Breaking the ice ceiling -- Meet the women dominating snowboarding films
This is the winter of women. Scan this season's most popular snowboard videos and it seems like women are having their moment in the snow. With the release of "Full Moon," an all-women's snowboard film directed and produced by all-around snowboard guru Leanne Pelosi and featuring the heaviest cast of female freeriders ever assembled, and big-mountain charger Kimmy Fasani's full part in the otherwise all-male video "AfterForever" from Absinthe Films, women are breaking through the ice ceiling. The industry is taking notice.
Through the magic of Skype, we connected with Pelosi, who is at home in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Fasani, who is visiting her family in Lake Tahoe, California, to discuss their respective projects, the energy surrounding women in snowboarding and why each of their films moved the needle for women this winter.
espnW: The phrase "the year of the woman" has been used to describe the past several years, in sports and beyond. I'm feeling a desire to toss it out now to describe this season in snowboarding. Is that accurate? What is the current atmosphere for women pro snowboarders?
Kimmy Fasani: I feel the "year of the woman" keeps coming up because we aren't ever going to give up. We are all chasing passions that are so inspiring, and there are more of us making an impact and showing that we aren't just going to be here for a short period of time. Leanne and I have conversations about this all the time. We feel like we try so hard to be seen. Social media is helping to showcase how many powerful women there are out there, and we are beginning to have more support in our industry.
Leanne Pelosi: In the last 10 years, media has drastically changed. And now more than ever, anybody can do whatever they want, on their own, and garner their own community through social media. It has been a struggle. We are always fighting to grow the community. I think it's my responsibility to help grow the next generation and help girls chase their career paths within the industry.
I want to see more women hired in high-level jobs in companies and keep feeding the cycle. I want to smash through the one-girl-per-company way of thinking. It seems like there's always room for just one girl to be sponsored. Our culture is brainwashed into thinking that there's not much room for women. If I can do anything, it's to change that idea and create a platform for more women.
espnW: Kimmy is the first woman in four years to be featured in an Absinthe Films project. Leanne, what does it mean for young girls to see Kimmy representing female snowboarders in the backcountry in an otherwise all-male film?
LP: It's a direct reflection of Kimmy's work ethic and desire to push down boundaries. She stepped into Alaska, where it would probably have been so uncomfortable to get in a helicopter with the best guys in the world who've been riding together in Alaska for 15 years. That is admirable and inspiring for anybody, guys or girls, and it sent a positive message. I hope [Absinthe Films director] Justin Hostynek is stoked, and maybe this opens the door for other women.
KF: I hope so, too.
espnW: What was it like to get in that helicopter?
KF: Scary. I was with a crew I didn't really know, guys I admired and respected, but didn't know if they would respect me or give me opportunities to ride lines. Because of that, I was able to listen to myself and tune in to what I wanted to do.
As soon as I got out of that heli, I had to have a line picked, and it was fast decision making. It was the first time in years that I had to rely on what I knew I was capable of without the confidence of turning to my best friend or one of the girls and saying, "You think I've got this?" I had to really trust myself and it was a powerful, grounding experience.
espnW: Leanne, for the first time -- ever? -- you and your entire crew went to Haines, Alaska, to film for your movie. What was that experience like?
LP: It was a struggle. It was my first time in Haines, and we didn't know the terrain. It was a lot of inward development. You have fears of being dropped off on this crazy terrain and avalanches and so much is going through your mind. You're so scared. Then you get to the bottom and you're so stoked. Whether it's women or men supporting you at that moment, it doesn't matter.
KF: It's a matter of being able to control your mind. Ninety percent of snowboarding in Alaska is mental. As soon as you have your mind right, you can ride and have the best time of your life. It was so empowering to see Leanne and so many ladies ripping in Alaska. It was really powerful.
espnW: Kimmy, what does it mean for women snowboarding to have Leanne's film, which features so many of the best female freeriders of the past 20 years, holding premieres around the world?
