Amusement Mtn

Kelly Clark

Recent storm systems in the Sierras had produced snow layers that were perfect for us to check out and learn from. Here, Kelly Clark tests the snowpack.

Sierra Mountain Guides

Howie Schwartz, one of the founders of Sierra Mountain Guides helped to create the curriculum for AIARE. We were in good hands.

Danika Duffy

The hardest part about splitboarding is when you have to make short descents on skis. Amanda Hankison readies to catch Danika Duffy.

Last winter I picked up my first splitboard. While the years-younger version of me would not have been excited at the prospect of walking up a mountain, even if the payoff was fresh turns in untouched (or nearly untouched) snow, my older (and arguably wiser) self finds the traverse up to be just as rewarding as the cruise down. I can’t explain how or when the shift took place, but it happened, and last winter the shiny new split was burning a hole in my hallway as deep snow eluded the West Coast and the opportunities to take ‘er out were few and far between. As the 2015 winter waned, my excitement was never derailed though and as temperatures began to slowly drop last autumn, the glint returned to the splitboard leaning against the wall. That’s when I got the call from Kimmy Fasani, bolstering my stoke even further.

Bode Merrill

Kimmy’s accolades in snowboarding run deep. She has a library of video parts to her name, has notched her fair share of park podiums and can claim a few NBDs, too. She is one of the most prolific backcountry riders in the world and regularly sends technical lines in Whistler, Japan, and on her home turf in the western United States. While this may sound like plenty to keep one person busy, Kimmy has taken things a step further, not only continually progressing her own snowboarding, but also working to create opportunity for other female riders alongside her success. To this end over the past three years, Kimmy has invited a group of women to the place she calls home, Mammoth Mountain, to participate in a week-long park progression session and photo shoot called Amusement Park. The events have been a collaboration between established icons like Hana Beaman, Elena Hight and Jamie Anderson and up and comers like Chloe Kim, Hailey Langland, and Danika Duffy, among others. Amusement Park is a manifestation of the “rising tide raises all ships” philosophy; an opportunity for female riders to feed off one another and each year, trick progression has surged for all involved.

Mary Rand

Powder turns are always sweet, and only made sweeter when you had to walk up the mountain to get to them. Mary Rand collects on her hard work in the Tele Bowls.

Possum Torr

Possum Torr has a mean slash.

Amusement Mtn

The awe of being a part of this group of impressive female snowboarders was never lost throughout the weekend as we continued to form a cohesive unit.

Kimmy Fasani

Having Kimmy Fasani audit the AIARE course with us was awesome, as she readily shared her experience with everyone.

Danika Duffy

Danika Duffy kicks up some spray after earning her turns below Mammoth Rock.

Bode Merrill

But, despite the accolades for and enjoyment of the annual springtime shoot, if there is one thing that this California-raised rider is not, it is complacent. Kimmy’s tenacity is apparent both in her snowboarding as well as in conversation—it’s clear she’s always thinking a few steps ahead, often about how she can contribute to the group she is with in a way that will benefit everyone. So, when I received a phone call from Kimmy about the transformation of Amusement Park into Amusement Mtn, I was immediately on board.

The initial stage of getting into the backcountry is a tall order and the opportunities are often scarce; powder in high demand, snowmobiles are expensive, experience is necessary and getting all of these factors to align can be challenging. It was out of this that Kimmy created Amusement Mtn in response to a strong undercurrent of women who want to take the leap from in bounds to off piste. The proliferation of splitboards the past few years provides an opportunity to explore beyond the ropes, yet education is necessary and it’s even better if you can find a mentor or two to help you along the way. Kimmy’s vision for Amusement Mtn is that it would be a vehicle to collect a crew of out of bounds opportunists and give them a headstart in breaking their own trail toward uncharted powder stores. The event would take place in two sections: part 1 would go down in early January, in which the group would convene in Mammoth Lakes to take an AIARE Avy 1 course together, building not only their knowledge base, but their crew cohesion. Part 2 would be an on call time period later in the season when the ladies would head into the mountains together (stay tuned) to learn, experience, and document.

Stefi Luxton

Stefi Luxton breaking trail.

Kimmy Fasani

Kimmy, proper hand drag.

Mary Rand

Mary Rand checks out the line on a topographical map.

Amusement Mtn

On our final tour, we made plenty of stops to assess our surroundings and practice what we had been learning over the weekend.

Kaitlyn Farrington

Kaitlyn Farrington, at home within the confines of halfpipe walls or the expanses of the wilderness.

