Interview: Where in the World is Robin Van Gyn?
Over the better part of the past decade, Robin Van Gyn has emerged as a backcountry luminary, a leader when it comes to navigating the high and steep, the wide open and the densely treed. Whether technical Alaskan lines, rugged South American terrain, or the powder, pillows and poppers of interior British Columbia and beyond, her reputation is hard-earned and well-deserved. She's guided in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, logged seasons in Whistler's prolific, sprawling off piste, and filmed for Peepshow, Full Moon, and alongside Travis Rice in the four-person cast of Depth Perception. In just the last few years, she's has landed on SNOWBOARDER's Rider of the Year list and earned back-to-back Women's Video Part of the Year awards in the TWS Rider's Poll, in addition to plenty of other accolades.
This past winter, she was busier than ever, filming for Teton Gravity Research's Far Out while landing cameo clips in Austen Sweetin's project, High Octane. It's fair to say that while Robin has been in the game and making an impact for a while now, she's hitting her stride as one of the best in big mountain business—with no sign of stopping her ascent of both the mountains she loves or within the snowboarding community. With her effortless combination of heavy talent, fluid style, and a serious sense of humor—we are stoked to watch what she does next for seasons to come. – Mary Walsh
You’ve been guiding at Baldface for the past few seasons. What has it been like to keep growing your experience on the guiding side in addition to filming each season? How is it spending time up there every year?
I have always been a coach or a guide in my downtime from filming, it was a natural progression to work with Baldface and an incredible opportunity to learn from such a famed guiding program. On top of that, it's the perfect way to start a season: refresher with avalanche knowledge and rescue skills as well as riding pow everyday. I am stepping back from guiding this year so I can make time for more training so I can be a lead guide. My pre season is jam packed with courses so I am not able to do it all, but still on the path. I just really want to go first and also I would love to guide film crews in the future, I think I'll have a unique film perspective built in to my mountain eyes and ears, and I think that's valuable so I am trying to further that into another career. But I am not done snowboarding quite yet.
What were all the projects you worked on this season?
I filmed with Austen, Rusty and Rasman in Japan early season for High Octane, which was just so freaking fun. We spent 2 weeks just cruising in a van eating junk food and shredding our butts off. Then I started filming with Teton Gravity Research. With them I did 2 trips, one to Slovenia and Italy and another to the Crazies in Montana. To top it off, I also filmed for a hiball project about big wave surfers in the mountains, that was seriously nothing but belly laughs, I seriously have never laughed so hard in any other season, so I would call it a success.
And what about the line above filmed by Tim Manning?
Hiball energy took us on a trip with big wave surfers Paige Alms and Billy Kemper, as well as Julia Mancuso, and Leanne Pelosi. Honestly, this peak was one of the only good snow spots left at that point. It was thin in Ak this year, so we were working around that, it wasn't the type of snowpack that allowed for any airs or freestyle. We got a small storm while we were out surfing in Seward, but then everything warmed up, fast. So when I saw this peak in the shade knowing it would get light we waited for perfect timing and hit it quickly. We only found one other good snow spot that day, we got lucky with this one.
And the two weeks filming with TGR in the backcountry camping and splitboarding with Jeremy Jones and Mark Carter last season. What was it like living in a tent in the snow for that long?
It's just amazing to disconnect for that long and manage next to nothing. Once your comfort is dialed, it's easy living. I could have camped way longer, it's so nice just to talk, eat, read, think and snowboard. That's it.
You described riding with Jeremy and Mark on your Instagram and learning more about your own personal strengths and boundaries–when to go past them, when to stick within them. While that’s surely a process every time you go out, what was your experience like specifically on this trip with this crew?
Yeah, basically it was one of the more important learning experiences for me. I was a mountaineer rookie learning from the best. You can imagine how embarrassing it was to realize there were 2 kinds of crampons and I had the wrong ones! Also just learning when to speak up and the importance of comms, knowing what you want to ride and what you don't, and being honest about that too. One of the biggest ones was learning ascent instead is descent. The snowboarding wasn't super technical, but the ascents for me were. Stoked on learning some new skills and perspectives I can take with me.
