The Ascent to the Top - Nina Silitch

Nina Silitch stood modestly , even a little nervously, at the podium in front of Dublin School’s morning meeting last week. The topic: her career as a world-champion ski mountaineer racer. Within minutes, jaws dropped and our only conclusion was that this woman was a superhero (or at minimum some sort of Power Ranger) in real life.

For the past twelve years, Ms. Silitch, her husband Michael Silitch (Math Dept.) and their two sons lived on the base of the Alps in Chamonix, France. The location proved convenient for Michael’s career as a internationally certified UIAGM/IFMGA rock, alpine and ski-mountaineering guide  and for Nina’s training on the USA’s ski mountaineering team.

Dispersed through her lecture on the history of ski mountaineering were outstanding nuggets of information, usually told in her trademark humble, non-chalant manner. For example,  Nina not only achieved her goal of summiting Mount Blanc in fewer than 12 hours, but also skied down the entire North Slope to be home by 2:30 pm to pick her sons up from the bus stop.

Although Nina’s ultimate goal was to be the best racer in her sport, (eventually winning two historic gold medals for the US team at the World Cup) she noted that the  true joy of the experience was in the journey. As an American in a traditionally European dominated sport, she had a lot to prove– and she did.

Below, Mrs. Silitch describes her journey as a teacher, coach, mother, and professional athlete. 

Believe it or not I spent the first three years of my life on a boarding school campus. I grew up in New England and it was there that I grew to love the outdoors, whether it was on skis, on the sports field or riding my horse, or climbing a rock face. I have been involved in education and coaching since graduating from college but it was in high school I knew I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I raced Nordic skiing in high school and at Dartmouth College, where I later coached the development team.

After discovering I loved rock climbing and the mountains, I worked as an outdoor educator and climbing instructor at National Outdoor Leadership School, which gave me a chance to live and work in many places in the world, including, Kenya, China, and the West. 

I met my husband while teaching school in Colorado and our love of the French culture and the mountains led us to 12 years in the Alps, which included teaching at an international school in Switzerland and expanding our horizons further. It was in the Alps that our children, Birken and Anders, were born. They are a bilingual in French and English. 

It was in the Alps that  I discover the sport of Ski Mountaineering and pursed the dream of competing at the World Cup level for the USA. I raced for five years at a high level, ending my career in 2013 with two Gold medals in the sprint. This experience for me exemplifies that is it never to late to pursue a dream.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?: Hakuna Matata from The Lion King. It means "no worries"  I spent a year teaching in Kenya and fell in love with the outlook of the people there. Their ability to keep things simple is a very important message in this day and age and fast paced world we live in.

How would your friends describe you in 3 words?: Patient, inspiring, dedicated

You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people. Who would you choose and why?: The Dali Lama: His presence would exude good energy to all in the room. Daniella LaPorte: An amazing woman who is a writer, speaker and mom.  Kikkan Randall: A World Cup XCountry skier who has been on the US team for 10 years and has seen her progress pay off in the last 2 years as the Gold Globe World Cup winner in the Sprint. A legend for skiing in the USA.

Images are courtesy of Nina’s website:


You can also follow her on twitter: @mtmaman