September 24, 2012

Community Profile: Ashley Bembenek

Photo: Trent Bona

Ashley Bembenek is poised to make a big splash in the world of women’s freeskiing this coming winter.   The 27 year-old from Eden, Utah has lived in a variety of places before finally landing in Crested Butte in 2010, when she began a job with the National Park Service at Blue Mesa and Black Canyon.   Bembenek immediately felt at home in the landscape, but the recreational activities of the area sealed the deal. Like many residents, Ashley chose the West Elks for the lifestyle.

Photo: Trent Bona

“I want to live conservation; pay homage to and protect our wild places.  I want to make a life, not a living,” explains Bembenek.  An ex-racer and graduate from Montana State University, Bembenek uses her Soil and Water Environmental Science degree working as an independent environmental contractor in the Gunnison Valley.  While her work varies depending on the project, “In general I help local watershed groups collect, analyze and interpret water quality data to protect or improve local water quality.  It doesn’t hurt that I’m my own boss, so I call the shots on powder days.”

After a few seasons in the Butte, Bembenek decided to give freeskiing competitions a try, and achieved unexpectedly good results.  Although years of ski racing made competition skiing seem lame, she could not help but wonder how she’d do.  In her very first competition at Taos, Bembenek took first, impressing the judges with powerful skiing that reflected her racing background.  She went on to take 6th at the US Nationals at Snowbird and again at the Freeskiing World Tour Qualifier at Moonlight.  Bembenek wrapped up the season with a 4th at Kirkwood, finishing 9th overall in the 5-star FWT Rankings.

While her home and heart are in the West Elks, Bembenek dreams of returning to Alaska, where she has already taken part in a first ascent/descent on an unnamed peak near the East Fork of the Chulitna River in the Alaska Range.   They named their impressive (see photo) descent Ptarmigan Dance Couloir, though there is no real name for it (to see the full story on their adventure, click here). On her way home, her group drove through Haines, where Bembenek was mesmerized by the abundance of enormous mountains and endless ski lines.  “It is the most stunning place on earth,” she recalls longingly.  While she vows to one day return to Haines, (hopefully then with the help of some sponsors), Bembenek is focused on this upcoming season.

Next season Bembenek plans to do as many competitions as her schedule allows.  “I’m really looking forward to the CB comp in particular.  I want to show folks I can ski technical lines too.”  In preparation for the upcoming season, Bembenek has been hitting the gym, rock climbing, and getting out on her mountain bike.  When asked about her favorite places in the West Elks, Bembenek replied, “I absolutely love the Doctor’s Park Trail for mountain biking.  Climbing in the Black Canyon is an endless source of challenge and inspiration as well.  During the winter, my favorite skiing is up near the headwaters of the Slate River.”

Bembenek’s only current sponsor is Romp Skis, the local ski manufacturer out of Crested Butte.  She hopes to pick up more as she looks to demonstrate that her few competition results were not a fluke.  We look forward to seeing her on more podiums this season.




About the Author

1. Ed Dujardin
After moving out west for college, Ed took summer school so he could spend winters in Crested Butte. These days, he coaches the Western State Colorado University Freeride Team, and spends as much time as he can fishing the incredible rivers of the area.