Editor’s Note: At press time, Lily Bradley posted on Instagram that they tore their MCL in Austria and wouldn’t be able to finish the tour this year. Fortunately, it appears surgery isn’t required and recovery should be swift.

Where Europe and Asia come together among the towering peaks of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, 21-year-old Tahoe local Lily Bradley confidently skied their way to a third-place finish in a breathtaking run at the Freeride World Tour’s Georgia Pro on Feb. 29. The third and final of the qualifying events this season took place on Peak Kakhiani, a 3,706-meter tall mountain in the Gvalda Range near the Georgian town of Mestia. Bradley put together a solid run with competent and technical turns, impressive cliff drops, and high speeds to secure their first podium finish of the season.

SEND IT! When the powder settled, Bradley had finished the qualifiers with 11,520 combined points from the top two of the three events, good enough for the sixth and last spot to enter the finals, which began March 12 in Austria. Photo by Dominique Daher/Freeride World Tour

Now in their third year on the world tour, Bradley seems destined to carve tracks on the world’s premier big mountain stage despite challenges, bumps, and injuries along the way. However, their ambitions for inclusivity and acceptance for queer athletes in outdoor sports rival their desire for personal accomplishments.

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Bradley, who grew up in Tahoe City, began cultivating their skiing talent at the tender age of one and a half, progressed from Mighty Mites to racing to the big mountain team at Palisades by 9 years old before joining the Olympic Valley Freestyle team from the ages of 12 to 18. After graduating from North Tahoe High School, Bradley put competitive skiing on hold to study political science at UC Berkeley, but struggled with mental health while in their first year there. Their parents thought it would improve Bradley’s mental health to compete in qualifying ski competitions in 2021, and lent them their car to get to events. It was then that Bradley qualified for the Freeride World Tour.

“Being able to focus on skiing has really helped my mental health a lot,” Bradley said. “It forces me to be really active and to be goal-oriented.”

After only one year on the Freeride World Tour Qualifiers in 2021, Bradley finish fourth overall in the Ski Women category in their first year on the pro tour in 2022. The competition is a points-based system judged on overall impressions of five criteria: line, control, technique, fluidity, and air and style. Athletes descend a technical mountain face, often with cliff drops, high-speed turns, narrow chutes, and harrowing pitches of up to 50 degrees.

However, Bradley’s 2023 season was cut short by a knee injury while practicing 360s before the first event of  the tour. This season, Bradley placed seventh at the 2024 Verbier Pro in January in Switzerland and took fourth at the 2024 Kicking Horse Golden BC Pro in British Columbia in February. Going into the Georgia event, Bradley’s overall rank was sixth, just making the cut to compete in the tour’s final two events.

With their third-place finish in Georgia, Bradley secured a spot and qualified for the season’s final events in Fieberbrunn, Austria, and Verbier, Switzerland, and is now poised to make a run at the FWT24 World Championship title.

Bradley’s professional talent sometimes clashes with their values. “I feel a lot of friction with the pro skiing world,” Bradley said. “It’s a colonial space and it’s built on the exploitation of nature and resources. It is incredibly white and elite and exclusive.”

Last fall Bradley was among the athletes featured in Ryan Collins’s film People Like Us, which you can now view online. Collins navigates being a queer man in Revelstoke, British Columbia, and connects with Bradley and other queer winter athletes as they share their stories and navigate their relationships with small town mountain culture.

“The ski space is rally saturated with cis people and patriarchy,” Bradley said. “It’s not always a super affirming space to be in. And that can be overwhelming.”

Bradley realizes, however, that being open about their sexual identity is something that athletes in the past didn’t always feel comfortable doing. “I don’t feel like I’ve been alive long enough to experience a big shift,” Bradley said. “Talking to older queer athletes, they talk a lot about how different it is to be in the snow sports world, and seeing how open people my age get to be about queerness is very different from their experiences.”

But Bradley does say they notice more support for queer athletes than there used to be in the past. “I think there’s definitely a shift with different brands wanting to highlight diversity,” they said. “I think there’s a lot more support for queer athletes than there used to be as far as sponsorships and film projects.”

For instance, they point to a change in this year’s tour. “On tour this year the announcers have been trying really hard to incorporate using they/them pronouns. They’re not being perfect, but they’re trying really hard,” Bradley said.

As far as their career aspirations are concerned, Bradley’s focus is less centered on their individual accomplishments and more concentrated on general inclusivity and accessibility to the sport. A change in the ski film industry that includes more story-driven and experimental content is on the horizon, Bradley said. In addition to hobbies such as writing, painting, drawing, and writing music, Bradley has creative aspirations similar to Collins. “I’d like to make some more cool, independent queer ski films,” Bradley said. “I think it would be really fun to highlight more trans, queer, nonbinary.”

Their goal of inclusivity goes beyond the ski world.

“My career goals are just to be able to use my platform to get more people into skiing,” Bradley said. “Not just skiing, but more access to outdoors.”

BE YOURSELF: “Find the people in your space that make you feel comfortable and confident,” Lily Bradley said.” Photos by Jeremy Bernard/Freeride World Tour

~ Bill Hatfield is a freelance writer specializing in travel, nature, and outdoor sports. After over 20 years in the tourism industry as a ski patroller, backcountry camp manager, and park ranger, he decided to slow down a bit and now delivers the mail and rides bikes across countries when he can. Follow him on Instagram @bike_rack_on_tour.  

Author

  • Bill Hatfield

    Bill Hatfield is a freelance writer specializing in travel, nature, and outdoor sports writing. After over twenty years in the tourism industry as a ski patroller, backcountry camp manager, and park ranger, he decided to slow down a bit and now delivers the mail and rides bikes when he can—across countries. Follow him on Instagram @ bike_rack_on_tour.

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