All-around badass Robin Van Gyn is one of the world’s most influential snowboarders and boundary-pushing females in the sport. Her impressive snowboard career—spanning more than a decade—has jumped from boosting tricks in the contest circuit to landing countless film segments with Standard Films, Peep Show and Runway. She coached for SASS Global Travel in Argentina for 12 years and MGT Snowboard Camp for four. Then, following last year’s progressive film debut of Full Moon, she earned the Women’s Video Part of the Year title.
How’d she make it all happen, year after year? She’s got an unapologetic focus, fortitude, and passion for snowboarding—regardless of industry or contest. We caught up with Robin to learn more about how she got hooked on snowboarding and where she sees the sport going for women today.
MT: Do you remember your first snowboarding experience?
RV: It was really funny—I first tried snowboarding when I was 10, but I had this giant Burton Fish and it was for a teenage boy. I was a really small girl, so I ended up not being able to fit it, so I sat on it and went down the mountain like a sled. Then, when I was 15, I borrowed my sister’s K2 board with clicker bindings—and it was bad. I was falling all over the place.
MT: The experience must’ve gotten better at some point!
RV: I ended up going again with a bunch of guys at Mt. Washington. I literally straight-lined all day. I was just trying to keep up. That day was a turning point to go fast or get left behind. I realized that I could go fast.
MT: How did your passion evolve from recreational to competitive?
RV: I started watching snowboard videos and wanted to be as good as the people in the footage. I moved to Whistler, and after a couple of seasons I went to the University of Calgary. While working on my degree, in communications and geography, I started my professional career in snowboarding. I joined the snowboard club, started riding the COP (Canadian Olympic Park), and traveled regionally to do comps in Big Air, Rail Jams, and Slopestyle. I had good success, met a group of inclusive snowboarders, and riding with them pushed me beyond what I thought I could do.
MT: Did you enjoy competing on a professional level?
RV: I didn’t love competing. I liked snowboarding a lot, but I wasn’t a great competitor when it came to higher-level events. The U.S. Open and other events with a lot of spectators and elite riding, instead of seeing the potential of what I could do and working my way up slowly, I was really intimidated and, I was like, ‘I shouldn’t be here.’ I would plan a run with a 360 and 180 or 540—and then I would try a 720 or something, because I’d get a crazy adrenaline.
MT: How did your snowboard career shift to backcountry riding?
RV: Whistler, where I moved back to, is kind of a backcountry mountain and offers a lot of powder riding. I knew I wanted to do that—I didn’t know if I could go anywhere with it, but I loved doing it. The same crew of guys from my first day snowboarding brought me into the backcountry in Golden, B.C. One of the girls I worked with in Calgary was a photographer—Ashley Barker, a really successful photographer now—and she came out with us and was shooting. From one of those days, I got my first published photo. It was published in Snowboard Canada, around 2004.
MT: After the photo debut, what was the next defining moment for your career?
RV: I had been invited and rode at the Superpark at Lake Loiuse. I met the women from MGT Snowboard Camp [co-founded co-founded by camp director Joanna Majcherkiewicz in 2001]—like Leanne Pelosi and Marie-France Roy. I happened to be in the big air comp the same day they were holding the MGT camp. Later that night, I saw them at a sushi restaurant. They were like, ‘You were that girl in the contest’—meanwhile, I was fanning out—and they said, ‘You should come coach with us.’
I ended up coaching with MGT and meeting the female riders involved. Leanne had just started Runway Films. She came on a film trip to Golden, where I was living part time during the winter when I wasn’t in school. I was just working two jobs and snowboarding powder. She called me and said, “Hey, I got a crew coming to Golden and one girl bailed. Do you want to come with us?” I phoned and quit my job.
MT: What goals are working on now?
RV: Coming off of Full Moon, I feel like every snowboard goal I ever had was met. I’m in a place where I’m resting in the unknown of what’s going to happen next, but knowing that I still want to snowboard at a high level and progress. I want to focus on big mountain riding because that seems to be where my strength lies.
MT: What’s your dream list for big mountain riding?
RV: Alaska. I go there quite a bit—I’ve been there three times. This year will be my fourth and it feels like a dream every time I go. As for completely new places, I would love to go snowboarding in India—to experience the culture and a mythical place I’ve never been—and Russia. Sochi apparently has some of the best in-bounds big mountain riding in the world.
MT: In all of your world travel experience, what’s your favorite place to shred?
RV: Whistler Blackcomb. It's so good. You can drive 10 or 20 minutes from your house and be in some of the best backcountry terrain the world has to offer. Japan has really good snowboarding, and the culture is so cool, as well.
