Nitro in North Korea

Words: Mary Walsh


It’s crazy how much the head bleeds. The wet, heavy snow, which, moments before had been glowing white, now was marred all around me with scarlet polka dots of varying shapes and sizes. I pressed my hand harder against my forehead, but all that seemed to accomplish was forcing my blood to seep from my head in multiple directions, squeezing out through my fingers and cascading down my nose and cheeks like sticky Spirograph art. I pushed harder against my face. I leaned to my side and more dots splattered against the snow. The radio on my right that I had pulled from my pocket was covered in blood. My cellphone was sticky, bright red. I looked back uphill, where two members of my group were picking their way down the bowl toward me. The abrasion didn’t feel big, but maybe deep? Even smallish cuts produce a deluge of thick, ruby-colored liquid with a speed and ferocity unmatched by how fast you can get your palm to the site of the abrasion to try and slow the bleeding. I sighed, defeated. But not because of whatever opening was in my forehead. No, I felt the deep-in-the-gut sense of defeat that comes from making a non-thinking mistake while slowly turning down a face that you and a dozen other women have spent all afternoon skinning up, since which the snow has greatly changed with encroaching late day shadows. And, with a quick look to your right to scope out a pocket of sunlight and possible angle, you eat shit with all the grace of a newborn deer learning to walk and plunge the corner of your trusty camera deep into the middle of your forehead.


Logo Illustration: Colleen McGuire

Nitro in North Korea

Kimmy Fasani, beaming at the summit. Photo: Kevin Westenbarger

Markus Keller

Amanda Hankison’s vertigo-inducing first turn. Photo: Kevin Westenbarger

As snowboarders, we have always been drawn to the great white peaks visible in the distance, and in turn, there are many options to reach summits by way of high-speed quads. For much of the sideways standing community, snowboarding is defined by this lift-accessed terrain. But those less populated mountains, devoid of trail signs and marked runs have never stopped calling, and while veteran professionals, experienced guides, and a small segment of civilian snowboarders have long been notching descents in this terrain, over the past few seasons, the opportunities for the average snowboarder to get off the beaten path has increased. An interest in breaking trail is snowballing, so to speak and the snowboarding industry has taken notice as more companies have expanded their selection of uniquely shaped powder sticks and added splitboards to their lines, both men’s and women’s specific, expanding size runs.

Similarly, more up-and-coming riders are aspiring to notching backcountry turns sooner rather than later in fledgling careers. Kimmy Fasani noticed this among women and considered her own experience rising through the ranks of professional snowboarding. “Transitioning from being a competitive slopestyle snowboarder to a backcountry rider wasn’t easy, especially being a female,” Kimmy admits. “When I was coming up in the sport, the standard protocol for a woman to make it as a professional was to compete and podium. Once a female had accomplished this formula, then her sponsors and potential film crews would give her an opportunity to start filming in the backcountry. The difference for me was that my only success in pro contests was making the finals at Dew Tour and X Games a couple times; I never had a podium in a pro contest. I could never handle the pressure in the finals. I knew I wanted to film but I never thought I would make it there because I couldn’t do well in contests.”


Nitro in North Korea


Seeing young riders so intrigued by exploring the mountains outside of resorts, she wanted to contribute. Kimmy evolved her annual event, Amusement Park, a week-long progression shoot rooted in Mammoth’s Main Park into Amusement MTN. The base of the idea was similar: corral a group of emerging riders and couple them with experienced female mentors who would help to cultivate growth. But instead of cheese wedges and rails, the terrain for MTN would be bowls and couloirs. The response was even greater than Kimmy expected. Riders that by any account would seem to be rooted in rails and street spots jumped at the opportunity to shed their jib decks for snowshoes and powder boards. Established contest pro and park-savvy ams alike wanted to expand their terrain selection.

And that’s just it. Getting into the backcountry as a rookie to that environment is about two main things: knowledge and access. Whether the interested party is a sponsored snowboarder or weekend warrior, the dream of escaping the crowds and standing in the steep wilderness comes from the same place. The beginning of the journey to channel one’s inner John Muir is usually the most difficult part. The world of finding your own lines for a long time seemed to be shrouded in snowmobile ownership or access to guided heli or snowcat services—both pricey options. Splits were garage-manufactured by a fringe of locals in every resort town, but the prospect of sawing down the middle of a four hundred dollar snowboard can be daunting. And where to begin when you’re ready to step outside? The smartest snowboarders have a healthy respect for the power of the mountains; the backcountry has its own language and etiquette as well as plenty of hazards and dangers. Figuring out how to enter the discussion in order to learn enough to actually get out there is often the most momentous hurdle.

