Ikon Pass holder, BIPOC community activist, and new skier, Janelle Paciencia spent the 20/21 season learning the ropes and working the bunny hill at Eldora. With a brand-new, untapped season ahead, we sat down with Janelle to discuss her community projects, what her first turns on snow looked like, and what’s on tap for the 21/22 season of stoke.

As a recipient of last year’s scholarship, Janelle spent her winter getting stoked and learning to ski. This season, Ikon Pass has partnered with Natives Outdoors and SheJumps to help grow participation in skiing and snowboarding among Native communities and women of color across North America. As part of this partnership, Ikon Pass will award scholarships to 20 members of the SheJumps and Natives Outdoors communities. Each organization will receive 10 Ikon Passes, 10 ski or snowboard lesson at an Alterra Mountain Company destination, and additional gear provided by 686 and Smith for scholarship recipients of their choice. Individuals can apply for a scholarship directly through the organizations and recipients will be selected in mid November. Click here to learn more.

Hey Janelle, give us the bunny hill bio of who you are today. Where you live? What type of projects you’re cranking on?

My name is Janelle, pronounced ‘Ya-nelly’ in my first language of Spanish, and I live in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been here for about four years, and I spend Monday through Friday, 9-to-5, working as a social worker with Refugee Youth. That’s what occupies my professional life. Outside of that, I’m very passionate about connecting others and myself to community, especially to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities. To accomplish this, I’ve taken up a role as a volunteer outings leader with Latino Outdoors. We actually have a pretty strong chapter here in Denver, and so we’re always arranging outings while trying to connect the Latinx Community here in the Front Range to the outdoors. With a focus on growing this community, and on emotional and physical well-being, we create safe spaces where underrepresented people can explore. That’s really what I Love. Love. Love. to do.

Working with youth 9-to-5 and then connecting communities with adventure in your spare time. That sounds like an engaging, rewarding existence. As for your own adventures, you recently took up skiing and scored a joint scholarship from SheJumps and Ikon Pass, is that right?

Yeah, SheJumps has a great partnership with Ikon Pass, which is where I was able to land a scholarship pass for the 20/21 season. So, thankfully through the combination of SheJumps and Ikon Pass, I was able to get on the mountain. It was just like such a wonderful feeling to have access to it.

SheJumps is a pretty fantastic organization, and they partner with a couple of similarly awesome brands. For example, I was lucky to receive skis that K2 graciously donated. That was my first pair of skis and, to be quite honest, I cried. I mean, I grew up in Los Angeles and I lived in Texas and my family’s from Central America. Like, I do not know snow! My idea of skiing was that it was for rich, white folks. And here I am now with a very first pair of skis.

Then, as it happened, my very first ski lesson was actually with professional ski mountaineer and activist Caroline Gleich. I reached out to her via Instagram and asked her if she would spend just a little bit of time showing me the slopes. The power of social media is truly amazing. Caroline was so incredibly gracious and spent a whole morning with me at Alta. She was so good at making me feel like this was a space where not only should I show up, but that I belonged there.

It was also hilarious getting my first ski lesson from Caroline because there I was trying to get into the best stance for skiing, with my knees slightly bent, pretending to hold a tray in front of me, my back straight, and sweating profusely as I skied down because all I wanted was to not crash on the bunny hill in front of someone I truly admire. And then there she was in front of me, giving me instructions while skiing perfectly and easily going backwards and recording me on her phone all at the same time. She was so patient with me and excited for my growth in the sport. It was the best first ski lesson anyone could have asked for.

Yeah, first turns with Caroline Gleich, that’s not a bad way to start sliding on snow. Since then, where did you get your turns in last season?

Well, we went to Alta and then I’ve also been going to Eldora. The easy front range access to Eldora is hard to beat, and since I’m still so new, I’m pretty much just lapping the bunny hill with all of these four or five-year-old kids. I’ll be honest that it felt silly at first. But, hey, I’m trying. There are some objectives I’d like to cross off in the future and the only way to knock them is just to be a beginner. Everyone must start somewhere, and that’s why this scholarship and the skis have genuinely been a game-changer for me. It’s a place to start.

We’re stoked to hear it, Janelle – welcome to the mountains. Over the last season, who were you riding with? And, any plans to grow your crew?

Well, I have this vision of being able to go and adventure by myself in future seasons, once I know what I’m doing and have the hang of it. And I’m definitely getting there, I’ve seen how much I’ve grown, and I’m really like, “wow, I can do this.” So far, however, I’ve been mainly heading out with a friend or my husband, which is also amazing. For me, I always get the greatest sense of joy from community, so my stoke really comes from sharing these moments with someone else.

You also have some side projects that you’re building, right? Projects that further the connection between people who identify as BIPOC and adventure, right? Can you tell us about those?

Yeah, well, given how vital community is to me, there are two things that I’ve been working on. On my creative side, I photograph my friends and other people in BIPOC communities who make a positive difference in the outdoors. My focus in photography really lives in this space, photographing the folks that I wish I saw more of in adventure magazines like National Geographic and Outside. Because the people that I’m photographing are the people that I wish I had as role models in the outdoors. You know, representation matters, and when I have seen it, it is something that has been life-changing for me. So that’s what I do with my photography. You can see my Instagram over at @janelle_takesphotos.

Yeah, we feel that – big time. The mountains welcome all, and once you have the gear, you’re that one step closer to adventure. Ok, it’s time to philosophize for a minute about stoke.  Imagine that you’re ready to go adventure in the mountains, and you’ve got a gear bag open and ready to be filled. You can put absolutely anything in it – anything at all – that brings you stoke. What are you going to fill it with?

Honestly, I think I would pack my favorite food. Yeah, I’m pretty fond of Pupusas, so I think I would fill the bag with that. Actually, I did take them to Eldora one time. After a few runs, my friends and I stopped back by the car, and they were just, like, the perfect lunch. Meanwhile, the folks next to us were grilling something, but we were totally happy with our Pupusas.

Is there a destination on the Ikon Pass that brings you all the stoke? Is there any place particular on that shreddy bucket list?

Well, Japan does sound wonderful. I think my husband affectionally calls it JaPOW, and I have been low-key stalking Niseko on Instagram. One day I’ll go there and ski the powder, but that’s a ways away. But, if we’re talking about like in the immediate future, I would really love to go out to Mammoth Mountain, out in California, and ski the terrain out there.

Whether you’re connecting communities with adventure, or out there seeking an adventure of your very own, the stoke is high for the 21/22 season. From Niseko in Japan to Mammoth Mountain in California, and across more than 40 other destinations worldwide, join Janelle during winter 21/22 and claim your season of stoke with Ikon Pass.

Editor’s note: This interview initially took place in April of 2021. Since then, Janelle has relocated to Seattle, where she continues to be involved with the BIPOC community and is a full-time Professional Photographer.