Inspiring Others to Form a Connection with the Environment: McKenna Peterson '06

The lure of adventure and fresh powder hasn’t stopped McKenna Peterson ’06 from making a positive impact on the world. In fact, it is the driving force behind her most recent project, Shifting Ice and Changing Tides, an all-female led ski and sail expedition with the goal of inspiring and promoting female participation in adventure and exploration. The project also hopes to raise awareness and spread information about climate change and the ecological footprint of skiing. The project was such a success that footage is currently being used in a documentary film with plans to make festival rounds in 2015-2016.

“The idea [behind Shifting Ice and Changing Tides] started while I was on a backcountry mountaineering trip with Alpine Finishing School in the spring of 2012, where I met two of the expedition’s future partners,” says McKenna. “We wanted to go on an adventure somewhere remote and document our travels in order to inspire other women to get outside and enjoy what the natural world has to offer.” Including McKenna the team was comprised of six women: Meghan Kelly, Nat Segal, Pip Hunt, Martha Hunt, and KT Miller. With funding from sponsorships, grants, and a crowd funding campaign, the women’s month-long expedition dream became a reality. 

After researching locations around the world, Greenland came out on top. “The effect that climate change is having on the Greenland ice sheet was something we could not ignore,” said McKenna. 

To lessen the negative impact on the environment that traditional modes of transportation can leave, the six-woman team opted for a sailboat and their own feet. Traveling from Iceland to the southwest coast of Greenland, the crew spent five days sailing and skiing in the West Fjords until favorable weather enabled them to safely cross the Denmark Strait. 

While in both Iceland and Greenland, the team took snow and ice samples for two research projects for University of Venice, and sea water samples for a micro plastic project for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. And when they weren’t collecting samples, first ascents and descents were calling their name on a daily basis. 

“Once in Greenland, we would pull into uncharted fjords looking for terrain that we had mapped out on Google Earth,” McKenna said. “We would pick a line, get to shore, and start hiking. We skied a wide variety of snow, from perfect corn to deep powder.”

After spending five years on the Freeskiing World Tour before retiring from competition in 2012, this expedition was a natural next step for McKenna. When she wasn’t skiing or making the world a better place, McKenna worked on her father’s commercial fishing boat in Alaska in the summers, and took classes one semester per year at the University of Utah and graduated this past December with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. She also made her film debut in the recently released ski film, Pretty Faces which was released in September of 2014. 

She credits her commitment to education and adventure to her time at Community School. “The Outdoor Program fostered my love for the outdoors and taught me not only to be self-sufficient but also to respect the environment,” McKenna explained. “Community School provided me with the foundation for the adventures to which I now commit my life. The academic skills I acquired have also played a huge role in the success of my expeditions, whether it was in putting together trip proposals or grant applications. I hope to inspire others to form a connection with the environment.”

Photo Credit: KT Miller

This profile was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of CS Magazine.