Our Best Rider Is A Girl | The Barrett Christy Interview

Barrett Christy talks flipping the status quo, snowboard design and nurturing the next generation

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.


They say don’t meet your heroes, and though my ‘meeting’ with Barrett Christy was purely through a laptop screen and earmarked by my shoddy wifi, I have to say I disagree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. Y’know, I get it, maybe Micheal Jordan isn’t as tall in real life, maybe a close-up concert with Mariah Carey actually sounds like a cacophony of shite and maybe Sir Ian McKellen doesn’t exude immaculate warlock vibes in person, but I can assure you that Barrett Christy is every bit as engaging, humble and downright inspiring in ‘person’ as she appears.

“Snowboarding, especially women’s snowboarding, wouldn’t exist in the state it is today without her”

The story of Barrett’s success as a professional athlete has been told often, and usually by those who know her better, friends or teammates who could wax poetic about the phenomenal impact she’s had on snowboarding first-hand and who have shared experiences and memories with her. I’m not sure I have anything to add in that regard, but as a young girl snowboarding, Barrett Christy was always the epitome of everything I wanted to grow up to be. She’s one of the few people who transcends the sport, they seem to be in a semi-symbiotic relationship where snowboarding, especially women’s snowboarding, wouldn’t exist in the state it is today without her.

Though Barrett’s accomplishments on the hill are numerous and tantamount to one of the greatest snowboarders to ever do it, it’s actually her work behind the scenes with Mervin over the last two decades that’s been the fuel for my fangirl fire of late. As someone who spends hours poring over brand catalogues, devouring any new gear and tech, I’ve been following her work with Gnu Girls, Roxy, and more recently, Lib Women’s closely.

Does Barrett Christy have feet of clay? Quite possibly. She might snore like a jackhammer or chew with her mouth open, but for now I’ll rest easy knowing that she’s every bit the hero I had her out to be. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, and for everything you’ve done for women in snowboarding.

Tell us a bit about your job – what’s a typical day in the life for Barrett Christy?

Well, this year for 2020 a day in the life has been a bit different as it has for everybody, because it included home-schooling kids and working from home probably more than I usually do. I’m lucky because I live a few miles from our factory, so we make our boards here in Sequim, Washington so I have a factory office I can go to. I don’t even have a neat title to sum it all up but basically, I’m the women’s programme manager. That encompasses product design and creative direction for the women’s product and then I work on marketing and overall brand plans for Gnu and taking care of the women’s team, everybody wears a lot of hats here at Mervin.

“I have such an awesome crew of women and girls that I work with, you know from regional locals to Jamie Anderson and Chloe Kim”

Right now, we’re diving into design season, so there’s a lot of ideas and shaping, looking at graphics and thinking about what the line should look like going forward given that we’ve got some sales numbers in now from 21/22 product line, we’re diving into 22/23 season products now, yeah that’s the fun part. I mean it’s all fun if you take it separately, but I enjoy the creative process and looking at what else is out on the market. I have such an awesome crew of women and girls that I work with, you know from regional locals to Jamie Anderson and Chloe Kim on the Roxy side so it’s pretty fun to put the puzzle together and find something that works for everybody and also answers to the market needs.

How did you get here…

I had a great relationship with my sponsors as pro rider and Lib Tech was my first sponsor. Back in ’93 I got my first Lib Tech board and just became close with everybody at the company. Then I moved into GNU and they started to build up the GNU line and offer more sizes and more of an ability to develop boards for me as my pro model at the time. So, spanning from 1993 to now, it’s been a long time, I can’t believe it’s been that long. I started my pro model in ’95 and at that point there was only one women’s pro model, there was two women’s board in the Gnu line and smaller sizes in the men’s products, but that was a good time, and the industry was growing and a lot more people were getting into it.

There were definitely more women getting into snowboarding, so I had a hand in just giving my advice on the women’s boards as they started to develop more. As it happened in 2003 I kinda stopped competing and got married, and the next year in 2004 I had my son, and at that point I knew I wasn’t going to be competing or chasing full time pro snowboarder jobs, so I was fortunate enough to be able to work more on the products and advise on women’s marketing and it just sort of grew from there. I became an employee maybe like 10 years ago, but I was working on the women’s line for another five years before that as a contract consultant.

