I remember the first time I saw Inge. She was fourteen, maybe fifteen, and she was in finals for Full Gravity Day, a bouldering competition at Spire Climbing Center here in Bozeman, Montana. She had competed that morning in the youth division, but she racked so many points they asked her to come back for finals in the evening.
Between competing that morning and that night, she went on a run for fun. Up to a peak.
A year or two later we became friends and started climbing together. It blew me away that she was a teenager. Ask anyone who knows Inge. She's an old soul, as they say. Frankly, she had her shit together a decade before I even knew how to start putting my poop in a group.
What's more, for years she was excelling in climbing, skiing, and running without anyone other than friends and the local outdoor community knowing. She'd show up for dinner and when asked what she did that day, she'd say, I went skiing. Not, oh, I skied three peaks in the mountains' nether-regions.
She's not one to brag, and when she received some sponsorships in recent years, I wasn't surprised. Now she's navigating the social media scene as a sponsored climber. (More on this in the interview below.) Also in the interview, you can experience Inge's thoughtful and genuine personality.
Ya, she crushes 5.14 sport climbs, wins ski mountaineering races, and runs like a toeheaded speed goat. But more than anything, she's a smart, soulful woman who strives to be her best self in all aspects of life.
Meet Inge PerkinS
Professional mountain athlete
Kelsey: What sports do you enjoy?
Inge: The desire to be in the mountains in general was instilled in me at a young age as I grew up in the outdoors of Montana. Thus, I have been pursuing sports that take me to magical places, not only mountains, for the majority of my life.
Climbing of different varieties is a main vein in my life, and over the past five years I have fallen back in love with backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. Trail running and cross-country skiing always bring me a lot of delight and I really enjoy yoga in itself and as a means for training for climbing.
K: How often do you workout? What do those workouts usually involve?
I: I don’t really know. As of right now when I am not in school, I climb, ski, do yoga, and/or run almost every day, but none of that ever feels like “working out”. If I am training, which I pretty much only do for climbing, I try to train three to four days a week depending on if I am climbing outside.
Most days I don’t train, I can’t resist doing something outside from skiing to running or even biking sometimes, even though I know it is not the most beneficial for letting my body recover and get stronger from the training I did.
K: How often would you say you get “out” to enjoy your sports?
I: Right now I feel incredibly privileged to have a work schedule and to live in a place that allows me to get outside to climb, ski, or run every day I feel motivated. I try to spend a full day resting and taking care of life once a week, which really ends up being more like once every two weeks.
When I have the opportunity to get out so much, I feel it is extremely important to try to stay in-tune with my body and motivation.
I try to never have the attitude that I “have” to do something outside and if my body or mind feels wreaked in the first ten minutes to hour of some activity, I’ll turn around and make cookies and knit at home.
This, to me, is so important for staying physically healthy and keeping the fire going for all that I do. When I am in school, my schedule is way different and I usually get out skiing or climbing every weekend and maybe two days during the week.
Those days I get to go out while in school, I am SO EXCITED; it is almost easier to stay motivated and push myself.
K: What are some of your favorite places to go?
Everywhere I have been…
Right now, if I had to choose a few places, I would probably say Wyoming and West Virginia. The climbing, landscape, people, and atmosphere of both places are just fantastic.
K: What companies sponsor you?
I: SCARPA, Mystery Ranch, Power Company Climbing, and Petzl on a small level.
K: What does being “a sponsored athlete” mean to you?
I: Being a “sponsored athlete” has a lot of interpretations these days. To me, it is receiving support from a company in the form of gear and/or moneyfor the sport you are pursuing.
The support not only allows and encourages the athlete to continue pursuing the sport at a high level, but it also becomes a responsibility of the athlete to represent the companies that sponsors her and to be an ambassador to the sport.
Companies have various expectations of their athletes as well. Some want the athletes to be performing at the highest level, i.e. climbing the hardest routes or winning competitions consistently, while other companies prefer having faces to represent their brand that are more approachable to the general public. This includes individuals in school, with a family, or with a job outside of pursuing their sport who still get after it and push themselves.
K: How have sponsorships changed your relationship to your sport(s)? (If they haven’t, please explain why.)
I: Overall, my relationship to climbing and skiing has benefited from the sponsorship I have received. However, the more I have been exposed to sponsorship, the more careful I have learned to become.
Receiving gear sponsorships from companies I really admire has been incredible; it has made climbing and skiing through school and other life events much more accessible and given me confidence in the directions I have taken my life.
I really enjoy being a part of companies such as Mystery Ranch, SCARPA, and Power Company Climbing whose philosophies I connect with, communities I feel welcome and excited to be a part of, and gear/product of the highest quality.
