Taylor Dobyns ’16 thrives in high-pressure situations. Earlier this month, after finishing 2nd in North America in the Freeride World Qualifier, she qualified for the 2024 Freeride World Tour, where elite freeskiers and snowboarders travel the globe to compete on huge mountains and extreme terrain. And, later this spring, she will graduate from law school at the University of Denver. “I definitely get the exact same adrenaline rush having my heart in my throat before dropping into these huge big mountain comp lines and before getting up in court and giving a closing argument,” Taylor says.
“My friends joke around that ‘Oh, of course you picked the only two professions – being a professional athlete or being a lawyer – where there’s a winner and a loser.’”
Here, Taylor tells us about her love of skiing, her plans to become a courtroom litigator, and how Holderness – with its balance of academics and athletics – prepared her for where she is today.
You just qualified for the 2024 Freeride World Tour. Congratulations!
Thank you! I feel like my whole life has kind of been turned upside down the last week or two. It’s been kind of crazy.
First off, could you explain what the Freeride World Tour is, and what Freeride is in general?
You basically go into these big backcountry venues with big rocks and trees and natural features and there is no terrain enhancement allowed, so you can’t build jumps or anything like that. You pick a line down this venue (a lot of times they’re out of bounds and hike-to terrain) and your baseline score from the judges is what they call your ‘line score’ and your line score is how difficult of a line you choose to ski down. Do you choose to ski down something really steep, or do you choose to go down a flatter part? Do you choose to jump off huge cliffs, or keep your feet on the ground the whole time? How challenging the line that you picked out is essentially your baseline score. And then building off of that score there are four other categories: fluidity, control, jumps, and technique.
You were a competitive ski racer during your time at Holderness. How did you get into Freeride?
I had no background whatsoever in Freeride. I came from a racing background. Truly, my feet had never left the ground before. But I ended up landing at the University of Denver (DU) for college and got to ski all the time. My skiing just progressed really quickly and my junior year I ended up getting involved with the competition scene. Actually, it was myself and a couple other Holderness alums at the University of Denver who kind of helped establish a Freeride team there. We’ve kind of got a big contingent of Holderness kids at DU, which is awesome. We would go around traveling and competing at all of the IFSA [International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association] competitions and it started out pretty small, really just a few friends. Now looking at the team it’s crazy. They have over 50 athletes, it’s highly competitive, and they’ve actually won the freeride collegiate series for the past three consecutive years, beating out huge schools like CU Boulder and the University of Utah.
You took your skiing to another level this year. Tell us about how you made the jump up to the Freeride World Tour.
These past three years have been quite demanding. I have been enrolled in law school full time while traveling across North America competing on the Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) circuit. The Freeride World Qualifier circuit is how you qualify for the Freeride World Tour. We’re in Region 2, which consists of North America and South America. It starts out with a preliminary round series, and during that series I traveled to Kirkwood, California; Crested Butte, Colorado; Revelstoke, British Columbia; and Copper, Colorado. And then right around March 1 they made cuts and they sent the top athletes from the FWQ circuit to a separate challenger series, and we were joined in that challenger series by the bottom half of the field from the Freeride World Tour. So there’s a three part challenger series, and our first stop was Whistler, British Columbia. Our second stop was Taos, New Mexico, and then our final championships were in Taos. So we had a field of 75 athletes – skiers, snowboarders, men, and women combined. We were fighting for our spot. They take two female skiers from North and South America combined, and I was fortunate to be the second-place female skier this year.
That’s amazing. It sounds like you were pretty busy this year!
The biggest question I get asked is how on earth were you traveling around the country, skiing professionally while also in law school full time? I feel that’s Holderness to a T. I learned to do more in an hour at Holderness than you would ever think is possible. I think it’s having that discipline and that structure that Holderness provided me with, where it really is possible to do it all when you have that discipline and structure in place. I’m really grateful to Holderness for providing me with such a great foundation and stepping stone to the success that I’ve had.
Tell us more about your time at Holderness.
I started at Holderness my sophomore year and I was U16 at that time, coached by Craig Antonides ’77, George Capaul, and Janice Dahl. And then moved up to the USSA and FIS level my next two years. It was a really awesome part of my Holderness experience. My closest friends were on the ski team and that was something I really enjoyed about my time at Holderness. It’s a cliché that you learn really good fundamentals racing, but it really is the truth. I credit a lot of the success that I’ve had to just those really solid fundamentals I learned skiing and racing on East Coast ice.
It seems like Holderness helped you become a great skier – but it also prepared you in the classroom, too.
I started at a ski academy in Vermont, Killington Mountain School, and then I transferred to Holderness my sophomore year. I really appreciated having a year-round community with serious academics. I’ve always enjoyed school. I frankly don’t even know if I appreciated how great of an education I was getting at Holderness until I went to college and felt leaps and bounds ahead of my peers, frankly. I think I did even better in college than I did in high school and better in law school than I did in college, and just having a really great foundation and just good study habits and work habits.
You’re about to graduate from law school. Is there a particular area of the law you’re focusing on?
I really enjoy litigation, so I love being in court. I don’t want to be the kind of lawyer that sits behind a desk and just drafts contracts all day. I really like working with people and getting up and giving closing arguments. That’s a lot more exciting and frankly more in line with my skills and interests than being a corporate desk lawyer. So right now I’m working at a family law firm in Denver where we do a lot of litigation. I get to work with people every day, which is awesome. This past summer I worked for the public defender’s office in Colorado. So that was really cool. I got to practice under the Student Practice Act, so I had my own caseload, my own clients, and I got to be in court every week. I think criminal law and family law both really interest me as being aligned with what I was describing – getting to work with people and be in court on a regular basis.
You just qualified for the Freeride World Tour a couple of weeks ago. How does this change your post-law school plans?
It still doesn’t quite feel real, to be honest. It’s still really sinking in. I feel like I had my whole life planned out to some extent. I’m graduating from law school in May, I’m taking the bar exam in July, I just accepted a position starting September 1, so I kind of had my whole life planned out to some extent and all of a sudden, it’s ‘Oh my gosh, no, you’re getting on a plane and going to Japan and Europe and going to get dropped off by helicopters at the top of these crazy faces all around the world.’ I’m trying to reevaluate how to fit in career and professional skiing and where this year is going to take me.