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SALT LAKE CITY — Kristen Ulmer became famous in one day.
When she was 23, she talked her way into a ski movie being filmed at Squaw Valley Resort in Olympic Valley, California. She watched the other more experienced skiers, one by one, sail off a cliff and execute backscratchers (arching your back and touching your skis between your shoulder blades) and figured to be in the movie, she had to do the same.
There was just one thing: She’d never pulled a backscratcher or skied off a cliff.
She jumped anyway.
“Within a day everyone in Squaw Valley knew my name. Within a week everyone in the ski industry knew my name and within a month I was called the best woman big mountain extreme skier in the world, and I kept the title for 12 years,” Ulmer said.
During her subsequent career as an extreme skier, she appeared in more than 20 ski movies, jumped off many more cliffs, and became the first woman to ski down Wyoming’s Grand Teton. She became a rock and ice climber, a paraglider pilot and kite boarder.
“If it was dangerous, it was my thing; and I wanted to do anything dangerous. Like, that’s what made me feel the most alive,” she said.
She was called fearless. The thing was, she wasn’t.
“I believed my own hype, that I was fearless, but it turns out that wasn’t true,” Ulmer said.
She soon began to hate skiing. Whenever she injured herself, she felt relieved. She experienced severe adrenal fatigue and felt exhausted.
These problems, she said, all stemmed from her relationship with fear.
Ulmer walked away from skiing and looked for answers.
“I met a Zen master (Dennis Paul Merzel, also known as Genpo Roshi) and he tried to get me to have a conversation with my fear,” she said.
Out of that conversation came a book: “The Art of FEAR.”
It was “the story about my relationship with fear and what I’ve learned,” Ulmer said. “We have this impression that fear is like this unnatural thing to be embarrassed about, it shows an unnaturally weak character. It’s actually not true.”
Fear, she says, is “a tool for aliveness and focus and creativity and being in the present moment. It’s here to be used as a resource, not to be fought.”
Ulmer, who’s run Zen-oriented ski clinics, is now marketing herself as a “fear specialist.”
“I’m a facilitator," she said. "I don’t actually give advice. I just take people on a journey into exploring where they may be stuck in places that don’t work for them anymore, in particular around fear.”
When Ulmer ignored fear, it almost killed her.
"I would just willy-nilly do whatever I felt like doing, regardless of the danger,” she said. “I really feel like I survived because of luck and not because of my relationship with fear. I actually feel really lucky to be alive.”
Now she says she embraces fear and it helps her live.
You can find more about Kristen Ulmer at KristenUlmer.com.