With Amusement Mtn, Kimmy struck a nerve within the snow community. What started as a relatively small list of invitees quickly ballooned into a posse with an impressive collective resume. Kelly Clark, Spencer O’Brien, Mary Rand, Kaitlyn Farrington, Elena Hight, Stefi Luxton, Danika Duffy, Possum Torr, and Enni Rukajarvi were on board. The coterie represented the wide strata of snowboarding, from contest kings to video part mavens. Established icons and up and comers. Some arrived with backcountry experience, others with none. But, all coming together in pursuit of the same goals.

Amusement Mtn

On New Year’s Day, we all made our way to Mammoth to spend three days with Sierra Mountain Guides for the Avy 1 course. Spencer, Elena and Enni wouldn’t be able to make this portion due to schedule conflicts, so they would take courses on their own and group up for part 2. Jetpack’s lens lady, Amanda Hankison picked me up just before midday on January 1st and pointed her truck to Mammoth. We arrived to cold air, fresh snow, and a serious amount of electricity in the air.

For the next three days, we would hang on every word espoused by the founders of Sierra Mountain Guides, Howie Schwartz and Neil Satterfield, along with their talented staff. We couldn’t have had more knowledgeable teachers—Howie even collaborated to create the curriculum for the AIARE courses. It was a humbling experience. Neil, Howie, and their fellow guides are all exceptionally informed, while they expounded on snow science, talked over trip planning, and answered our many, many questions, they made it very clear how much they continued to learn every day as well. The sage-like humility displayed by all of the Sierra Mountain Guides was, honestly, a lesson in itself.

Amusement Mtn

Howie breaks down snowpack and layer testing on the second day of avy 1.

Amusement Mtn

Proper skin technique is very important in the backcountry. Amanda and Kimmy.

Possum Torr

Possum Torr with a little powder popper.

Bode Merrill

A little rest on the ride out. Forest Bailey.

Bode Merrill

Post shred and post sled hot springs session.

Bode Merrill

You don’t wanna run into this guy on a cold, dark cat road.

Bode Merrill

You don’t wanna run into this guy on a cold, dark cat road.

Weather-wise, we scored. The temps were cool, yet mild. A few inches of fresh snow fell early on, covering a multi-foot cement layer that exposed itself with the purity of a textbook diagram when we dug pits on day 2. Classroom work was gripping as we learned the vernacular, picked apart case studies, and grew excited to head into the hills. We were equally cautious though, since seeing so many photos and videos of avalanches was akin, as Kelly Clark put it as we headed out on day 2, to wandering into the ocean after someone has first told you about Shark Week. The healthy respect for the wiles of Mother Nature instilled in us by Howie, Neil and company was serious.

Bode Merrill

While we were careful, the level of stoke within our crew was ridiculously high. Our first, short tour was on the second day, when we headed uphill near Mammoth Rock to test the snow. As Howie detailed the snowpack and taught how to check stability, everyone was enthralled. And as we dug pits and ran rescue drills, we began to rely on one another more and more, the natural cohesion of our soon-to-be backcountry-ready crew cementing not unlike the snowpack during periods of rounding.

On the final day of the AIARE class, we set out on a proper tour. Semi-warm weather and gray skies welcomed us at the Tele Bowls trailhead. Neil was taking us out for the day, along with Jenna Murano, a former competitive snowboarder-turned-badass-guide. We moved methodically, quickly becoming more efficient with our kickturns as we winded up hills, between trees, and through sagebrush not yet covered by precipitation. As the sun rounded the top of the sky, we dipped into the valley just below the bowls and then began to make the steep, zig-zagging traverse up a ridgeline in order to access fresh turns that lay above us to the left. Kimmy’s eagerness to help all of us out with sagacious advice was matched by that of her husband Chris Benchettler, an accomplished backcountry skier who had joined us for the day. Together they offered kind words and helped our squad to improve the way we took corners and read the terrain.

By the time we reached the zone we wanted to drop into, it was mid-afternoon. We changed over our splits and sent easy turns back down into the valley. It’s hard to explain the collective group excitement in a way that isn’t completely cheesy, because we were all really, really stoked. Smiles were huge, muscles were appropriately tired, snow speckled jackets and stuck to strands of hair poking out of facemasks. We were beaming, and we still had a bit of a traverse to get back to the cars. Looking up at the bowls, our tracks criss-crossed, snowspray dimpled unridden swaths. We had completed our first tour together and while weary (in a good way), the eagernss to get back out immediately punctuated the air. We reset our splitboards and headed back through the trees.

Want to sign up for an AIARE Avy 1 course? Go to The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education website to find a class near you. Myself, along with the rest of our group, still have plenty to learn and lots of experience to gain, but we all left Mammoth much more educated, ready to set tracks beyond the ropes as educated-yet-still-learning reliable members of crews. Stay tuned to Snowboarder.com for more from Amusement Mtn as this epic crew of professional riders reunites in the Eastern Sierras this spring. Follow @AmusementMTN and #AmusementMTN to watch the story unfold, too.