“I probably fall more into that category now that I don’t get to ride all the time, an enthusiast that wants snowboarding to be easy and fun”

So yeah, the job has grown as the line has grown. There’s a lot of product to play with. It’s fun to me and my experiences as a pro rider mean I know what the competitors need, and I know what riders like Jamie and Kaitlyn Farrington need. It’s also been really fun to work with sales and understand more of what the market needs and where we’re trying to get more people into snowboarding so obviously our whole line can’t just be for pros, so we do have a lot of options now for beginners or just enthusiasts. I probably fall more into that category now that I don’t get to ride all the time, an enthusiast that wants snowboarding to be easy and fun. I don’t necessarily have to be super aggressive and push myself these days, I just want to have fun.

It’s cool to see over the years how the women’s range has grown, from all of the brands. Lib Tech Women only launched a few years ago, right?

Yeah 3 seasons ago, and it’s been cool because Lib’s been around forever and I rode the Jamie Lynn and the Acme board in the 90’s and those were definitely men’s models shrunk down to women’s sizes and they weren’t designed from the start for women, but there’s women that can handle that and loved those boards. We didn’t know any better then, but they were so stiff and so wide for my foot size and I loved them, but now we have so many more options, we have the ability to design stuff from the bottom up just for women. We’ve always had boards that will accommodate women in Lib, but it just seemed like a no brainer to do a women’s Lib line and take it from scratch. It’s been fun because it’s been growing from a small line, we didn’t just throw 20 boards in and call it women’s Lib, we really developed it from the ground up and it’s got a lot of potential to grow. We’ve been able to incorporate all the other work we’ve done on Gnu Girls, and the men’s line to find what was missing and put it in women’s Lib.


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Nice, I rode the Dynamiss last year and loved it. I have to say my heart lies with the Ladies Choice though, that’s my go-to for any day of the season.

I like to ride a lot of different boards and they both definitely excel in different types of terrain. The Dynamiss is a directional cambered board so it’s not gonna rip the same way that the twin Ladies Choice will. I pretty much just ride one direction now, so I’m into more directional boards. I want my nose to float in powder without having to work too hard.

“For where I’m at now and the type of terrain I wanna ride it’s perfect”

Yeah, we can see that in your pro model, the Barrett. It’s actually one of the longest running pro models, right?

I think it’s one of the longest running, on the women’s side, for sure. I mean we’ve got Jamie Lynn and Matt Cummins who’ve both had a board in the line for longer than I have, but it’s been awesome. For the longest time my board was like a cambered, twin, competition board, I liked to ride in the pipe and slopestyle and a lot of competitors got on it too. Over the years we’ve been able to build up Jamie’s line to answer that need, so now mine’s sort of shifted to the kind of riding I want to do and honestly, it’s like the best board I’ve ridden. For where I’m at now and the type of terrain I wanna ride it’s perfect. There were a few years where I was riding other models more because I wanted to ride powder and I’m not hitting park features as much these days, but even if you do roll through the park with the Barrett it’s got snap and pop and it generally just makes snowboarding easy.

That’s what it’s all about! We actually awarded the Barrett the Whitelines Choice award for the best Women’s Freeride board of the year.

I saw that, thank you! I’m stoked that you liked it, I have a lot of girls riding that board and most of them are primarily in the North West right now so they’re riding heavy, wet snow and dealing with all sorts of natural features. I assume you had a variety of girls test the boards too and that it came out on top is really validating.

One of the things we liked so much about it was the fact that’s it’s such a powerful board, it’s fast and snappy and you can be really aggressive on it, but you’ve made it unapologetically a women’s snowboard. I think some brands and companies can be quite hesitant to label things, like “this is a men’s board, this is a women’s board” for fear of alienating people, but to have such a dynamic, powerhouse snowboard to be labelled as women’s is really validating.

Yeah, we don’t really have anything else like it. Some of our boards have comparable ones in the men’s line, like Jamie’s boards we have the Riders Choice and the RCC3 on the men’s side which have similar materials and construction. Jamie works hard on her line and it is very much catered to women but the Barrett kinda stands alone and we don’t have anything like it in the men’s line. We’re actually adding more sizes for next year, I know that the sweet spot for sales tends to max out at around a 152, but I know plenty of women who ride a 155 or even bigger so I’m excited we’re gonna offer those bigger sizes next year.

