The Luminaries Series is about shining a light on some of the most inspirational people in our industry, documenting their rise in their given professions, and sharing some of their insights from along the way.
Just over a year ago, in January 2020, the Freeride World Tour announced that they’d be offering equal prize money for men and women. It followed in the footsteps of the WSL, who have been awarding equal prize money to men and women since 2018, and the Burton US Open who have offered equal prize money since 1973. It’s far from being first to the party, but marked an important step in competitive snowboarding, nonetheless.
“Just over a year ago, in January 2020, the Freeride World Tour announced that they’d be offering equal prize money for men and women”
With the Freeride World Tour in full swing, we wanted to catch up with its two top female contestants, Marion Haerty and Erika Vikander and hear their thoughts about gender equality in snowboarding, amongst other things.
Hi ladies, how are you, have you had a good day?
MH: It’s been a good day thanks, quite busy. We went to the gym in the morning and then I had an interview with Vans.
EV: I’ve needed to catch up on some rest. I got here in the whirlwind a couple of days ago, so I need to get some sleep and make sure that I do what I need to for my body right now.
Considering the unusual times we live in now, how has preparing for this year’s tour differed from the seasons before?
EV: To be completely honest I had a lot of trouble this year calming my mental nerves to figure out what was going to happen with the tour. Everything is so uncertain in the world right now and it translates all the way down to my world. I take on a lot of stress, so it was a little difficult for me to find the right headspace of ‘is this going to happen, what events are we going to have, am I going to be able to pull it together?’ But once I finally got here, I remembered that I am here for a reason and that I need to go out there. I need to go snowboarding and have fun.
“I like to say, when there is a problem there is also an opportunity”
MH: It’s been different. I like to say, when there is a problem there is also an opportunity. In January I got the time to train for myself without competitions, which was super good. It’s been good to be home because I live close to the border of Switzerland, and the resorts in France were closed, so I was able to make little trips over to Switzerland. It was snowing every week there, so we were super lucky to have good conditions. Also, I went on the Natural Selection so that was really good training for the whole tour. It was a good experience.
Congrats on placing second in the Natural Selection Marion. How was competing in that compared to competing in the FWT?
MH: Merci! It’s funny, I feel like I’ve got more pressure here [FWT] compared to the Natural Selection. I was competing against Anna Gasser, Elena Hight and these girls who’re really badass and have experience from the X Games and other similar competitions. I thought I’ll try my best, no pressure. Then I finished second place, so I was very stoked. It was interesting to meet all these different styles of snowboarders with different profiles. The vibe was great, and everyone was super stoked for everyone and super happy to be there.
So, Marion, you’ve been on the tour since 2016 and Erika, you joined in 2018. In January 2020, the FWT announced they will offer equal prize money to men and women. What was your initial reaction when you found out about this?
EV: I was obviously really psyched about it and it’s amazing that they did that. However, I wasn’t super impressed by the way that it was presented to us riders. I felt that it was a little bit more, ‘we have to do this, because that’s what everyone’s pressuring us to do’ rather than ‘we think you girls deserve this’. I didn’t feel like that was cool. But it’s great, and I think it’s good for us and I’m not going to complain about equal prize money, I just wish the reasoning behind it was a bit more genuine.
“However, I wasn’t super impressed by the way that it was presented to us riders”
MH: I was really stoked. Since the beginning of my career as a freerider, I was looking for that to happen, but it was not easy to get the energy to fight for that. First, I tried to be a bit more cautious about what I said, but once it was possible to speak about it… We have a board on the FWT, with one representative from each category (skiers, snowboarders, boys and girls) and I was part of that and fighting for it by saying ‘Hey guys we’re in a new period of boys and girls and we have to be equal so go for it please’. It was a big topic to be discussed last year and now, here we are.
It must have been great to see that your effort paid off.
MH: For sure but it wasn’t just thanks to me, it is thanks to all the girls who are fighting for it. I wouldn’t call it a trend but it’s a huge topic in society in general, in all the sports, in economics, in politics, everything is going up for women and I think it comes down to that.
What do you think/wish steps like equal prize money can result in for the progression of women’s snowboarding, especially backcountry riding?
EV: I think it definitely gives others who are looking at us a platform to realise that ‘I could actually make a living of this and be successful being a full-time snowboarder’. I think all of the things are positive, but it can be framed in negative ways like I just did, and I don’t mean it like that.