Nils Arvidsson, Markus Keller and Austin Smith

We wonder how many stale fishes there are in that lake down there? ‘Cause there’s one right in front of you in this photo, too. Mary Rand. Photo: Mary Walsh


Nils Arvidsson, Markus Keller and Austin Smith

Jordie Karlinski? More like Jordie Karlinsnowboard! Photo: Kevin Westenbarger

Nitro in North Korea

Markus Keller

Maddie Maestro learns that she needs sharp edges in the pipe and the backcountry. Photo: Mary Walsh



Nitro in North Korea



Markus Keller

Photo: Mary Walsh

And that’s just it. Getting into the backcountry as a rookie to that environment is about two main things: knowledge and access. Whether the interested party is a sponsored snowboarder or weekend warrior, the dream of escaping the crowds and standing in the steep wilderness comes from the same place. The beginning of the journey to channel one’s inner John Muir is usually the most difficult part. The world of finding your own lines for a long time seemed to be shrouded in snowmobile ownership or access to guided heli or snowcat services—both pricey options. Splits were garage-manufactured by a fringe of locals in every resort town, but the prospect of sawing down the middle of a four hundred dollar snowboard can be daunting. And where to begin when you’re ready to step outside? The smartest snowboarders have a healthy respect for the power of the mountains; the backcountry has its own language and etiquette as well as plenty of hazards and dangers. Figuring out how to enter the discussion in order to learn enough to actually get out there is often the most momentous hurdle.

On the morning of January 2nd, armed with thermoses of coffee, sharpened pencils and shiny new beacons peeking out from day packs, we filed into a classroom near the entrance of Mammoth Lakes. I grabbed a chair next to Kelly Clark, Mary Rand, and Amanda Hankison. In the row next to ours sat Kaitlyn Farrington, Possum Torr, Danika Duffy, and Stefi Luxton, a cross section of riders whose various disciplines and experience had been brought together by catalyst Kimmy, all eager to learn about avalanche and backcountry safety from Sierra Mountain Guides.



Amusement MTN was broken into two parts: For three days in January, our crew descended on Mammoth for an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 avalanche course. For anyone looking to step out in the snow, Avy 1 courses are the perfect place to start. They introduce the lexicon of the backcountry: snow layers are deciphered; safety equipment—beacons, probes, and shovels—is explained and utilized. Along with snow science and safety, AIARE courses impart a healthy respect for the wiles of nature and instill a confidence in being as educated as can be, but admitting that it’s impossible to know everything. That fallibility and humbleness is paramount when venturing out of bounds because there are so many variables and things out of our control that can go wrong. The best we can do is to be prepared.

Under the tutelage of Neil Satterfield and Howie Schwartz, the founders of Sierra Mountain Guides, we learned to use our beacons, dug snowpits to inspect layers and relied on one another more to plan routes, analyze changing conditions, and make it out and back safely. We couldn’t have asked for two better teachers. Neil and Howie have nearly four decades of experience between them and have guided on every continent besides Australia. More than that, their humble demeanor toward the power of the mountains set the tone for our experience. At the end of the course, equipped with and excited about our new knowledge, our posse parted ways for winter, planning to reunite in early April for the second session of Amusement MTN.

For many professionals whose careers are rooted in steep descents and off piste powder, having a mentor is one of the most valuable experiences. In Kimmy’s case, her introduction to the out of bounds was in British Columbia with Leanne Pelosi, another outspoken member of the women’s snowboarding community. “In 2007, Leanne invited me to film with her for Runway Films’ See What I See!. That was an eye opening experience,” says Kimmy. “As soon as I found out I could be part of that project—it was March—I bought a snowmobile, drove to Whistler and stayed there until May. Leanne gave me such an incredible foundation on what it was going to take to film a video part. She was so patient, helpful, and had an insane work ethic.” After that experience, while shooting for Standard Films between 2008-2010, Kimmy’s sights were set on bigger mountains but she was still beholden to balancing time in the contest scene to maintain her career. It wasn’t until a double ankle injury sidelined her from competing in 2010 and her then Team Manager, Nick Olsen, suggested she focus 100% on filming. “I was shocked at the suggestion. I quickly jumped at the opportunity and asked Devun Walsh and Iikka Backstrom if they would take me under their wing for the season to film with them. They agreed! I seriously gave that winter everything I could because I knew that I had won the lottery by being a part of that crew, and that if I messed anything up, I would never get invited back! I ended up having my first full part in Standard Films’ TB20 that year. The fact that all these guys gave me the opportunity to shine outside of contests gave me the confidence to pursue filming as an outlet and I haven’t competed since.” Kimmy’s story follows suit with the majority of women who dominate the current backcountry scene. Leanne, as well as fellow members of the Full Moon crew, including Hana Beaman and Marie-France Roy, each began their careers doing contests, reaching a level of success before they were able to eschew bibs entirely in favor of fulltime filming. While balancing a winter spent competing and filming is not impossible, and some may choose to do so, for the majority of female pros, it has long been the status quo in order to grow. It used to be the same way for guys, too, but they were able to branch out just a little earlier than their female counterparts. The rising generation of women is seeking to alter the traditional path and break out into the backcountry as their stars are still rising. The advent of accessible cameras and high-level DIY crews contributes to attainability, but the final piece in the puzzle is actually getting out and learning. Kimmy’s Amusement MTN is the latest and largest opportunity to create that access.