“When you flex the Barrett in a shop, it doesn’t feel like an overwhelmingly stiff board, it just has the snap in all the right places”

So, when you’re designing these women’s boards, there are a lot of ways to cater it towards females, like smaller sizes, waist widths and different cores. How do you approach it at Mervin?

Our top engineer has been here for 30+ years and I work with Pete Saari and Mike Olson as well who founded the company so there’s a lot of knowledge and experience. We build our boards here in Washington so we’re able to make small tweaks along the way, even sometimes mid-construction just when we find out there’s something that needs to be changed. So, we use different strips of Paulownia in the core, and the different glass weaves as well as environmentally friendly topsheet materials made from bio beans, there’s a lot of different things that come together, but width, sidecut and construction mostly.

When people pick up a board in the store and they flex it, that doesn’t give the whole story, but it has to feel good, it has to be lightweight and it has to have that approachable flex without feeling too aggressive. Like when you flex the Barrett in a shop, it doesn’t feel like an overwhelmingly stiff board, it just has the snap in all the right places. A women’s freeride board might be a little softer in the middle so it’s easier to lift the nose but it’ll still have that stable flex in the tail so you can snap off it and it’ll hold you up if you wheelie bar and are riding out of stuff at high speeds.

Barrett with her swarm of Pro Models

You mentioned environmentally friendly topsheets, and materials and that’s one of the coolest things about Mervin. I feel like you’re a brand that doesn’t just pay lip service towards these green factors, you do it, and you do it properly. Why do you think it’s so important to address these manufacturing issues and make sure that you’re being conscious with your production?

That’s something that Mike and Pete did since the beginning, they were building boards in their garage, so they didn’t want to be breathing toxic chemicals, and then they hired all their best friends and obviously they didn’t want to poison their friends either. It’s something that’s been part of our DNA since before ‘green production’ was trending, and you walk through our factory and it doesn’t smell. I mean we’re all wearing masks now thanks to COVID, but you don’t need a mask to protect you from the toxic fumes of the factory because there are none.

Even our sublimation process uses water-based inks, you can really tell that there’s no smell, but we can still get all these bright colours and pay attention to graphic details. That’s why we love to use so many artists on our board’s graphics, because we can really get that detail.

In Washington, we’re using wind and water powered energy and we’re in a good place for that. Mike Olson’s like a mad scientist he’s always searching out the next product, and the next materials and the next advancement in eco-technologies to use in the factory. It’s great, he works like full time on finding ways to make our production more environmentally friendly.

“The way that women are presented in snowboard graphics has been kind of insulting to a lot of people”

That’s exciting! It’s cool to hear that we’ve not capped out with it, that there’s more to come to make snowboarding greener.

Yeah, there’s constant developments with that. I can’t speak as well to the surf industry because I’m not familiar with competitors processes, but I know from walking into a friend’s surf shaping room that it smells. You can’t avoid a lot of those toxic chemicals when you’re building surfboards the traditional way, but Mike has come up with a foam and a process for our surfboards that make them not just durable but environmentally friendly.

I think we could do a better job at talking about it because of how loud everybody else’s voices are getting when they’re talking about their eco efforts and how much they’re doing to protect the environment. But overall, I think it’s a great trend and as long as everyone is moving in that direction then it’s good for the industry.

Our best rider is a girl.

I guess that’s kind of fitting for Mervin, they’ve gone against the grain at certain points and made a stand about their values. Like with the Gnu Pickle Stallion that turned the status quo on its head by flipping the concept and sexualising men, and even earlier with the ‘Our best rider is a girl’ ad, it’s always been cool to see Mervin doing things that no one else is doing. Did you get any flack for those?

The ‘Our best rider is a girl’ ad was in the late 90’s or early 2000’s and I’m not sure if we got flack for it, I mean I was on the other side of it then. But I think there might have been some hurt feelings when they came out and said that, but I love it, they made a statement and it stuck. And arguably even today our best rider is a girl, we have Jamie Anderson, right?