“You expect to not be as good because that’s what you’re conditioned to think when you’re young”
It’s a touchy subject. There’s so much talk about women and equality and the obstacles women have to overcome in athletics. And the same applies to business and everything else in the world. We are trained from the time when we’re very young to not believe in ourselves in the way men are so it creates this mental block for you for your entire life. You expect to not be as good because that’s what you’re conditioned to think when you’re young. I do appreciate all of it, but I wish people would be genuine about it.
MH: I think it’s a good thing for the new generation because they will have more time to train and to go to the mountains. If you have more money you don’t need to have a job and work every day if you want to snowboard. So that’s a good thing for the future.
When I started competing in freeriding it wasn’t about winning money it was about passion. But this will change something for the girls, for sure. It will be about managing things in a better way. But money isn’t the priority, the prize is not a priority. I don’t look at the money, I do it because I want to and because I’m passionate about it and that’s it.
When it comes to big air, slopestyle and halfpipe, female snowboarding has progressed a lot over the last few years. More recently, we’re starting to see significant growth in freeriding. Why do you think it’s happening now?
EV: You know it’s tough to say. I think it was honestly where the trend was going anyway and I think for most slopestyle riders, myself included, you’d beat yourself up riding park all the time. Riding in the backcountry is a more sustainable way to create longevity for your career so for me that was kind of why I transitioned because I was constantly getting hurt and it was not good for my body.
“I do appreciate all of it, but I wish people would be genuine about it”
I think for a lot of the younger generation growing up now there is a way to transition. You don’t have to just be a slopestyle rider, that’s why you see more and more people going out into the backcountry. There’s been a lot of promotion from girls like Robin van Gyn, Hana Beaman, Torah Bright and others who have been pushing a motion of females in the backcountry and kind of spearheading this for us. I think it helps inspire girls to want to go out there.
In addition to that, there’s a huge “explosion” in the backcountry, obviously because of this Covid thing, and it’s great but it’s also terrifying because there are people out there who probably shouldn’t be out there because they don’t have the proper… anything?
“It’s looking good for the future of the backcountry to bring skills from the slopestyle into the backcountry”
MH: I think it’s interesting because the good level of “competition girls”, for example, from the X Games, like Zoi [Sadowski-Synnott], are now snowboarding in the backcountry and making big video projects when they’re not competing. It’s looking good for the future of the backcountry to bring skills from the slopestyle into the backcountry. It’s huge, really huge.
I think it will push for more people to get involved. If you have more role models, it will be very helpful. For me, when I started snowboarding, Jamie Anderson was my role model. I wanted to be like her. If you would have a bunch of girls like Jamie Anderson, I think it would be helpful for the next generation. If you have more girls, it will be helpful for the ski and snowboard industry and I think this is why all the brands are targeting their marketing towards women more now and making good projects for women as well because that’s a “new” market.
It’s a lot harder to gain access to the backcountry, let alone to learn to understand how to ride it and the amount of money that goes into getting the right equipment for it. Do you feel like women get the same amount of industry support as men when it comes to encouraging backcountry riding?
EV: No definitely not. Not even close I would say. I am not even near to what a male would get who would be in the exact same position as me. It is still continuously changing, but I have a hard time because… I mean, I am a pretty positive person, and you have to take the little wins and be stoked about it, but it also pisses me off that it is like that and that we have to sit there and be like ‘Oh thank you for looking at us like we’re humans’. Like, fuck that.
“I am not even near to what a male would get who would be in the exact same position as me”
MH: I think it’s starting to become more positive. A few years ago, the materials were not really good for the girls, it was the same materials as for the guys. Everything that I used a few years ago for backcountry and riding was the same as it was for the guys, with backpacks, pants… It was not really in shape for my body, it wasn’t good at all and it was the same for the snowboards. But now brands are on the way to make better products for girls so that’s good news.
Would you say it’s harder to get budget and earn recognition as a female backcountry snowboarder?
MH: For me at the moment, I can’t complain. It’s in a good way.
EV: I think it is if you want to do it in an authentic way. It’s the age-old story of if you want to sell out and just be the marketing material and I think there are quite a few girls who do very well in that aspect in the snowboarding world, girls who probably make a lot more money than guys do.
But typically, I would say, that it is difficult to get support because there just hasn’t been a platform for it and there haven’t been that many females that have paved the way to get through to make it a successful recipe. So, for companies, it’s hard if they don’t have those tangible results to put their faith in you even if you believe in yourself and you know you can do it just as much as the guys.
What about your sponsors, why have you chosen to ride for them and how have they been able to help you on this path?