KF: It's something that is only done by Leanne. No other woman has taken this role and put women's snowboarding on a world stage. The best females, the best riding, represented in a way that's inspiring and aspirational. It's a project full of love and you can tell that when you're watching the film. It's a testament to women, showing what we are capable of, what we've been doing for years.
Leanne has always been the most forward-thinking entrepreneur in snowboarding, from the days when she was winning contests to now, and we need those types of women to show us that we are so much more capable than we think we are. Leanne, I bow to you.
LP: And I, to you!
espnW: Kimmy, you were filming with Absinthe at the same time Leanne and her crew were filming "Full Moon". How did you make the decision to say yes to Absinthe, even though it meant not being able to play a bigger role in "Full Moon"?
KF: It is so heavy on my heart how important I think it is for guys' projects to include women. I feel like that's my barrier to break down. Growing up, I only rode with guys and I never felt the difference. I was always allowed to hit whatever they were hitting, and it was just part of the fun of snowboarding. I like to feel that equality.
The first year the girls were filming the movie, I had committed to filming with my husband, Chris [Benchetler]. This year, the decision to film with Asbinthe was one of the scariest decisions I have made in my career because I knew there would be a lot of doubt. But I decided to harness my inner lion and go to Alaska and see if I could make it happen. I wanted to show what I was capable of on the platform that was provided to me.
espnW: You are both incredible snowboarders with endless accolades to your names, and your bios could have stopped there. Instead, you've each done so much to boost up the women around you, from Leanne's camps and films to Kimmy's backcountry education events. Why have you felt compelled to make your careers about more than just yourselves?
LP: I've always been about connecting the community. I wanted to be a part of the snowboard community before I started snowboarding. I was religiously reading the magazines and watching the movies. To me, snowboarding was all about the community and being a part of this free-spirited vibe and being out in nature with friends. I want to be part of the fun and encourage people to join in.
KF: I know how big of a difference snowboarding has made in my life, how the outdoors has impacted how successful and happy I am, and I want to show other people what they are capable of and shine a light on their strengths. I want to give women the confidence to do things in a way the industry can't criticize.
You have to be 10 steps ahead of any other person going into the backcountry because you don't want to ruin your opportunity. Leanne was the first person to show me the ropes in the backcountry. I wanted to show girls what I've learned over the past eight years in a crash course that happens every winter, so when they get the opportunity to film with the guys -- or with the girls -- they aren't the weak link. And they won't be looked at that way because they're going to know more than anybody else out there.
espnW: What are you most proud of accomplishing with each of your projects?
KF: I am healthy and my body prevailed. It's been a crazy four years coming back from an injury people thought I would never come back from and being able to snowboard in a way that really showcased my abilities. And the feeling of being included in a project like this is something that will definitely be a highlight of my career. [In 2012, Fasani crashed in the Mammoth Mountain park, cracked her pelvis and tore the ACL, MCL and PCL in her left knee.]
LP: I'm proudest of being able to bring all these powerful women into one film. That was the biggest feat, bringing that whole crew together.
espnW: What has the response been like to your projects?
KF: First, Leanne's film. It's been amazing to see the whole industry respond so positively to having a women's project out there. For me, I've been humbled and flattered that people like what I was able to put together this year, and I feel like it's going to open doors for more women to have opportunities. Once we showcase what we're capable of, they start believing that you can keep up. Together, I think we've done a lot to showcase women's snowboarding in the most positive light.
LP: We had two sold-out shows in Whistler and got a standing ovation from our community, which was overwhelming. On the rest of the tour, we had girls coming up to us, crying, saying how cool it was to see the film and how they wanted to go snowboarding more with their friends. We had a lot of thank yous, from girls and guys, for inspiring them, and it encourages me to do more. The industry was accepting of all of us who went to Alaska for the first time and that gives us the confidence to go back and improve our skills, because that was just the start.
KF: That's what we need to keep reminding people -- that this is snowboarding. Let us be there with you and do this together.
LP: More and more, and especially right now, the industry is like, "Woah, there's energy on the women's side of the sport." We just need to keep it going.