Nils Arvidsson

This photo is way better in “couloir” than in black and white. Maddie Maestro. Photo: Kevin Westenbarger


Nils Arvidsson

Kelly Clark. Photo: Mary Walsh



Nils Arvidsson

Skin to win. Photo: Mary Walsh

Nils Arvidsson

It’s clearly visible that Iris is a badass. Iris Lazzareschi. Photo: Kevin Westenbarger

But, back to the blood. As much as I would have preferred not to be, it was a beneficial, though apprehensive lesson. It was the first day of the second part of Kimmy’s event. Early April in the Eastern Sierras, with a deep snowpack that shifted quickly each day from solid in the mornings to soft mid-day and to heavy, catchy snow in the afternoon. Due to the nature of plans changing throughout the season, Kaitlyn and Kelly weren’t able to attend, but we picked up rookie pipe rider Maddie Maestro and Burton So Cal sales rep Christine Carelli. Kimmy had assembled a legendary group of mentors who would be part of our squad, as well: Wyoming-based guide Iris Lazzareschi and experienced backcountry riders Maribeth Kramer and Jordie Karlinski while Mammoth Unbound’s Jared Dawoud, a talented snowboarder with an expansive knowledge of the surrounding mountains and Mammoth’s Brand Content Manager, former pro and one of the area’s most influential locals, Gabe Taylor, were our not-so-token men.

MTN part two was far from a how-to experience, instead challenging our group to function cohesively, setting plans and figuring out routes. Learning through experience. Trial by fire. Or ice, in this case. On the first day, we woke up before the sun and headed out toward Mammoth Crest. After splitting uphill, it was 3pm by the time we were ready to descend a large chute, but instead of a glorious downhill reward, I inserted a clumsy, deep red curveball into the afternoon. The crew rallied, dividing and conquering between fixing my laceration and shifting the plans for descent. As much as I would have preferred not to spend the evening getting my forehead stitched up, the whole thing was advantageous, learning-wise. Situation assessment, how to respond to an injury, communication between the crew, and knowing that no matter how casual a day trek may seem at the time, always bring a first aid kit. “The accident was something you can’t stage, and for it to happen day one of the event made it the best learning lesson for the girls and me,” Kimmy articulated. “This experience made the girls realize the importance of first aid kits and wound care knowledge. They learned how crucial knowing where you are and how to get home is. This also taught them that communication as a crew can make or break your experience in the mountains, and overall, how quickly things can change in the mountains and how you have to be prepared for anything at any time.” It was almost as if I had sacrificed my forehead, and my ego, all in the name of our collective education. If only I had been that prepared.



Nitro in North Korea

One foot in front of the other. That’s what it’s all about. Photo: Mary Walsh

Nitro in North Korea


The final day of Amusement MTN was our biggest trek, yet. We planned a trip out with Gabe, much further than we had gone before, to an area with multiple steep chutes. The zone was legitimately gnarly and the multi-hour splitboard out, watching mountaintops slowly get closer in the skyline, provided plenty of time to appreciate what we were about to ride. Getting up to the zone was not without its challenges—splitboarding takes practice and with every kickturn, the confidence of each rider grew. There were adrenaline-filled moments for everyone as we stepped one-by-one up steep, snow-packed lines, but when one person faltered, another picked them up, at times literally, and we continued on. The spot that Gabe led us to was beautifully imposing. At least half a dozen couloirs with untouched spring snow stood stoically above us. With Gabe, Kimmy, and Iris leading the charge, the final push up to the summit was made. Standing at the top of the peak, on the final day of Amusement MTN, everyone was beaming. We had been chasing this feeling all winter. One by one, the first ladies of Amusement MTN dropped in.

We were able to tackle a few different lines before it was time to head back through the trees to the trailhead. Everyone was tapped of energy, but had smiles plastered across their faces. The second segment of Amusement MTN was merely 72 hours, but in those three days, we had resolutely headed into the mountains and reaped snowy rewards. “Each girl pushed themselves outside their comfort zone,” Kimmy remarked. “I loved seeing these ladies become confident and inspired by this terrain, and progress beyond what they ever thought they could do. By introducing these women to a variety of experiences and terrain, they will start to build up their foundation of backcountry knowledge. Each experience then becomes a tool in their mountain toolbox.” And this is the most important thing, because when Kimmy created Amusement MTN, she designed it not as a vacuum, but as a catalyst that serves to lay the groundwork for other experiences. For the involved riders to be able to film their own lines in big mountain terrain, but also to share their experiences with others who have a similar interest. So that the propagation of knowledge will spread throughout more people in snowboarding and help to increase awareness and safety, and break down the walls of backcountry access to those who are interested in pursuing it.

A huge thank you to Kimmy for creating Amusement MTN, Howie, Neil, Jenna, Viren, and everyone at Sierra Mountain Guides, Burton, Uggs, Mizu, and lululemon for their support and to Clif Bar and Mimi’s Cookies for fueling every trek.