EV: I’m really grateful to work with companies who truly believe in me and I position myself with them for a reason. I’ve ridden in the industry for a long time. I’ve ridden for some big companies and didn’t like the culture of it so partnering with companies that have a sustainable and eco-friendly mission, that’s super important for me. And having a voice in the company, that they actually listen to me and want my feedback on boards and that they do support me.
“But it all started to be easier for me after I got my first world champion title”
The companies I ride for, particularly my snowboard sponsor, Niche Snowboards, are a rather small company compared to a lot of the bigger ones out there but they do every single thing in their power to help me. I really feel supported by them which is much more important than just getting gear from someone who doesn’t even care to follow up on your emails.
MH: I’m super lucky to be with The North Face and I know they are trying to shed the light on the girls in everything. They’re starting to speak about women’s projects for next winter and videos so yes, I seriously can’t complain. I also designed my own snowboard with Rossignol, my own pro model, last winter. But it all started to be easier for me after I got my first world champion title. Before that, it wasn’t really easy to get heard.
Do you feel like the media gives equal representation to male and female backcountry snowboarders?
EV: In general? I would say no. The coverage that boys have versus the coverage that girls have… For every article you see about a guy there is ten or fifteen articles and there might be one chick mentioned like once. It seems like it should be half and half.
There are so many talented females out there and it used to be about there not being that many of them [female snowboarders] but now I don’t know… There are so many unbelievable athletes and female athletes pushing the sport and doing it for nothing, besides the resilience of doing it, they are doing it because this is what they want to do. They’re not doing it for the money.
MH: Compared to 10 years ago, things are totally different. The media is speaking more about the girls now for sure and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve seen a big step forward. I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK but in France, it’s really “cool” now to speak about the girls and that’s great. It’s good news for the future.
How did you both get into backcountry riding? Did you find it difficult to get out there?
EV: Kind of, but not really. I grew up riding in Montana, so I rode a lot of backcountry before I really knew it was backcountry just because that’s what the mountains are like. It’s interesting to say because I don’t think I really transitioned until after my injury, before the Olympics, and that was when I took an actual interest in the backcountry.
“Sometimes you get pigeonholed as snowboarders, you’re just a park rider, you’re just a backcountry rider, you’re just a rail rider”
I think growing up in Montana planted all of these perfect little foundational seeds for me to have, I know how to ride, I’m not just a park rider. Sometimes you get pigeonholed as snowboarders, you’re just a park rider, you’re just a backcountry rider, you’re just a rail rider. So, my whole goal was to be a well-rounded snowboarder.
The first time I actually went out there was probably six years ago. I went on a snow camping trip in Mount Hood and got exposed to the whole scene and was just like holy shit I’ve never felt so out of my league. Luckily the crew I was with was really nice and welcoming. It was all guys, and they were pretty good about making me feel like I was an asset to the team even though I didn’t have as much experience as everyone else. And that’s another thing, the way you fraise things to people can either make them want to be part of it forever or never want to come back.
MH: For me, it was thanks to a crew of friends close to my home resort. I made my first kicker with my friends in the backcountry, and I was riding slopestyle at the same time, and I thought maybe I can try a 180, 360…
When you started snowboarding, did you always have a girls crew to ride with?
MH: It was really rare. I was a little bit with some of the girls but mainly with guys.
Did you ever feel like, because you were a girl, you didn’t feel as included?
MH: Not at all, but I think it depends on the guys. Some guys are super “supreme”, and some guys are super kind and try to help you reach your best level. I never had any problems with guys and when talking about feminism, I don’t want to have a war with guys, because where I am today, it’s thanks to the guys. Out of all the people around me, there were more guys than girls, and I’m very grateful for that.
“I feel like most girls who are super into snowboarding have a pretty supportive guy crew they ride with”
EV: I feel like most girls who are super into snowboarding have a pretty supportive guy crew they ride with. They’ll take you and you go and do stuff. I was very fortunate to have a group of males that included me. But imagine what my experience would have been like if I would have had a group of females who took me out there and showed me all of these things and how much more empowered I could have felt in all of the decision-making and learning.
How can we inspire to get more girls involved in snowboarding, let alone backcountry riding, in order to push it further?
EV: There are so many ways to find success in this industry, you don’t have to just be a competitive snowboarder, you don’t just have to be a park rider, you don’t have to just be a backcountry rider, so finding your own path and truly believing in yourself because without the belief in yourself no one is going to believe in you. It all starts within, so I think that young girls, just being aware of this stuff, just having these conversations, is going to make coming over these roadblocks so much easier for them because they are aware of them and they’ve seen others experience it. Changes do happen, but it takes an army to do that.
