With the amount of pow we’ve been blessed with, we’re betting you’ve felt as though you’re in a Doug Combs film, leaping off cliff faces (in our case small rocks) and tomahawking for days (yep, that one still fits). When it comes to skiing deep, unpisted snow, we owe a lot to the pioneers of freeriding for everything from the routes down the hill to the fat twin tip skis- imagine trying to do the lines from the past few days on skis just 60mm underfoot for the entire length of ski and with almost no give. Ain’t no floating on a pair of metal rectangles. But whilst the pioneers of freeriding and all things backcountry are rightly to be worshipped, there are some new kids on the block and it having been International Women’s Day and all, we thought we’d celebrate some of the gnarliest girls making waves in the freeriding scene.
The accolades attached to Angel's name speak in spades for the headway she's making for women in extreme skiing.First woman to win Best Line Award at the Powder Awards, Two-time winner of Best Female Performance at the Powder Awards and Two-time champion of the Freeskiing World Tour (one of which was the first time she'd even entered, name but a few. And all by the age of 26. Angel was destined to be hit by the skiing bug as her father was a ski patroller in Snowbird Ski resort, Utah and so immersed his children in mountain life. Both Angel and her brother trained as racers but drifted away from the super competitive nature of that sport, both falling in love with something a bit freer and with better vibes. Since then she has become a common feature of films with the Teton Gravity Research clan and recently became the first woman ever to open one of their films. She is, quit simply, one of the best Big Mountain skiers in the world. The fact that she's a woman is neither here nor there.
Snowboarder Magazine's Number 1 Women's rider of the year for 2016 was the first woman to throw a double backflip in the park and powder in 2011. Having started out on the Slopestyle circuit, she now uses those skills to mix it up a bit in the steep powder and for that reason is a favourite with the video makers. Last year she landed a segment in Absinthe films' new release which earned her line of the year from Snowboarder magazine.
Some would call her the Godmother of Backcountry, as one of the first women to venture into the realms of ski films. A professional big-mountain skier for over a decade now, Ingrid Backstrom has appeared in nine films from Matchstick Productions and won five Best Female Performance Awards at the Powder Video Awards. Having lost her brother to an accident whilst free-skiing, plus her friend and mentor Shane McConkey, she is now heavily involved in making the sport safer, which she does from a coaching role as Freestyle Coach and Chief of Stoke for Crystal Mountain. Yes that is her official title.
This American decided to take matters into her own hands to put herself in centre frame for a ski film by directing, producing, researching and of course starring in her entry for the Teton Gravity Research Co-Lab contest. This won her the coveted Female Athlete of the Year award at the Powder awards in 2013, basically the Oscars of freeskiing. On top of that, she has previously won the Freeride Wold Tour, seamlessly straddling the competition and film worlds.
Lynsey Dyer and Unicorn Picnic
Lynsey Dyer is at the top of the Big Mountain game and wants you to be too. Having had a radical change of tact after completing graphic design at Uni, several years down the line, the goal is to get other girls doing cool shit. Ans so Unicorn Picnic was born. It was originally set up as a video production company to make the award winning ski documentary Pretty Faces, which was a game changer in the Ski film world showing that an all-female cast could be pretty damn exhilarating. It's refreshing to see girls doing hardcore shit without any sugar coating, much as their name might suggest to the contrary. They now focus their sight on teaching women the ropes in the backcountry with the Unicorn School and encouraging younger girls and women to get into outdoor sports through Youth Initiatives and high profile events. Also, this is one of the pictures from their website so, really, they're doing something great for everyone.
Danyale Patterson and the Too Hard Girls
In a polar opposite direction and moving away from Alaska for a sec, we need to talk about the Too Hard snowboarding crew, whose motto “We're too hard for you” inspired the name. Spoiler: they are too hard for you. These women are seriously cool snowboarders who push each other in an urban playground setting, jibbing on everything from railings at a sports pitch and integrate it with making amazing edits. In the summer they grow weed. These ladies literally don't give a shit what you think and founder Danyale responded to criticism for their VICE series Lady Shredders with, “I’ve learned that I hate most people from this. Snowboarding is all I’ve ever known and it’s crazy to think that what makes me happy is wrong and shouldn’t even be attempted. Good luck to all the haters, I hope it gets you far”. She a bad bitch. Definitely check them out. Ok their website is utter shite, but as Kene pointed out, they're far too busy getting fucked and nailing those rails to worry about a fancy website. And it least it doesn't look like a Cath Kidston store spewed all over it like so many sites geared solely towards women's sports.
The biggest and baddest competition in the Big Mountain world is the Freeride World Tour and while many of those mentioned above eschew competition in favour of films, it's still an extremely impressive feat to make it onto the World Tour and as the name suggest, gives the participants the opportunity to ski all over the world. This year 11 skiers make up the competition, 9 of which have qualified from the previous year and two wildcards.
The way the FWT competitions work is that the 11 competitors are given a big section of the mountain and they can choose whatever line they want to take in ahead of skiing it. Difficulty, steepness and size of cliff drops are all taken into consideration. The bat shit crazy bit is that they don't get to ski it at all before the competition. Only look at it from afar with binoculars. There have been events in the series when people have got stuck on a cliff due to it being new terrain and had to just sit and wait for a helicopter evacuation for two hours.
Points wise, they get scored on how easy it's made to look, speed, difficulty of the line and then extra points are added for tricks, style and technique. It’s quite subjective like any judged sport and involves an element of curation, like a performance. This is exactly what you see in the “Ski Porn” films, reflected in the beautiful cinematography. It’s interesting that freeskiing is almost seen as an artform, more so than any other branch of the sport.
For such extreme stuff, what all participants of freeriding seem to possess is a very laid back approach to life. Think lots of motivational phrases. A lot of them were more geared towards racing in their younger days and were doing very well until they realised that riding's supposed to be fun and something you do out of passion.