Miss United States makes a layover in Summit County
Teacher, aspiring pilot hopes to inspire women in aviation
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the number of miles Miss United States Samantha Anderson has traveled in four months.
Silverthorne resident Cindy Ernst has been hosting fellow pilots in Summit County for decades. The skiing retreat started as a support group for women pilots to bond over their shared passion as they broke glass ceilings dealing with some of the professional challenges in the cockpit.
There’s a regular group of a dozen or so pilots, but as many as 40 people from around the world have landed to reconnect and share stories. The retreat is always in Summit County, and the women frequently bring their family and friends.
“We’re always all inclusive of our families, our mates, our best friends, our sisters, but the core group has to listen to all of our women pilot issues, which include engine failures, oil pressure issues, de-icing airplanes — our favorite topics,” Ernst said.
This year, one of the members of the group came with a crown and sash in her luggage. Miss United States Samantha Anderson spent Monday through Friday skiing runs like Bonanza and Blackhawk and visiting women she thinks of as aunts.
Anderson’s parents — both commercial pilots who flew for United Airlines and American Airlines, among others — came to Silverthorne before she was born and were longtime friends of Ernst and the others. The Virginia resident and Arizona native grew up skiing at Keystone, Telluride, Copper, Breckenridge and Vail, spending practically a quarter of each year in the region.
“There’s photos of me between my dad’s legs, my mom’s legs in a little pizza going down the mountain,” Anderson said. “There’s also several photos of me sitting on the ground eating the snow, too.”
Along with skiing, another passion of Anderson’s is flying. She is in the process of receiving her pilot’s license in a Diamond Aircraft DA40 — which she hopes to have before the end of the year — and is using her platform as Miss United States to promote women in aviation. Anderson is glad to be back among mentors because she hasn’t been able to visit since her junior year of college.
“It was really cool (coming out when I was younger), but I didn’t quite realize the impact of what they had previously done in the career field until I myself began to work on my own private pilot’s license,” Anderson said. “Then I realized and greatly appreciated all of the paving that these women in the field have done for us.”
Anderson said she wasn’t pressured into flying and that it was something she almost didn’t pursue. Her parents served as her flight instructors and encouraged her to do at least one flight before making up her mind.
The then-16-year-old did her first solo flight in Arizona. Eight months later, her parents died in a plane crash in Telluride in February 2014. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to fly again, but she got in the cockpit eight months after the crash to not give up her mother’s legacy.
“There’s really no point to be afraid of something because almost anything can derail your life in one way or another,” Anderson said. “You get in a car, you get on the slopes — I went down one run today on my back — almost anything can hurt you.”
Anderson followed in her mother’s footsteps with pageants, as well. Flying was something she and her dad bonded over, while pageants allowed her to become closer to her mom. Unfortunately, her mother never saw her win, as she won Miss Teen Arizona in April 2014. Anderson said people questioned her return to competition so soon, but she wanted to do any normal activity she could.
“I wanted to keep doing my teenager life the same way everyone else was doing their teenager life,” Anderson said. “… Just because this thing turned my life upside down didn’t mean I wasn’t going to get back to my life.”
That competition was her first time on the Miss United States stage, and she’s made it to that venue four times in seven years.
“Now that it’s finally mine, I’m cramming seven years of hopes and dreams into one year,” Anderson said. “In my first four months, I’ve traveled about 16,000 miles.”
Anderson’s itinerary has had her attend aviation events, speak at schools and more. She’s also working on a children’s book about grief as well as spending time with another passion: fashion.
A member of the National Gay Pilots Association, she recently started selling merchandise via the LGBTraveler brand and her S by S Designs is inspired by her life as a Montessori teacher. The clothing line takes cues from her students’ artwork, and she said the pockets in dresses make it practical anytime a young student hands their teacher a gift or dog treat or scrap paper. Anderson also said the material is “Crayola proof.”
But most important to Anderson, S by S Designs gives back. The company has three scholarships. The first helps students attend Montessori school, the second helps the school with materials or resources, and the third is for young women who have business ideas that need capital to get started.
“If this is the one thing that is in your way, I would like to be able fix it,” Anderson said.
When she isn’t making clothes or teaching, the 25-year-old wants to complete a personal goal by visiting every state before the end of the year. Anderson has just nine left.
But before all of that, Anderson enjoyed her time in Summit to simply relax, ski, share aviation stories and keep the legacy of her parents alive.
“It’s almost like a mini-sorority,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of like this little sisterhood that you kind of got into and the camaraderie is there so we continue to come back almost every year.”
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