Highs and lows of the trip?
Not many lows at all, other than hauling out poop when we left. It's all just a wicked time whether you're digging out camp or on a big mission, doesn't matter, it's all rad and part of the adventure. All highs.
How does one pack for that kind of excursion?
Face wipes, snacks, a good book, repair kit, sunscreen and the regular camp stuff I don't need to list it for you. Keep it simple, all that stuff they tell you to pack for big trips is overkill, you'll only use a fraction of it. Take the opportunity to be a dirtbag, you're only human and no one gives a shit how you smell or look.
Two seasons ago, you focused your filming mostly in one area with one crew while making “Depth Perception” in Galena. What was it like going back to a more traditional, multi-location filming year, traveling to find snow and riding with different crews?
We only spent 5 weeks filming DP actually, but it did give us enough time to really analyze and discover terrain, to get used to it and then progress in it. Also knowing what the snowpack was doing was key to being able to get onto some bigger faces. Sometimes when you go somewhere for a week to 2 weeks, just when you start to get the bigger picture and shred accordingly, you have to leave.
You surf a lot in the off season and have spent some time traveling to different Roxy events to exotic surf locales. What are some of your favorite places to get in the water?
Baja and Tofino for sure where I frequent the most, it's the experience also, not always about the waves. France though, damn that place is an epic surf destination.
Pros and cons between a surf and snow trip?
The amount of gear we take with us snowboarding is ridiculous, usually I have to pack 2 of everything including boards etc, but surfing can get away with a backpack of bikinis and sunscreen. Also 2 different mind spaces, one is progression and production, adventure (which is my true passion), and the other is just playing and hanging out with friends. I mean we get both for surf and snow, but the focus is different.
And how about filming with Austen for the Quik project? Where all did you guys go?
Went to Japan, but also we ride together all the time which is awesome, he has brought back a lot of progression for me and it's always the most fun trying to keep up with him on the mountain. I swear it is way harder now.
Looks like you scored in what we have seen. Did you find yourself pushing boundaries out there?
It always looks like we're scoring, which, when you chase snow is bound to happen, but social media is smoke and mirrors, it's not always as good as it looks and sometimes it's better, but always remember, IT’S NOT REAL.
We're always walking the line out there, the stuff we like and want to ride is complex, so pushing boundaries is just part of every day life in the mountains. That's why I am trying to further my understanding and knowledge because its just so much exposure.
Has Stella (Robin’s Dog) ever been into the backcountry?
I did take her splitboarding up black tusk once, turns out her bod is too heavy for the length of her legs so she was post hole-ing a lot, she was having fun but then very pissed and sore. I think she is more of a lodge dog.
You guys are building a tiny home on Vancouver Island–what’s that process been like?
We're not building a tiny home… we're building a surf shack and it's not that tiny, just to be clear. But all off the grid. I mean we're trying to do most of it out of recycled material, which is super challenging but a fun project. We bought a clear cut, so we're going to customize the forest as it keeps growing, it's already 12 years old so it's filling in nicely. We would also like to build a concrete bowl, but we'll see where we are at with the $$$, it could be 10 years out. We're just building it as we have time and money so it'll be on going for a bit, please don't ask when it'll be finished because that is very subjective. We built an outhouse, it's actually the only thing that is finished.
What up and coming riders are you stoked on currently (and why)?
–Maria Thompson, she is killing it all while being a mother, it's insanely awesome, she deserves more love.
–Jill Perkins because her style is on point, excited to see where she goes.
–Estelle Pensiero because I am just so in love with her personality and realness and she so good at riding pow it's insane.
–The Real Wild Kittens from Whistler (Juliette and Amelia Pelchat, Maggie Crompton, and Irie Smith), they have so much potential and I see them being the next wave of Canadian freestyle pow rippers.
If you were to offer advice for people who want to explore the backcountry on their snowboards, what would you say?
Get some training and find good people who can show you the ropes. It's not just what you see on social, but so much more goes into it.