“Changes do happen, but it takes an army to do that”
MH: My home resort has a club and, in the club, there are more girls than boys so that’s beautiful news. And I try to take one day every season to spend time with the girls and share moments and I think that’s really important.
Tell us a bit about the FWT program Girls Just Want To Have POW. How can it help to grow women’s involvement in freeriding?
EV: We did a stop in Austria, it Kicking Horse, and it was just a female ride day but it wasn’t super well organised.
MH: It wasn’t easy to catch all the girls at the same time because we’ve got busy days.
If done properly, do you think it could help inspire girls to get more involved?
EV: Absolutely! You give girls an opportunity to get together and empower each other of course it’s going to get everyone stoked and make people feel like they can do stuff. I think we should be doing that kind of stuff all the time like going to all these places. There are probably all these people who want to do this stuff with the athletes. There’s a lot of things like that that could be helping to build the female side of it.
There’s already quite a few organised riding days for girls out there but the majority of them are park-based. Would be cool to get events like these to inspire girls to get into the backcountry because it can be quite intimidating…
EV: And dangerous too. The backcountry is serious. I think if there were more inclusive things, even like avalanche awareness and certifications, like, wow.
“You give girls an opportunity to get together and empower each other of course it’s going to get everyone stoked and make people feel like they can do stuff”
It is intimidating but I’ve noticed that people are super-duper welcoming to newcomers, which I sort of understand, sort of don’t. Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and as long as you’re willing to learn and humble and respect the mountains, you should have the same opportunities to get out there. But I feel like if you are the token girl, trying to tag along with the guy group, you might get denied while with some other dudes it’d be like ‘Yeah you can come along with us, it’s totally fine’.
MH: I think, there are so many things. In Chamonix, we have an association to get girls to go into the backcountry. It’s only for girls and the name of the club is “Lead the climb”. It’s a very cool association and you can promote alpine riding, ski touring… It’s pretty new, only two or three years old, and I know so many other associations that encourage girls to go into the backcountry so it’s on its way.
We’re looking forward to this change and hopefully, there will be more girls who get out there and will be able to ride together.
EV: Exactly and that’s why it was so much fun yesterday, we finally got all the girls from the snowboard category together and we all went and rode which has never happened.
MH: Yesterday was great! We shared the day together with the girls, that was really cool.
EV: We were riding this group of eight girls and everyone’s fucking ripping and it was so much fun. I was just thinking to myself like, man, I wish that it would be like this all the time, to have this crew to ride with. When I’m home I ride with all dudes and there’s one girl up there that I ride with, or I’m snowboarding by myself, and it was just so much fun to have that crew. It’s going to be very special for the next generation to have other females to ride with.
The next generation will blow some minds because they’ve seen our generation and the girls that came just before us and all of this pathway that has been laid down is going to give these girls such an amazing platform. I’m so excited to see what they can do with it
So, in a nutshell, what do you feel needs to change in order for women to get the same opportunities as men in snowboarding?
EV: I think it is the whole mindset. We’re just not used to seeing women in the narrative, you don’t even think twice about it. So, just having these kinds of conversations and bringing light to the issue.
There are incredible females out there and they are hungry and worth just as much as the guys. They’re doing shit that the guys are doing, they’re riding the same venues… I don’t even understand why we’re having this conversation, it’s fucking crazy. It’s just the world we’re conditioned to live in, we’re all used to not seeing women [snowboarding] and that’s been like engraved into our brain. So, trying to change that narrative is going to take some time, and it’s going to take shit loads of effort on all of our parts.
“I try my best every day and I don’t want to explain why I’m like this, why I’m at this level”
MH: I think it’s about stopping the comparison between men and women. To accept the girls how we are. We don’t have to compare the level of girls and guys all the time. I try my best and that’s it. I’m just tired of this comparison, about the levels, I don’t want to hear about it again.
I think we now have the chance to push women’s snowboarding in its own direction and not only compare it to men’s thanks to Instagram. Even though it’s not all the time a good thing, we can lead our own media as riders and I try to make clever posts for the next generation, to inspire girls to go outside, how to be confident and how to push themselves every day.
I don’t want to prove that I’m a girl. I try my best every day and I don’t want to explain why I’m like this, why I’m at this level. I do my best and I’m having fun, just like the guys.
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