Women Who Crush It: Andrea Charest

Andrea Charest is a climber, skier, and co-owner of Petra Cliffs, an indoor climbing center and mountaineering school. We caught up with Andrea at her Bolton, Vermont home over some backyard bouldering with the family, which includes her husband and business partner Steve, 18-month-old daughter McKinley, and their Swiss Mountain dog Skadi.

P1010488
All photos by Rachel Cohen

goEast: You and your husband Steve own a climbing gym and guiding service in Vermont. You must wear a lot of hats! Would you tell us a little more about what a typical day is like for you?

Andrea: A lot of hats and helmets is a good description. And, now with the “mom” hat, I’ve realized that I need to get up earlier to fit everything into the day! Most days, I get up and make coffee, return some emails or do some other work, get McKinley up, have breakfast, prepare lunch and toddler meals, and, on work days, either head out to the rock or ice climbing area to meet a client or head into the gym. The guiding days are all different, depending on the guest, but my favorite days are when we’re climbing a multi-pitch route or two, and we get to be high off the ground for hours.

In the gym, I’m working on the accounting side, promotion/advertising strategy, planning events, or, especially now, working on the new gym project planning. When we get home, we’ll play, cook dinner, do dishes, catch up on emails again, watch a movie or go in the hot tub, and go to bed! Steve and I are fortunate to have three days of care for McKinley per week, and we each spend one weekday home with her, so we get a lot of “training weight” hikes in with the baby backpack, which, of course, Skadi the Swissy loves, too.

goEast: Over the years, you have held lots of roles at Petra Cliffs, all the way from gym rat to running the whole show. Today, the success of your climbing gym and guide business determines your livelihood! It seems like you are part climbing professional, part business owner, and part climbing enthusiast. So, how has your relationship with the sport of climbing evolved through all these professional changes?

Andrea: I’m finally getting better at having conversations with people who don’t climb—especially now that I have a kid—but sometimes, going to gatherings of non-climbers is a challenge to find conversation topics. My life definitely revolves around climbing! But, being a business owner has tied me in a lot more with the Burlington community, and now, planning a project in the city has connected us to an even greater variety of professionals. I’m very thankful for this, and it’s fun to see those folks looking to us as the local experts in our industry. We need to be fully immersed in climbing to be able to promote the sport and business the way we do!

P1010457-2

goEast: What’s been your favorite role over the years?

Andrea: Overall, just working with people, whether that’s been coaching the climbing team, teaching women’s clinics, and even now just guiding. Getting out is where I’d prefer to be, but I’ve also grown a new side of myself that loves being a total nerd, where seeing accounting numbers line up can be really satisfying! So, I don’t know if I’ve had one favorite position, but working with all these people who love the sport of climbing is great. It’s hard to have a really bad day at Petra Cliffs, ‘cause people are doing what they love!

goEast: I bet it can get confusing sometimes with what is work and what is play. How do you balance those two? How do you draw a line between what is just for fun and what is for work?

Andrea: Family and play are definitely important to me, but our business is our baby, as well, and we want to see it grow and thrive. It’s hard to completely turn off the work brain, because we wear our logo on clothing, and even on most of our “off” days, we still strike up conversations that lead back to Petra Cliffs. There’s not a hard line between the two, and that’s why we chose this lifestyle, because, even when we’re working, we’re getting to do what we love, with people we enjoy. So much of our life is our work. There’s not always a border—it’s so much of a fluid thing. We’re always moving between the two.

P1010505

goEast: Where’s your favorite place to play here in Vermont? Favorite local crag, or somewhere not even climbing?

Andrea: Locally, Bolton and Smugglers’ Notch. Though I’ve climbed there a ton, they are two areas where I still have yet to investigate everything there is to offer. Smugglers’ Notch has definitely been a sleepy little secret, but it’s gaining popularity with more route development. And, right here at home in Bolton, there is really great rock. And, then, within 45 minutes of home offers so much quality adventure, from climbing mellow to steep multi-pitch ice, four-pitch rock routes to skiing incredible backcountry, and then, playing on Lake Champlain or in all of our cold little mountain streams! I love being in between the White Mountains and the Adirondacks. Here in Vermont, we’re lucky, because we’re right in the middle of the two.

goEast: The lure of big mountains in the West and in Europe is enticing for so many of us. What keeps you settled here in Vermont?

Andrea: Steve and I always thought we’d move out West together, but things were just always too good to leave. The longer we’ve stayed here, the better things have gotten. Being able to have a consistent job and being able to guide have kept us here. We can balance indoor work and guiding, and make it into a year-round position, whereas a lot of guides are nomads chasing the work. But, for us, when the weather is bad, indoor programs benefit from that. Then, when the weather is good, we all get to be outside, so it’s really complementary. And, then, we get to come home and sleep in our own beds. Enjoying our jobs, having seasons, good-quality climbing, being within a few hours of family, and having a convenient airport nearby, so we can get out when we need to, are all parts of why we stay!

P1010472

goEast: On your worldwide list, where is one place you still want to climb or ski?

Andrea: The highest on the list of climbing big routes are the Bugaboos, the Cirque of the Unclimbables, the Sierras, Patagonia, and back in the Alps. I’d also settle for sunny sport climbing in Greece and Spain! I need to go do some ski mountaineering in Chamonix and Switzerland. And, I’d love to get back to Alaska.  

goEast: You “crush it” in so many ways—in the business, out climbing and skiing, and now as a new mom! What would you want your daughter to know about what being a “woman who crushes it” is all about?

First, I always think it’s funny that I’m considered a woman who crushes it, but thank you! For McKinley, I would tell her to let experience guide her. There will be success, and when things don’t go quite as you’d like them to, you’ll learn something for the next time. Don’t let that discourage you from trying again. I often think about the Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto, which ends by saying, “I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you.” I think that women who crush it are both kind and confident. That’s how I hope she sees me, and what I’m able to show her.

P1010475