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An Awe-Inspiring One-Woman Show

Backcountry Athlete Steph Davis: Free Soloist, BASE Jumper, Author

In addition to being an unparalleled free soloist and wingsuit BASE jumper, Steph Davis is a published writer, a traveler, a yogi, a dog lover, and a damn good vegan cook. A freeclimb of the Salathe Wall and a first one-day ascent of Patagonia’s Torre Egger are just a few highlights on her long list of accomplishments.

Q: You epitomize focus and intensity, traits that would have served you well in business. What do you consider the determining experiences that set you on the path to becoming a professional climber and BASE jumper rather than pursuing a more traditional career?

Funny enough, I spend a lot of time handling business. As a professional climber, I manage contracts, negotiations, sponsor relationships, writing and film projects from proposal to production stage, social and traditional media, the basic accounting and household tasks that we all deal with, and, of course, actually going out and doing things. My husband and I just started a BASE and climbing guide company here in Moab, also. Doing rad stuff is just one part of being a professional athlete. If I were a pro basketball player or surfer or a teenager, I'd have "people" taking care of the business stuff for me, but as a climber/jumper it's very much a one-woman show, with a lot of irons in the fire all the time. It's incredibly busy, maybe even more so than having a normal job, and it's certainly never boring :)

Q: Do you consider your life to be balanced? If so, how do you achieve that sense of balance?

I find that I'm able to juggle a lot of different things, but fundamentally, I need to have a core of simplicity in my life. So everything I take on gets weighed on that scale: does this fit in with the simple life? Does it allow me to climb, jump, and have freedom? Because that's always the goal. There's always a lot going on, and occasionally I feel overwhelmed, usually if I'm not getting to go climbing as much as I want to. But crazy-hectic cycles always ease off, and the beauty of the nontraditional lifestyle is that when I get through a hectic stretch I can go live in my car at Rifle or something and get back to normal.

Q: Do you get scared? Is scary motivating? What is your relationship with fear?

I do get scared. I don't prefer being scared, and I like to figure out how to do things in a way that doesn't result in me being scared. But sometimes fear is present, and I work on ignoring it (in safe situations) and managing it (in serious situations). I don't like to be stopped by fear.

Q: You wrote “High Infatuation: A Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity,”  which was published in 2007. How did writing a book fit into your lifestyle? What tips do you have for aspiring writers (of any genre)? Do you have more writing plans?

I've just finished my second book. It's called "Learning to Fly: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love and One Amazing Dog," to be released on April 2 from Simon and Schuster.

High Infatuation was a compilation of stories, most of which I'd already written and just had to integrate together, while Learning to Fly is a memoir. The proposal process alone took over a year, after connecting with a book agent. Once I got the book contract, I actually was not fully prepared for how demanding it would be to write the manuscript last year while also in the midst of all the normal projects I had going on. Most of that book got written in the back of my truck at night at Rifle and Indian Creek, or in the passenger seat of Mario's Honda Element while driving to Arizona to base jump. Now that it's almost fully complete and about to go to print, things are way less intense. With both book projects, I relied a lot on my journals, and for Learning to Fly I also went back to blog writing I'd done. It really helps to write a lot, and to have written references for all those tangible details that otherwise will slip from your memory.

Q: Who and what have influenced you most?

The most important role model I've had in life so far was my first dog Fletcher. Learning to Fly is a lot about her.

Q: How has social media changed the relationships you have with fans, sponsors, and the media? What benefit of social media do you enjoy most? Is there anything you dislike or regret about the constant connectedness inherent in our society’s addiction to social media?

Social media, for me, is the greatest thing that ever happened. I read fast and I write fast, and I'm rarely in one place for very long. In the past it was hard to stay connected with friends and the community—way, way back when, I used to send postcards and call friends and family from phone booths on rest days. I know there's the complaint that social media lacks the face-to-face element, but it allows people to be present in each other's lives when otherwise it wouldn't be possible. Living in remote places and doing a lot of things alone or with one other person can make you feel isolated or disconnected sometimes. For me the constant connectedness of social media adds a lot more balance to my life.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about being part of the Backcountry.com Pro Team?

