For Kalen Thorien, having a normal life and career was never an option. Straight out of high school, she moved to Alta, Utah and just two years later, she became a professional skier. However, Thorien’s love for adventure didn’t stop on the slopes. Today, she’s known as a professional adventurer and travels the globe exploring new places, whether by plane or by Harley. She’s a wanderer to her core and has no plan to settle down in one place anytime soon.
How did your childhood help foster a love for the outdoors and what are some of your strongest memories of being in nature as a kid?
I was lucky to be in the pre-smart phone generation. The outdoors were our iPhones, so whether it was sneaking into construction sites to play in mud, climbing trees in my backyard, or swimming in the local river, it was just second nature to be outside. My passion for exploration and adventure didn’t come until my late teens. When I started skiing at 16, that was the catalyst for all things in the mountains. Besides sliding down snow, I wanted to roam the wilderness whenever possible. Wake up in a tent every morning. Go further into the unknown. Outdoor domino effect, you could say.
What led you to become a professional skier and how did that lead you to become a four-season athlete with Salomon? I never thought I’d be a pro-skier; the odds weren’t in my favor. I started late, never had formal training, and didn’t grow up in a hardcore skiing family. My intentions for skiing were doing it as much as possible and I’d work whatever odd jobs I had to to make it happen. I moved to Utah after high school and got a job at Alta Ski Resort flipping burgers and washing dishes. Not the most glamorous work, but it got me out skiing everyday. Trying to keep up with the boys pushed me, and my abilities increased rapidly. I started to get recognized by photographers and magazines, which led to me getting published. When I landed the cover of Powder Magazine (skiing’s biggest publication), things really started to take off. I picked up brands but got caught in the flux of being a sponsored skier. I joined a wildland fire crew in 2012. It was tough work, but I was able to make enough money every summer to take my winters off, focus on skiing, and actually feed myself in the process.
A gamble is what eventually landed me Salomon. I was planning on becoming a wildland firefighter full-time. It seemed like a smart move, working for the government. Before I dove into that commitment, I needed one summer for myself to have fun and explore. I had just enough money saved, so I bought a camera and made a promise to myself to wake up in a tent as much as possible. I documented this journey and my social media took off in the process. Salomon was looking for a four-season female athlete that summer and my name came up. Being four-season means I not only promote the brand in the winter through skiing, but also the rest of the year with their other products (hiking, running, backpacking, etc). This concept wasn’t common so it gave me the edge over other potential candidates and in July 2015, I signed with Salomon. I said goodbye to firefighting and flipping burgers, I was now able to work as an athlete full-time and actually make a living.
What does it mean to be a professional adventurer and how does your lifestyle differ from your average 29-year-old?
It’s still a funny title, adventurer. For me it’s finding new places to explore, document, and share those stories with others. Inspiring people to challenge themselves, discover our world, or simply step out of the office on occasion. It makes for an unpredictable life, though. I find myself on the road substantially more than at home. I ended up living in a camper for a few years so I didn’t have to deal with a permanent residence. Relationships are not easy. Friendships are even trickier to maintain. I’m alone a lot. You have to be confident in yourself and not fear the unknown. The road isn’t always easy to maneuver, but trusting the process and knowing great things are always on the horizon helps keep me motivated and moving.
What does it mean to be known as “The Wanderer,” and what led you to get this word tattooed on your knuckles?
It was the acceptance that I’m never going to be ‘normal.’ As I got older, there was the itch of having some regularity in my life. Settling down, finding a significant other, traveling less. But that was short-lived and I quickly became unhappy being tied down. I had to recognize that I just wasn’t — nor will I ever be — designed for a normal life. That my place is being in motion; on the open road, in the wild. If that means having to sacrifice some things, then so be it. I got ‘Wanderer’ tattooed to remind myself this is who I am and will always be.
What inspired you to purchase a Harley-Davidson and how has riding impacted your life as a professional adventurer?
I’ve always been a motorhead. My dad and I would fix cars together when I was young and I secretly wanted to be a racecar driver. I always loved motorcycles but could never afford one, especially when every penny I was making was going towards my blossoming skiing career. The final straw was when I was riding on the back of a guy’s Dyna. I was staring at this head in front of me and so badly wanted to see the road. I knew I needed to be riding one of these. But I was still hesitant, it seemed like such a huge journey. I had never ridden a real motorcycle before. Where do I even start?
Well, right after that experience, I set off on an 18-day off-trail traverse of the Sierra Mountains in California. I had a lot of time to think, with a large part of that headspace taken over by the thought of riding a Harley. After accomplishing what was the hardest hike of my life, I gained a newfound confidence and knew that if I could walk 270 miles by myself, riding a motorcycle was nothing. I scoured the internet for over month and finally found Blue, my 1993 Harley FXR. She was perfect. I drove through the night to Denver, loaded up the bike, took my rider’s course the next week, and the rest is history.
Riding has impacted me to a degree I wasn’t expecting. It’s consumed my life. Every waking hour I’m thinking about riding. Where to go next. How far I can push the boundaries. There’s a beautiful symbiosis with adventure and riding. The ability to suffer, handle situations with a calm head, push through exhaustion and being okay with being uncomfortable were all lessons I learned as a traveler and firefighter. It’s helped me significantly in my riding. What’s really interesting is the lessons I’ve learned from owning a motorcycle. I’ve always been an independent person. I don’t like relying on people. I do most things solo, and with that, I gained a somewhat selfish attitude. I figured everyone needs to handle their own shit. Deal with their own problems. I never asked for help nor would I offer mine. Once I started riding, I noticed the tight bonds people have in the community. The brotherhood. People drop what they’re doing to help a fellow rider out. Loyalty and family is a keystone to the community and I formed friendships with people that were stronger than anything I had in my life. It made me realize that I can still be the lone wolf I’ve always been, but having love for others and taking care of my new family was just as important.
Which of your tattoos are related to riding motorcycles and what’s the meaning behind them?
I have three. One is a heart that’s fused with an Evo motor and says ‘Live to Ride, Ride to Live’ (classic). My Evo had become my heartbeat and I knew my bike was the love of my life. I got a gumball machine tattoo from Oliver Peck at the HD-115 after maybe having one too many beers. You spin a gumball machine and whatever pops out is what you get! It was cool to talk with Oliver about his million bikes and all the crazy shenanigans he’s gotten himself into. The most recent one was inspired by my Lords of Gastown family. It’s a vintage-style tattoo. The face of Vivian Bales with “Freedom is a Full Tank” tattooed around. She’s been a massive inspiration (first woman to ride cross country on a Harley), and freedom truly is found with a full tank of gas and nothing but open road ahead.