Zoë Taylor ’17 is literally an international phenomenon, from her World Cup title to her command of four languages. We sat down with Taylor to learn more about what other adventures she has had.
Let’s start with the basics. Where do you live?
I’m from Atlanta, Ga. but I used to live in Steamboat Springs, Colo. for half the year throughout high school and currently I live in Tyler House.
Why did you spend half of the year in Colorado?
I was a highly competitive telemark skier. Telemark skiing is regular skiing except that your heel isn’t attached, so to turn, you go into a lunge position. It’s actually the original type of skiing. Fun fact.
So you had to switch places for the snow?
Yeah. When I was about 11, I think, I was skiing and someone – who turned out to be then captain of the US team – just skied up to my dad was like, “Hey, have you ever thought about your daughter racing?” And for a couple years, I did a few races and then in eighth grade I started living [in Colorado] for the entire winter. I went to school there so I would do the first semester in Atlanta and then try to take as many corresponding classes in Colorado as possible so that meant like junior and senior year, I took AP Chemistry and AP Bio on my own and just tried to keep up so I could be ready to go back to Atlanta. I skyped into my junior-year English class every day. I had that time off in Colorado so I would walk home, Skype, walk back to school. And then I would come back to Atlanta about three weeks before finals and take finals there.
Would you have gone to the Olympics, because you were on the US team?
Telemark skiing is not in the Olympics, but it is a World Cup event so I went to many World Cup races, and when I was 16, I actually won a World Cup race.
Wow. What was that like?
It was at my home mountain, where I trained, and my parents were there, my grandpa was there, a lot of my friends were there. It was an elimination thing, so you race directly against someone else, so as the night was going on I was getting closer and closer to the finals, and at each step of the way I was like, “You know what, if I just make it here, it’ll be amazing. I’ve already made it so far.” I literally won one race by 4/1000ths or 4/100ths of a second, I can’t remember which one, but at each moment I was like, “If I just end here, I will be so happy.” And I think winning was one of the most incredible moments of my entire life. I’m fairly certain I was the first US woman telemark skier to win in 12 or 15 years and the first US telemark skier overall to win in a decade, and I think I was tied with someone else – some alpiner – as the youngest person to ever win a World Cup. It was a very surreal moment.
Have you kept up with skiing here?
Kind of. Due to a back injury and a focus on academics, I have retired from the US team. So now I teach through WOC but mostly it’s just for fun. I definitely like it like that.
Did you have the option of going to college versus being a professional skier?
It would have been really hard to be professional because telemark isn’t in the Olympics yet, and that defines a lot of what the professional world looks like in terms of skiing. I definitely could have chosen to go a different school, one where skiing was more possible and I could have taken second semester off every year and do the whole World Cup circuit. Staying on the [national] team and fully immersing myself would mean that I wouldn’t be able to be here for a lot of time. I knew going into the college application process that academics were more important to me than my skiing and most of the schools I looked at were the NESCAC schools. I wanted to be in New England, where I could ski, but my focus was definitely my academics.
What are your academic interests?
I am an Art History major and I am pre-med.
What kind of a doctor do you want to be?
I would like to be an OBGYN. In the past year, I’ve really understood what feminism means specifically to me and how I specifically relate to feminism, and I have realized what I am really passionate about – women’s health and safety – and I think that made me realize that I wanted to work with women in my life and being an OBGYN seems the best way to do that. I joined RASAN and SWAG, which is the new club that Gabriela Kallas ’16 is starting to go to Mount Greylock High School and teach consent and sexual wellness and good relationships to high school students so I’m treasurer of that club. I’m actually also treasurer of WOC board. I’m really involved with WOC. I joined WOC board because I’ve been doing outdoors stuff my entire life.
What kind of outdoors stuff?
The outdoors has always been a part of my life. When 9/11 happened, my parents sort of sat us down and explained to us the idea of terrorism and that it’s to instill fear and so my brother and I, being six and eight and woefully naïve, decided that we were going to do something to show the terrorists that we were going to be around for a long time. So we decided to start hiking the Appalachian Trail and as a family we’ve done over 900 miles of it. So I’ve done all the way from Georgia to about a third of the way through Virginia. And then I was raised spending my Thanksgivings going out to Red Rocks, Nev., and climbing and cooking turkeys over an open fire, and we did a lot of kayaking growing up.
What’s one of your most memorable ski travel experiences?
So the American team is judged sometimes for not speaking other languages and one time all of the teams were together and it was kind of a mob scene and getting a plate was really difficult and I found myself next to the French team. Basically I walked up to them and started speaking French to them and one of them grabbed a stack of plates and started handing them out to his teammates and finally he turned to me and very ceremoniously gave me a plate and said, “This is what we do to an American who speaks French. Or any language besides English.”
You speak French? How did you learn French?
I went to an international school for 10 years, so it was an immersion program. Every other day was taught in French. As opposed to learning French, you learned in French.
Is there a reason you went there? Are your parents French?
Nope. I think they just thought it was a very valuable thing. So I ended up studying French for 14 years and I studied Latin for three.
Do you study any languages here?
I am taking Italian and I am learning German on my own time.
Did you make any international friends that you’ve kept in touch with?
My last year racing, there was a group of us who were pretty close. It was me, a girl from Norway, and a girl from Germany. And actually, the girl from Norway snapchatted me last year because she was sitting on a train and she remembered that I went to Williams, and she sent me a Snapchat of a girl sitting across from her who had a Williams Skiing sweater on. So apparently someone on the alpine team was sitting on the train across from one of my really good friends from Norway. I’ve been trying to find them. So if you were an alpine skier in Norway last year, let me know because my friend took a creepy Snapchat of you.