Gnu Stunt Puppy

When we did the Pickle Stallion that was really fun, I know that a lot of snowboard companies have and continue to have naked chicks on the boards. And the way that women are presented in snowboard graphics has been kind of insulting to a lot of people. I can see the other side of it as well though, you know it’s fun and it’s empowering and if you want to present yourself that way then more power to you. But I don’t think it should be limited to just women, and we wanted to have fun with that. So, we dug up some old, like 80’s Playgirl magazines and recreated something like that for the men. We did another one that actually used some of our team riders’ upper bodies, and they weren’t big sellers, but that’s what we can do when we build boards here, we can do limited edition fun stuff. I think we should do another one actually.

“We were able to get the XOXO to the point where that’s her board and she can ride it at that level in the pipe

For sure, snowboarding’s meant to be fun, right? One thing I have kind of noticed is that in Europe at least, a lot of people aren’t really aware that Roxy boards are manufactured under the Mervin umbrella, and people don’t seem to really give the same respect and hype as to Lib Women’s and Gnu. I mean, I don’t know what the vibe’s like over in the US but I get the feeling that they don’t get the same hype because they’re purely a women’s brand.

I’m not sure why that would not garner more respect, but with Roxy we license the hard goods, so we have absolute control over the construction and tech, and how the line is presented. Roxy marketing and Roxy team is all controlled through Roxy, but the boards are amazing. Under our umbrella we have Women’s Lib, Gnu Girls and Roxy so we have more women’s snowboard brands than we do men’s, so we’ve got a pretty broad spectrum there, and Gnu Girls kinda anchors it with the biggest line and the longest running women’s line. But we’ve also got Women’s Lib, which is a decidedly different customer than Roxy but there’s a huge Roxy customer base that connects with them. They possibly tend to be more enthusiasts than pro rider level, but they’re doing a great job of bringing more girls and women to the mountains and to the outdoors through surf, skate and snow.


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There’s a lot to be said for that, and maybe once women come in and become more familiar with the industry, they might try Gnu or Lib, but we have built up the Roxy line to answer the needs of the Torah Bright’s and the Chloe Kim’s. There is something for an aggressive pro rider in the Roxy line as well, there are more models that tend to be a bit more easy-access entry level. To have the opportunity to work with Chloe on her boards has been great, we started working last summer on what she’s gonna ride and we were able to get the XOXO to the point where that’s her board and she can ride it at that level in the pipe and that’s been fun.

That’s impressive, I mean if it’s good enough for Chloe Kim, it’s literally good enough for anyone.

When you see how much torque and pressure she puts on her boards when she’s going at that speed and amplitude it’s incredible. Those pipes are so big and so firm, and you have to be so precise to do what she’s doing, and I feel the pressure because if she falls, I don’t want it to be because her board gave out on her. We want to do everything we can do help her achieve her goals and doing it with Jamie in Big Air and Slopestyle has been very rewarding. And before that we had Kaitlyn doing Pipe on Gnu, and those are highlights for me, I love that.

“It really was a different field, and it was a lot easier to stand out among maybe 10 women who were in that competitive zone

You have a wildly successful team, I mean the men as well, but your women’s team is a dominating force at the moment. They’re pretty much unbeatable in every facet of competitive snowboarding.

Yeah, I think if I feel the pressure then Jamie probably feels the pressure more, but it’s been cool to work with these girls since they were young. I mean Chloe just got on Roxy but she’s still very young and has a long road ahead if she wants to continue, she could do another 10 years if she wanted. It’s nice because I have so many younger riders that I work with too who are on their way up, and at any point one of those girls could end up stepping up to Jamie and challenging her so it’s nice to have such a large pool of talent.

Barrett and Jamie Anderson

There are so many girls now, when I was doing it, it really was a different field, and it was a lot easier to stand out among maybe 10 women who were in that competitive zone, but now there’s far more than what a contest starting list can accommodate.

Absolutely, there’s so much talent in this younger generation. Who do you think we should be keeping our eyes on, is there anyone who’s really standing out for you?

There’s a girl Ellie Weiler who just won the Rev Tour in Colorado and she’s pretty awesome, she went to Ms Superpark last year and has amazing style. I mean you can see it in someone’s style, even if they’re not putting the runs together and landing everything, you know there’s potential there and I’d love to see what she does in the next 10 years, she’s still young. We have another girl Isabella Gomez who rides Roxy outerwear, but she’s been on Gnu for a long time, since she was like 11 or 12, she’s really powerful and strong.