It is like being a part of a family that has high expectations for each other but fully supports everyone in their pursuits; I feed off of that energy and excitement for achieving my own goals. However, being a part of a family that is always pushing it and encouraging each other is also where it becomes dangerous to me.
It can be easy to begin to be influenced to do things that will be seen as “badass” and marketable but do not align with your personal objectives and direction. That is when the sport, or more like lifestyle, can lose such precious meaning to the individual. And that personal relationship with outdoor pursuits such as skiing and climbing is so important for staying present in your surroundings and making the best choices possible.
That sense of approval and admiration can be addicting, for me at least. I have noticed it with social media as one example. I have tried to define a healthy relationship with social media for myself, but at times I have posted a photo that receives positive feedback and I can’t help but be affected by how many people “like” it or comment. These are just numbers and should not mean much to me, but it can influence me to feel more proud of what I did and desire that feeling of approval again.
I don’t think it is a bad thing to share moments and experiences that you are excited about via social media, but I am afraid of loosing touch with my true inner desires and motivation for doing things. Thus, for me, it is important to take a step back and go on adventures for myself alone shared with good company to remind me why I am out in the mountains or at a crag.
And if I don’t feel motivated or it doesn’t feel right, I won’t do it; I don’t need to do it for a company or some social media post. Staying aware of how companies and social media could influence my outdoor pursuits is very manageable when I have a close relationship to companies who support me with gear for my passions. But when money is thrown in to the mix, I think the waters can get murky and I am a bad swimmer.
I totally respect those who make climbing or other sports their career; if they know that is what they want and are able to constantly push themselves in a sport, and being in the spotlight is appealing, then that is awesome. I guess I am just afraid of the relationship I have with my outdoor pursuits changing, and I love the relationship I have now.
I want to continue to grow as a climber, skier, runner, and yogi in an organic way while putting time and effort into my life in areas that have nothing to do with the sports I enjoy.
I also really enjoy having a more active role in the climbing community as an athlete for companies. Having the opportunity to teach clinics, be a part of climbing events, and have a bit more of a role in encouraging a positive growth of such a special sport is an honor to me.
K: What does beautiful mean to you?
Form and function is beautiful in all areas of the world, and this applies to humans. Form and function in humans involves being physically and mentally healthy, which can also branch off in so many directions. All of our bodies function differently and we all have different ideas of how we want our bodies to perform, thus the “form” of our bodies will and should also be different.
Watching humans perform and continually progress in an area of interest of theirs is beautiful, whether it be dancing, music, athletics, academics, politics, science, and so on.
Wearing certain clothes, jewelry, haircuts, etc. is a fun way to highlight what we individually believe are key components of our “form”.
K: How has/have your sport(s) shaped your body image and your relationship to your body in general?
I: I am eternally grateful for how the sports I do, primarily climbing and skiing, have shaped my relationship to my body. One thing that can be an appealing aspect to being an athlete is being able to control and tune the body to continually improve in such specific areas.
Training, managing my diet, sleep, and mental health are all areas I work on as an athlete and trying to manipulate these areas with the ultimate goal of improving physical performance directs this control in a healthy way.
I think if I did not have such a strong passion for these outdoor sports that requires me to maintain a strong and healthy body and peaceful mind, my tendencies to want to control my body could be expressed in unhealthy ways that spiral out of control.
Climbing, skiing, running, and being in the mountains in general is such a huge part of who I am and I hope for more than anything else to continue to be able to do these things until I can’t even dress myself… and then keep being outside. To me this is a different outlook than just wanting to get stronger, better, faster at that moment.
Working to be able to continue my athletic pursuits as long as I can involves getting stronger, eating wholesome food that sustains me, and injury prevention; it is also so important to me to stay relaxed and ultimately not take any of it that seriously.
Staying mentally healthy, not restricting myself all the time, and keeping stress, the number one killer in my opinion, at bay is huge. I don’t have a problem with eating “unhealthy” food, partying, not always training; it all just has to be done in moderation.
K: What advice would you give women and/or fellow athletes in general to better enjoy their unique bodies?
I think one of the biggest things is to remember that it is ok and normal to not always love your body.
There are days where I look in the mirror and don’t think my body is ideal or days I am frustrated because I feel weak and tired, but that is part of being human and motivation to continuously improve.
In addition, those moments are the most important time for me to reflect on what does make me so grateful for my body and makes me excited for everything I will get to experience with my body in the future.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to let it all loose on the dance floor. It is the most wonderful way to forget any notions of others judging you and for me one of the most special times for my emotions and movements to connect.
Thank you, Inge, for being a part of the series!