By now, you’ve likely watched Remedy, the first movie by all-women’s powder project, Powanoia (if not, you can watch it here). Perhaps you’ve seen their web edits or maybe you follow them on Instagram, @powanoia. But, whether the ladies of this fresh-snow-coveting crew are new to your or not, it’s very likely you can relate to their penchant for powder. They’re representative of a growing trend in snowboarding that has increased alongside the proliferation of powder decks and splitboards: a movement toward the backcountry for more and more riders, self-powered on splits, Verts, and snowshoes. When they began three seasons ago, the riders of Powanoia, led by Christine Savage and Fancy Rutherford, were looking for an outlet into the out of bounds. They had spent seasons DIY-ing in the streets and while they collectively possess plenty of skill on steel, they wanted powder turns and softer landings and to push themselves outside of their comfort zone in the mountains outside their Tahoe doorsteps. So, they created Powanoia. Since its beginning, the group has grown to include a profusion of talent, one part film crew and one part collection of women who have come together to learn alongside one another, some experienced in the off piste and others completely new: Iris Lazzareschi, Madison Blackley, Summer Fenton, Nirvana Ortanez, Nelly Steinhoff, and more have joined up to film, all the while learning from one another and increasing their experience and knowledge. Catalyzed by the powder search, they’ve set their own path. We caught up with Fancy and Christine to learn more about how Powanoia started, how the past season went, and what’s on tap for this winter. – Mary Walsh
When, where, and why did Powanoia become a thing?
Christine: Fancy and I were coaching in Japan two winters ago and it was dumping one night and one of the girls we were riding with, Hannah Bailey, said (in her best Scottish accent–she’s Scottish) that she had “powanoia” and we were like, "What the fuck is powanoia?!" She explained that powanoia was the feeling you get before what you think might be a pow day—the anxious/excited feeling when you can’t wait to wake up in the morning and see how much snow is on the ground and then go ride! At this point we had the idea in our heads of possibly trying to put together a powder project in the future, but it had no name. It wasn’t until months later when we were back home in Tahoe that we decided the project needed a name, started brainstorming, and realized that Powanoia was the perfect name. We messaged Hannah and got the approval to use the name, since as far as we know, it’s a word that she made up, and the rest is history.
Who filmed for Remedy? How did everyone come together for the movie?
Fancy: Our interest in riding powder and passion for filming is what brought us all together. We come from all different backgrounds and crews and it is really cool to push each other outside of our comfort zones in backcountry. It has really brought together a diverse group of women from mountaineering, halfpipe, boardercross, and street riding. We all have something to learn from each other. Also, my super supportive fimer/husband Kieth Rutherford is really excited to shine a different light on women's snowboarding, highlighting the grassroots passion project that is Powanoia. The riders involved are me, Christine Savage, Madison Blackley, Summer Fenton, Iris Lazzareschi, Nelly Steinhoff, Stefi Luxton, Faye Gulini, Vera Janssen, Savannah Golden, Nirvana Ortanez, Jackie Lammert, and many more.
The riders come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience in the backcountry—for some, this was their first season or two getting out. How does the concept of increasing access to and experience in the backcountry fit into Powanoia?
Fancy: I would say most of us, including myself, are very new to the backcountry. We are just getting our feet wet and have so much more to learn. I think this is the exciting thing about the film, that there is so much more to do and see and learn in the backcountry. We really want Powanoia to be more of a movement [in that] our goal is to introduce the beauty and passion of nature to more women and men. Powanoia is a feeling and we want to share it with you. (Not in a super hippy way, haha.)
And you guys, with filmer Kieth Rutherford, made the movie on your own from start to finish.
Christine: I think that was partly the whole inspiration behind it. We basically were like, we have splitboards, Verts, and the ability to hike. We live in Tahoe and have relatively easy access to an incredible amount of terrain. Why can't we film a movie? I mean, of course there are things we couldn't access, but we also knew that we had more than enough within our reach to create a project, and we knew that by creating that project we would be motivated and inspired in a greater way to go out of our comfort zones. In the past, when we were only filming for street projects, it was easy to wake up to a foot or more on the ground and go, "OK, well of course we're going to go find a street spot and start building that today." Having a powder project that we were working on changed all that and honestly, I think we rode more pow than we ever have before. And goddamn, was it fun! It was a lot of work at times, not unlike filming in the streets, just different: earlier start times, hard in a different way, and scary in a different way. I think our hope is that this inspires more DIY projects and makes more people think, "OK, I could do that. It's not so unattainable." You don't need a heli budget to be able to film something (although, for sure, I think we all wouldn't turn one down). Most of us don't even have a travel budget, but we made it work, and filming for Powanoia made our winter even more awesome than it would have been if we didn't have this project to work on.