“When I got into the park, at least for the standard we had in the 90’s, it made it seem so much easier”

Growing up in the North West, I mean I didn’t grow up here, but I know the type of terrain and you have to be strong here, and the wet pack snow gives you more stability and skill when you head into the park where everything is nice and groomed. Lotta strong riders coming from the NW. When I first started snowboarding, I was living first in Tahoe, and then Crested Butte, never rode park or pipe, but just riding round and dealing with natural terrain and obstacles made me stronger, so when I got into the park, at least for the standard we had in the 90’s, it made it seem so much easier.

Those are girls from my team but watching Zoi at Natural Selection go from winning Slope and Big Air events to being able to ride that terrain, that was pretty awesome. I’m excited to watch her progress too, the sky is the limit!

Totally, she absolutely killed it. So alongside your work with riders, you also work closely with B4BC, why is this such an important cause for you and how did you get involved with them?

As a rider I was an ambassador for the cause and always really looked up to Tina Basich and Shannon Dunne who helped found the organisation and were always very involved in making sure they were getting out there at events and educating the public. A good friend of theirs in her early 20’s was diagnosed with breast cancer and caught it too late and unfortunately didn’t survive, and it was really eye opening that this can affect young people as well. Now decades later, we see it at all ages.

It’s always been important to support those guys and I’m proud to have been able to contribute through the sale of my snowboard but more importantly my friend Megan Porcheron she was diagnosed around 7 years ago and as a young mom she was diagnosed, and she had a couple of years there of real uncertainty and a lot of personal challenges so that really hit home for me. Now she’s working directly with the organisation putting together events and marketing promotions and just trying to help build up that organisation and she’s somebody I want to support. There’s no end to the reasons why and I’m just thankful to have the ability to help through Gnu.

“There was a time when I wanted to do Big Air comps and they didn’t have women invited to them, so there was a bit of struggle

As a woman, have you ever found it difficult to be part of such a male-dominated industry?

I think that question comes up a lot but when I got into snowboarding and even now, it feels pretty inclusive. Snowboarding is open to everyone, I mean there’s Girl Squads, or boy squads, but everybody is pretty open and accepting and I’ve always kind of felt like that. There was a time when I wanted to do Big Air comps and they didn’t have women invited to them, so there was a bit of struggle then, but as soon as they realised there were women who wanted to do that and could compete at that level then it was opened up to us. That was a little bump in the road, but the challenge of being a woman didn’t come until much later.

I would say now being on the corporate end of things and I see less and less women working in the industry beyond snowboarding and there are probably many reasons for that. There’s not a lot of jobs, and especially not lucrative jobs but I’d love to see more women involved and more diversity behind the scenes, as well as on the snow. When you see women doing amazing things and holding these positions of power it makes more women want to join because you feel more included and invited.

What advice would you give to the next generation looking to get involved in the production and design side or pro riding level of snowboarding?

Just building up your network, regardless of the level you’re at is important. Like so many things, it really is all about relationships, so the more you can put yourself out there and communicate with others and set goals for yourself the better. It was important to understand the different roles in the industry and get that if you’re getting free snowboards you understand your role as an ambassador. Y’know for anything you get, there’s some expectation on you to perform, or give back in some way, so just understanding that formula and knowing what’s expected of you. I don’t think everybody always communicates all that well because people just assume that you know the ropes. It’s different for everyone but know your value and know how to communicate. If you think of this as a job you’ll go a lot further because there’s something you have to do in return for whatever you’re getting.

“When you have a room full of dudes making decisions about women’s products and what women want, you’re gonna miss the mark every time”

You’ve already kind of touched on this, but how would you like to see the industry change going forward?

I love that it may be on trend and there might be a lot of companies making big statements, but the fact that diversity and inclusion is something that people are thinking about now, I think that’s important. I’d love to see more women, I’d love to see more people of colour, I’d like to see a more inclusive environment, not just on the snow but inside the companies themselves. When you have a room full of dudes making decisions about women’s products and what women want, you’re gonna miss the mark every time. You need those voices in there and if we ever want to grow beyond the ‘boys club’ then we have to include other people at the table.


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