Robin Van Gyn

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In the wake of legends like Victoria, it’s women such as Robin, Marie-France and Maria who represent a handful of those carving a career out of freeriding. Robin alone has pushed herself into the world of backcountry filmmaking from an early jib-oriented background. In 2011, she earned the only full part of backcountry riding in Peepshow Film’s Winter Wars before starring in Roxy’s P.S. webisodes with three-time X Games silver medalist Hana Beaman. Originally hailing from Vancouver Island, Robin strapped on her first board at the age of 16. “I was always athletic at school but never the best at anything. When I started snowboarding, I picked it up so quickly and it felt so right. I thought this was something I could really be good at.”

On the day she finished high school, Robin moved to the powder mecca of Whistler. She left home with the intention of doing what she loved and took up competing in local slopestyles – but she never thought it would lead to becoming a professional freerider. After funding her way through two seasons by working as a “burrito girl”, something clicked. “It wasn’t that I realised I could make a career from snowboarding, I just knew this was what I needed to do. No matter how long it took, I had to make it happen.”

It wasn’t that I realised I could make a career from snowboarding, I just knew this was what I needed to do. No matter how long it took, I had to make it happen.

She moved to Calgary but kept competing in regional slopestyles with huge success. By this time, the West Coast jibber’s talents had caught the attention of the snowsports media and she shot her first magazine spreads and video parts. It was only in 2008 when Robin ended up moving to the freeriding resort Golden that her love of powder really set in. “Roxy came back to me years after I first signed with them, asking if I’d like to join their new Canadian team. I literally dropped everything to say yes, I’d do it!”

In the past, female freeriders have struggled financially after choosing to pursue backcountry riding over more mainstream slopestyle contests. Victoria Jealouse and Annie Boulanger, for example, both had a hard time keeping their sponsors when it came to riding powder because it just wasn’t seen as “marketable”. But in Robin’s case, she was given a lucky break when her sponsors came to her and suggested she focus on riding backcountry. “That’s the best phone call a snowboarder can get.”

From there, Robin charged ahead, securing her own full parts with both male and female crews. But does she think it’s harder for women to make a career out riding backcountry than it is for men? “You know, I think it is. Although some girls have done really well, like Helen Schettini. She competed in the pipe, but she pretty much went from completely unrecognised to majorly recognised in the backcountry.”

It’s really, really hard to go from not really being top of the contest game straight to backcountry. You have to invest a lot of money in yourself to make it happen.

Historically, all of the top female freeriders had major careers in competition riding, securing medals in the Winter Olympics and the X-Games. It was this backing that helped ease the transition for riders like Hana Beaman and Leanne Pelosi into filming backcountry parts. “It’s really, really hard to go from not really being top of the contest game straight to backcountry. You have to invest a lot of money in yourself to make it happen.” Robin worked three jobs through university to be able to fund her snowboarding. “It never really felt like a job because it was all about the hustle. You had to just get enough money to buy a snowmobile and get out there.”

When it comes to equality in the snowboarding industry, Robin is pushing boundaries for female snowboarders worldwide along with other riders. However, she also points out there are simply less women snowboarders on the slopes. In the USA alone, only 32.8% of the country’s 6.1 million snowboarders were female, according to last year’s research by Statistic Brain. “All of us are working towards equality, breaking down barriers between the sexes. I totally get that it’s unfair that prize money at snowboard contests isn’t the same. It really should be. But at the same time, there are a lot more guys signing up to pay registration for contests than there are girls. There’s definitely a bit of prejudice in there, but also the ratio of female to male competitive snowboarders is a lot smaller.”

It never really felt like a job because it was all about the hustle. You had to just get enough money to buy a snowmobile and get out there.

Robin chose to use her talents to evolve women’s snowboarding from the inside. Alongside shooting major video parts with all-female crews including P.S. Snowboarding, she has been coaching backcountry riding at SASS Global Travel in the Argentine Andes for 10 years. This year, she ran a course specifically for women with fellow pro Hana Beaman. “For me, I don’t think it’s about comparing women’s snowboarding to men’s. Women’s snowboarding is its own sport. It’s not about trying to reach up to the guys’ level, but progressing the sport as women and comparing ourselves against each other.”