Fancy: The concept of the movie is based on exactly what we wanted to do next. Six years of filming street parts had me hungry to try something different. So, that is exactly what we are doing. It is more organic then planned out. Living on our summer salaries, we went from the streets to the backcountry and boy, has it been different. I know how to wake up and go to a street spot. I had no clue how to film backcountry lines and build jumps. Powanoia is just the natural progression from street to pow.
Why do you think it's important that Powanoia is a film project featuring only female snowboarders?
Fancy: Not all girls will get the opportunity to film with a big budget film crew, just like most dudes won't. That being said, filming with other women stokes me out and brings us all together. I think that over the years, Runway and Peepshow worked so hard to create a larger platform for women’s snowboarding. And now it is our job to continue to expand the presence of women’s snowboarding. I really think its working; Full Moon, Too Hard, The Uninvited, Jetpack and many others have created their own projects to push each other and get new women into the sport.
Christine: Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to develop a really tight female crew, and that’s just who I want to ride with. That’s who pushes me. I don’t necessarily think we went into this saying let’s do an all female project… it was more just, that’s who we ride with. The people included are people we’re friends with and ride with or others who’s snowboarding we’re down with and wanted to be included in the project. Guys have got their own thing going anyway, this is our thing.
You guys spent the past two winters filming quite a bit in Japan. How was that experience?
Christine: They were both insane and so fun, but both really different experiences. The first year was way more street-focused, with less emphasis on pow. Powanoia was really just an unnamed, fleeting idea for a potential project at that point. We rode pow, but it was more of a street trip with a side of pow. This winter’s trip was more of a pow trip that happened to have some street spot days when the conditions were favoring that. Japan is always so incredible, though. It’s just insane. Every day is so exciting and cool; it doesn’t matter what you’re riding. Even if you aren’t riding, it’s still exciting.
Fancy: I would say the best thing about Japan is the friends we have made. Snowboarding creates friendships that language barriers can break. Shout out to Uey, Tbow and Yuribow. The two years were so different. The first year was much more street-focused and this year we only rode street when there was no powder. That is still what we do when there is no snow.
Whose video parts inspire you?
Fancy: I really love watching snowboarding, so this might be a really long-winded answer. I watched Jess Kimura's Think Thank part on repeat, as well as Desiree [Melancon]’s. Victoria Jealouse, she is such a badass. I have recently watched the entire Totally Board series and love what all those dudes were doing. Backcountry riding is so classic that 20 years later, it is still so relevant. I look up to Hana, Leanne [Pelosi], Marie, and Kimmy. I literally watch all women's snowboarding and it is all so inspiring to me. I also feel like there are a lot of younger ladies coming up making edits. Yes, I watch your edits! Keep killing it! Jake Devine, Nicolas Muller, Mike Rav, Gray Thompson and all the Warp Wave dudes, Manuel Diaz, and everyone who puts themselves out there!!
Christine: Kimmy Fasani, for sure. Her last two video parts for Absinthe were just incredible. I first saw her parts at video premieres in Tahoe and dudes were in awe, literally freaking out…and rightly so! The lines she rode were just massive. And in her most recent part, the tumbles she took were also insane, and gave a real insight to their determinedness and grit. Even though she makes it look easy, it’s anything but. Marie-France Roy, Hana Beaman, Robin Van Gyn…. Honestly, all of the ladies from Full Moon as well. I think those were the first video parts that ever really made me want to ride more pow. Before that I honestly was just watching a lot of street footage.
You guys went to Canada in late March. How was that experience? Who was on the crew?
Christine: For the Canada trip, the crew was Fancy, Kieth, Summer, Faye Gulini, and me. Having Faye on the trip was so sick because we don’t get to ride pow with her often enough and we really love her riding and just getting to hang with her so it was awesome to finally have her be able to join us. As for the experience, I’d say the best way to describe that trip was that it was a big learning experience. We had some serious snow instability issues that ultimately proved too dangerous for us to ride what we’d hoped to ride up there. Some parts of the trip were good and some parts not so good, but overall I think we all walked away having learned a lot and having an increased trust in our crew. Both of those things are pretty priceless, so I think even though the trip didn’t go as we planned and didn’t turn out productive in the way that we’d hoped, it was still a really valuable experience.
