The mountains were always there for Kailee Gielgens; it just took her awhile to see them. Now, she can’t imagine her life without them. Gielgens was in high school when a friend first invited her to take a drive up to Lee Canyon for a day of snowboarding. It didn’t take long for her interest in the sport to escalate into a full-blown passion.
While studying at UNLV, Gielgens hit the mountains as often as her schedule allowed. After graduating with a communications degree in 2008, she hoped to leave Las Vegas for snowier climes, but the economy had other plans for her. So she stayed in town and got a job serving cocktails on the Strip, first at Tabu—where she also was the club’s poster girl—and then Wet Republic.
But the mountains still beckoned, and in 2009, Gielgens moved to Park City, Utah, for the winter, hitting the slopes during the day and mixing Manhattans and Old Fashions at night. Since then, she’s been a “reverse snowbird,” spending summers in Las Vegas and following the chill to Park City each winter. Last summer, she worked at the Hard Rock Hotel’s poolside club, Rehab, and returned to Park City at the end of the Vegas pool season in late October. “The pools are great money,” she says, “but it’s slow in the winter, and four months of downtime is too much.”
Money is the main reason Gielgens, 26, has come home to Las Vegas each year, but that may be about to change. “Now I have enough in my bank account that I might not have to come back,” she says. She has job options in Park City, and she’s been putting her Vegas nightlife experience to good use there, helping bring such amenities as bottle service to the area.
Gielgens says the camaraderie she has found in Park City is unlike anything she experienced in Las Vegas, and she’s willing to deal with cold-weather inconveniences such as shoveling snow and letting her car heat up for 15 minutes before going somewhere to pursue her passion.
“With everything there’s pros and cons,” she says. “And if you’re an active outdoors person, Park City is the mecca of outdoor activities. So it’s definitely the place to be.”
As for the future, Gielgens hasn’t made any definite plans. Although graduate school is still a remote possibility, she might just stick with bartending for now and try to move up within the industry. She also wouldn’t mind finding a public-relations gig for an outdoor sports-related company. Wherever she ends up, it’ll likely be with a snowboard strapped to her feet.
“It’s almost emotionally overwhelming when you’re standing on top of that mountain and you can look over an entire range of white-capped mountains,” she says. “You feel like you’re one with nature; it’s almost like a sense of nirvana. And then you haul ass off the top of the mountain.”