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.