Most of your treks are either on splitboards or Verts and snowshoes. Why is this an integral part of Powanoia and how does that affect where and what you ride?
Fancy: Yeah, this is a huge part of our story, lack of money limits us from snowcats and helicopters, but its OK because splitboards and Verts are a great mode of transportation. It is incredible how far the equipment has come! Shout out to Verts and Sparks for getting our butts to the top of mountains we never imagined. Even boot-packing, it is amazing how a mountaintop so far away becomes attainable with a little bit of hard work.
With much of the crew living in Tahoe, how has your exploration of the Sierra gone? Have you guys learned a ton about these mountains?
Christine: We’ve learned a ton, but really in the grand scheme of things, we’ve just barely scratched the surface. The Sierra is massive… I think really learning it is a lifetime project. But we’re down!
Fancy: Man, it is a big ol’ world out there. Last year we boarded in four countries and three different continents. Its been amazing. I definitely call the Sierra mountain range home. if you want to get to know something you have to ask questions and I have been lucky enough to have friends show us around the Sierra. I’ve used all my lifelines: phone a friend, survey the audience, done my homework, and so on. Thanks to everyone who has shown us around. This was a big lesson for me: ask for help the mountains are too vast. (GDT guide service, look him up.)
Many members of your crew participated in Kimmy Fasani's Amusement MTN. How has that annual event been meaningful to your project and crew?
Christine: I think that was a huge stepping stone for all of us involved because it gave us the knowledge and a good foundational tool set to start to actually do the things that we were beginning to dream about doing in the mountains. It's one thing to see these lines and think, “Oh I wish I could ride those one day,” and then you go to Amusement MTN and you start to learn route planning and how to choose a line from the bottom and then find that same exact line from the top and ride it (which is honestly so much harder than it sounds). For Kimmy and the mentors to share their vast wealth of knowledge is incredible. I was pretty intimidated when I first got the invite but I left on such a high, feeling like, “OK, I am capable of more than I think and now I've got some of the tools I need to succeed that I can continue to build on.” It was such an incredible experience and I think it has been a huge jumping off point for a lot of the women who have been involved. It's insane to watch people take the knowledge that they've acquired at Amusement MTN and start spending more time in the mountains and expand on it from there. I think a lot of us can't thank Kimmy enough for that. She has so much experience and knowledge and the fact that she wants to share that with others is so amazing.
What would you offer as advice for women (or guys) looking to get into the backcountry?
Christine: Start with an AAIRE course! You may think that you don’t need to learn about backcountry safety because you live in this place or that place, or you only go out on (what you think are) less dangerous days, or you ride with a crew with a lot of experience or this or that, but that’s not the case. There is always danger out there, and having at least a basic knowledge of what that danger is and how to mitigate it is your only defense. Make sure that you choose a good crew. The people you choose to go out with is one of the most important decisions you make, so make sure they are people you trust and people who listen to you and value your opinion. Oh, and also make sure they are fun, too, cause if it’s not fun, why are you doing it?!?!
Fancy: Find a like-minded buddy and just do it! Take an avalanche awareness class and get our there!! Also, it is always helpful to ask a friend to take you out and to be a good listener!
What have been some of the biggest things you have learned about backcountry travel and riding since starting Powanoia?
Christine: Haha, mainly that I don’t know enough? I think you never know enough though? I have learned a ton for sure, including a lot more on how to assess danger and read the snow conditions, but I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned (and am still learning and trying to get better at) is how to manage my own expectations and make the best decisions that I can.
This season has started, so what are you guys getting into this year?
Christine: We started off winter with an avy refresher with Westwind Collective in Tahoe in early December. That was cool just because one of the goals of Powanoia is to make the backcountry more accessible for women so we thought we could tie that into our avy course in our own backyard and bring in some local girls who maybe just needed a little bit of motivation to get out there. We just got back from Japan where Summer [Fenton], Madison [Blackley], Kelsey [Boyer] and and I rode a bunch of pow. We've got a couple other trips planned throughout winter—some ladies are going to Japan later in the season and we hoping to do at least one Canada trip together, as well as some more exploration of the Eastern Sierra. The main goal is to pick up where we left off last winter, keep expanding our knowledge, and continue to get more comfortable in the backcountry. We'll be filming that process throughout the winter!
Fancy: We have barely gotten our feet wet and we’re really excited to see what the future holds–we have so many more mountains to climb.