I like the energy and the positive drive of the Backcountry team—it's a very supportive crew who lives the concept that anything is possible.

Speaking of anything being possible, Steph recently jumped out of a helicopter and landed on Backcountry’s goat-adorned warehouse rooftop—with a ten-minute window between commercial flights to pull it off.

Q: Had you done urban jumps before this one? What challenges does jumping in the city present that jumping in the desert or the mountains does not?

I've jumped antennae and bridges in urban environments, but no buildings. It's a different environment, and you have to consider different wind conditions around building walls, similar to jumping in a place like the Fisher Towers.

Q: Did you run into any unexpected complications? What kinds of red tape did you have to navigate when planning this jump?

I don't think any of us knew what we were getting into when I got a phone call last year (!) asking what I thought about jumping the Backcountry parachute onto the soon-to-be-painted warehouse rooftop. Backcountry painted... (continued below)

Steph's Top Picks

Top Picks Evolve Geshido SC Climbing Shoe Mammut Togir Light Harness GoPro HERO3 Black Edition Metolius Ultralight Power Cam MSR Carbon Reflex 3 Clifbar Clif Shot Bloks

the giant goat on the warehouse because it's in the path of air traffic from the Salt Lake airport, but none of us anticipated how much trouble it would be to obtain permission from local authorities to do a 10-minute heli flight between airport traffic and drop jumpers over top of the building. Marit [Backcountry.com’s brand director], Mario and I kind of made it a personal mission to make this jump happen, and we did a good job of taking turns dealing with the frustration of trying to accomplish what should have been a straightforward, routine demo jump application, to make sure none of us lost our minds completely when being stonewalled for months and months ... I think we finally just wore them down through sheer persistence :) In the end, we communicated closely with the local FAA authorities and the Salt Lake airport control tower, and we used a very small time window to get out of the chopper and onto the rooftop—we had 10 minutes between commercial flights to get set up and go. This definitely added to the pressure of the jump.

Q: You did the jump with your husband, Mario. Does jumping as a duo offer extra peace of mind, or is it just more fun?

It's hard to describe how indispensable Mario is: I have observed that anyone who has done any project with him wants to make sure he's part of the next project they do. When it comes to jumping, he's been at the forefront of the sport for over 20 years, and is also one of the best camera flyers around, so I'm really lucky to have him as a partner and as a resource. I do jump without him sometimes, but I would never do an important project like this without him—it wouldn't even be possible. Both of us feel more comfortable for any project when the other one is there.

Q: You made nailing the bull’s-eye look easy. How easy was it?

We did several practice jumps together in Moab to make sure we would execute this jump perfectly: a lot of people invested a lot of effort into this one jump, and we couldn't risk anything less than perfection. As a base jumper, you have to focus very specifically on accuracy—landing the canopy exactly where you want to go, which is a special skill set. Usually when base jumping, you don't have much wind, which influences the way the parachute flies. On this jump, we encountered some tricky winds at different elevations, and it was not straightforward at all to get the canopies to go where we wanted them to. Luckily I skydive a lot in Moab and in Tooele where the winds can be unpredictable and challenging, so this kind of accuracy maneuvering in strange winds is something I've practiced a lot—to get a PRO rating (to be allowed to do demo jumps), you have to complete a series of extreme accuracy landings where if you mess one up, you have to start all over, and I did all those jumps in Moab in funky winds. For this jump, we just wanted to be safe, get good footage by maintaining the correct distance between the two of us, and at least land within the (huge) body of the goat on the roof. Before the jump, Mario put a little duct tape X in the exact middle of the roof, kind of as a joke for me to use it as a target, and I actually landed right on it! That was a combination of nailing it, plus a little luck, as with everything in jumping :)