"It's really cool to be out in the mountains with my dad, and I'm really lucky I get to do it a lot. I watched him growing up, being a professional skier, and admiring what he did. Now, I get to go out and do it with him."
That's professional freeskier Amie Engerbretson, talking about her closeness and working relationship with her father, photographer and videographer Jeff Engerbretson.
Jeff Engerbretson grew up in Moscow, Idaho, typically not a hotbed for for professional skiers to emerge from, but after watching a Squaw Valley segment in the 1985 Warren Miller film Steep & Deep and then seeing Hot Dog... The Movie, Jeff knew that's what he wanted to do, and where he needed to be, if he wanted to make it as a professional skier.
In 1986, he packed up his belongings, moved out of his parents' home in Moscow and headed straight for Squaw Valley, chasing his dream. Within a couple of winters at Squaw, Jeff started making a name for himself in the ski world as a ski model, working with many of Lake Tahoe's best photographers. Over the years, Jeff appeared in numerous magazine spreads, on magazine covers, and in several ski films. More than 30 years after arriving at Squaw, he's now on the other side of the camera, as a photographer and freelance videographer. One of Jeff's most recent freelance jobs was in Aspen, Colorado, this past weekend, shooting for ESPN at the Winter X Games.
Amie was born into the skiing world, growing up in the ski community of North Lake Tahoe. She spent her early childhood skiing at nearby Squaw Valley with family and friends from school. At a very young age, Jeff realized that the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree:
"It was very early on, at 4 or 5 years old. Ski-wise, it was like, 'She has really good technique.' We did photos together because I was skiing professionally then, and we did a lot of father-daughter stuff, and her technique was spot-on. Even years later I'd say, 'Was she really that good?' I went back and watched some video when she was, like, 8 — wow, she did ski well. I thought when she was little, she's going to grow up to be my skier."
By junior high school, Amie's passion had drifted to dance; she was a member of the InnerRhythms Dance Theatre in Truckee, California. "Throughout junior high and high school, Amie got really passionate about dance. She skied well, but her passion was dance," says Jeff. After high school Amie moved on to Columbia College in Chicago, focusing on dance while earning a degree in media management and graduating summa cum laude.
Nearing her college graduation, Amie's focus began to shift, and Jeff received that phone call many college students parents dread: "I got the call from Amie in college — 'Dad, I want to come home and ski.' I'm thinking, 'OK, you come home and run a chair lift and ski for a year.' She's like, 'No, I want to ski like you did.' I gave her my support, and told her to come give it a shot."
Amie laughs when telling me about making that phone call: "I think, I'm one of the few people that can call their dad when they're about to graduate college and tell them they want to be a ski bum, and he's psyched."
After college Amie did just that, moving back to her old stomping grounds of Lake Tahoe. It didn't take her long to get back in the ski groove; within a year, Amie was a fully sponsored ski athlete. Fast-forward five years and Amie's crushing it, with contracts from several equipment manufacturers, including K2 skis, Smith Optics and Spyder active wear. In fact, you can see some of Spyder's ads featuring Amie in Shape magazine.
Amie loves working with her dad as a ski model, though it comes with typical parent-kid bickering: "My dad and I go back and forth a lot; he thinks that he trained me, so I better be darn good — I better not mess up. There's a lot of banter, and there's this and that, and I'm telling him when he messes up and he's telling me when I mess it up, but at the same time, there's kind of a cool thing that happens when my dad and I find our flow, and a lot of times we don't even need to talk. We kind of see things the same, we ski things the same, a lot of times we just roll up to a slope, we both see the shot, and it's kind of like an unspoken magic that happens."
That magic happens more often than not, as this father-daughter dynamic duo is chronicled in dozens of publications, billboards and ads each year. "There's Engerbretson duo photos all over the U.S.," says Amie. "We've got a big ad from Big Sky Resort this year that's in Powder magazine and SKI magazine, and we have a few full-page spreads in some of the other major ski magazines. If you roll around Squaw Valley, there's lots of billboards of photos my dad took."
One of the funny things about this parent-child working relationship is that sometimes Amie gets to call the shots, as Jeff points out: "Amie's in a position where she's working with her sponsors and producing filming trips, and then she hires me. We did four or five trips in the past two years where she's actually my boss."
That's really no surprise, as most parents know that kids are always the boss!
For many close-knit families, a work situation like this is a dream come true. "It's really cool to be out in the mountains with my dad, and I'm really lucky I get to do it a lot," Amie says. "We get to travel and ski together all over the world, and it's just a special thing to share with my dad." Jeff is just as enthusiastic about this pairing: "This is our job, but this is what we do for fun anyway. To get paid to live this lifestyle and live in these kinds of mountains, it's amazing."
Jeff has passed on skills and traits to Amie that are priceless; more important, he's inspired a sense of freedom for Amie, to go chase your dreams. "I think that's really what my dad instilled with me. Part of this lifestyle is being able to chase that dream, whatever it may be, and to have the freedom to do that," she says. "I know when I move on in my life and I have my own kids, my own family, I'm absolutely going to pass that message on — that you can do what you want to do and you can follow those dreams, even if they're crazy."
To watch a parent's childhood dream come full circle is something many of us wish for, and Jeff is extremely proud of Amie: "When I was 16, I wanted to do exactly that, and now she's doing even more so, living my dream. Watching her do that, and watching the joy she gets out of it — obviously, she's not doing it for me, but to see the joy she gets out of living my dream is amazing." ♦