In all of my travels, Alaska, Argentina, and Whistler are my favorite spots that I’ve been to so far.
MT: Tell us your most recent memorable snowboard moment.
RV: A big one for me—while it wasn’t one of my best shots in Full Moon—was when I did this cliff in Alaska. I didn’t know how big it was, and it was way bigger than I thought it would be. When I was in the air, I was in this flow state. I though, ‘I’m going to land this, and it’s going to be fine.’ Then there was silence, and the landing, and riding away. It was this incredible feeling of landing a cliff that big. I was like, ‘Okay, I guess the bar is set.’ It was a moment where a realization turned on as to how strong I was at that point.
[In the film] there’s a big avalanche that happens right after. I had no idea that when I landed a big part of the rock on the cliff fell off and was tumbling behind me.
MT: What do you envision for the future of women’s snowboarding?
RV: It is evolving. Hailey Langland is so sick and she’s 16 years old. I hadn’t even started snowboarding at that age. Then with riders like Anna Gasser, Jamie Anderson, Klaudia Medlova, Elena Hight…the list goes on…women are definitely progressing faster than ever—especially in the park. There’s no way that when I rode park that I could envision doing that amount of spins—it is just insane. And we will see that [talent] trickle into the backcountry.
I think that the guys are always progressing, but for women, we have this rollercoaster, where we progress a ton and then flat-line and then progress a ton.
In the last year, with Full Moon, the X Games, and female progression in the backcountry you can’t help but be super excited for women as the entire sport across the board skyrockets. And to have this uprise happen at a time when minorities are having a hard time with the administration, I’m so proud to be a woman. It’s a great feeling, and I know that we’re going to do amazing things.
MT: In your perspective, is female participation in the sport on the rise?
RV: One reason why Full Moon was made was because we thought we weren’t seeing a lot of women in the sport. We were surprised after the film tour, because we had a much bigger following and fan base than what we thought. We’d underestimated how many women snowboarders were out there. I think there weren’t a lot of pros. We weren’t seeing their presence, but we were in our own bubble. We have to remember that snowboarding is expensive and to be a professional snowboarder you have to sacrifice a lot financially—there can be more difficulties than in other sports, in that way. I hope after Full Moon, we will see a lot more young rippers in the backcountry.
MT: How can brands improve their involvement and support of women in snowboarding?
RV: Brands that are carving out their own space and culture for women are the ones that are succeeding. For some, there’s an attitude of ‘why should women have something different than the guys?’ But we are different and we have different needs. Burton created a subculture within the brand—Burton Girls—with Instagram and an entire website. They did a great job of merchandising, marketing and designing to females. And I feel like a lot of brands do a half-ass job and blame it on the women who aren’t buying, rather than putting in the same effort for content as they do for guys. It’s a complex issue and it deserves some attention.
MT: I imagine that affects athletes who want to go pro.
I look at these younger riders who are at an amateur level or starting to go pro and there really aren’t a lot of options out there for them for sponsorship. It’s a bit heartbreaking. And a lot of brands killed their women’s line, like Adidas, or they support one token girl rather than supporting a team of women.
MT: What impact were you hoping to leave with Full Moon?
RV: For the most part, the inspiration and goal wasn’t even specifically about snowboarding. I hope the film inspires people to go outside and have fun and spend their money there—instead of buying something at the shopping mall.
With the film, we also really wanted to showcase and pay respect to the people we looked up to, while also being that new era of women who are inspiring others to go snowboarding, be badass, and try your hardest—or enjoy nature instead of texting your friends at a coffee shop.
MT: What advice do you have for girls getting into the sport?
RV: Recently I was told something that impacted me: I had just come back from winning the Video Part of the Year award, and someone said, ‘The worst thing you could do at this point is to stop progressing, because you’re worried about what other people think of you.’ —It hit home. I try to not worry what other people think, but I do. I am concerned about what people think of me. But, if I go to the park and I’m not landing [tricks], I shouldn’t stop trying because I’m worried about what other people think or that I suck. That message translates across the board:
If you’re worried about what other people think, then you’ll never get anywhere, because you’ll be trying to keep your image ‘good.’ Not one un-landed 540 or 720 will ever change if people think I suck, and if you do it over and over again—if you have perseverance—then the tables will turn.
Being on the ‘I don’t care program,’ is tumbling down a mountain if you have to, knowing that you’re not perfect, and not giving up on what you want. Overall, it’s a good way to live life.
All images courtesy of Roxy Snowboards.
From The Column: Women in the Mountains
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