my Dad put his arm around me, chuckled, and said “College is a waste of money anyway..”
Growing up I found sanctuary in the Beatnik and Punk revolutions, existential prose, writers like Ginsberg, Thompson, Abbey and, Emerson… They preached freedom, growth through nature, the power of the outdoors, and the need to be your own human being. I pursued these philosophies relentlessly and found inspiration in skiing and backpacking. Once I had a taste of this other world, there was no looking back.
BA: What current world issues are most important for you to raise awareness about and why?
Kalen: Women’s rights, public lands, and protecting our waterways are my main focus. I was raised by a strong feminist mother, so that’s been in my blood since day 1. With the current state of our country, it’s been brought to the forefront of my life, especially now that I’m a grown woman and am experiencing the inequality first hand.
Public Lands, especially those under attack in Utah, are my sanctuary and it’s vital that these places are not turned over to corporations for short-term profit, greed, and dirty energy.
With the EPA under siege, it’s more important than ever to protect the waterways that not only we recreate in, but that sustain our entire being. We have outdated technology destroying our resources and the ability to create clean, natural energy without hampering our waterways. It’s time for a change.
BA: What do you do personally to take part in creating change for our future?
Kalen: I’m active in various groups including the Glen Canyon Institute and American Rivers. Helping them whether it’s in the field, fundraisers, meetings, or through social media is vital. Simple things like contacting your Congressman, Senator, or Governor is easy and impactful. If everyone reached out at least once, imagine the difference we could make.
BA: What is your favorite piece of Big Agnes gear that you never adventure without?
Kalen: Usually all of it, but if I had to choose one piece, I always have to have my Q-Core sleeping pad. That piece of gear has changed the game for comfort in the backcountry.
BA: Where is your favorite place you’ve camped?
Kalen: That’s a loaded question!! Everywhere?! I don’t have a favorite but top three would be: 1. Greenland, 2. The Grand Canyon, 3. Kings Canyon-Sequoia NP.
BA: Do you have a favorite, must-cook campfire dinner?
Kalen: Fancy Ramen! Lighter than a freeze-dried meal and way yummier. Pack of Ramen (Ichiban Brand is my favorite), dried Shiitake mushrooms, dried green onion, cilantro flakes, basil flakes, dried garlic, powdered peanut butter, chili flakes, and beef jerky. Ideally mix it in a zip-lock before you take off. Using a standard Jetboil, boil a little more than 2 cups. Add all ingredients at once and turn off heat. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Bam!
BA: Any epic or memorable camp stories?
Kalen: There are hundreds of amazing memories which I’m so grateful to have. But my first time solo backpacking experience was pretty entertaining. I hiked into an alpine lake in Idaho with the world’s heaviest pack for a simple overnight. Cans of food, Wal-Mart style sleeping bag, no tent, books, and a guitar. I spent the afternoon running around in the nude, swimming, sun-bathing, reading Twain in a grassy meadow – basically perfection. But night came around and all the fun began. First my sleeping pad had a hole in it. I couldn’t find any level ground. I burned my can of soup. Then woke up in the middle of the night to branches breaking and didn’t have a headlamp. I quickly grabbed my guitar and started playing as loud as I could, even banging on the body of it to scare off the potential attacker. I stayed awake for hours. Finally dozed off only to be woken up by a squirrel landing on my sleeping bag, freaking out, and then climbing up a tree only to yell at me at throw nuts for the next hour. I finally couldn’t take anymore verbal abuse so I gave up, packed up my things, and like a zombie made my way back to the car.
Kalen recently dropped a short documentary of an 18-day solo hike she completed through the Sierra Mountains. Watch it here: http://tv.salomon.com/story/outinthesierra