Setting New Standards with Robin Van Gyn appeared first on Snowboard Magazine.

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When Robin Van Gyn appeared in Depth Perception it triggered an avalanche of attention. To Van Gyn’s surprise, it was “a big deal to a lot of people,” she said. The first woman to appear in a Travis Rice film, Van Gyn entered a coveted cinematic space that the industry’s top male riders have long occupied.

Rice’s decision to include Van Gyn “set a new standard,” she told Snowboard Magazine. Since the film’s release in October 2017, Van Gyn has fielded myriad invitations for projects headed by all-male crews—opportunities that emerged only after the film’s release, she said.

Indeed, the lack of women representation in snow sports media is deeply pronounced. In 2014, women comprised just 14 percent of athletes in major ski and snowboard films, yet they make up 40 percent of the snow sports populace and 30 percent of the viewers of action/adventure sports.

In recent years, some women have taken the matter into their own hands. Professional snowboarder Leanne Pelosi’s film Full Moon represents one such effort. In that 2016 film, Van Gyn rides big mountain lines with a potent female cohort that included Annie Boulanger, Hana Beaman, Helen Jamie Anderson, Marie-France Roy and Pelosi. But it will take a widespread reckoning to move the mountains of gender disparity in the snow sphere. In other words, it will take men making the conscious decision to include women in their projects.

In Depth Perception, Van Gyn blasts big mountain lines with speed, strength and style. The all-male crews that extended invites to Van Gyn following the film’s release were not the only ones taking note. For her part in the film, Van Gyn captured the 2018 award for Women’s Video Part of the Year, an honor to which she is no stranger. It was the second time she took home that title in as many years. (In 2017, it was for her part in Full Moon.)

During her acceptance speech, Van Gyn didn’t mince words. Rice set an example “for everybody who makes films and all the brands out there to include your women,” she said. The industry, Van Gyn later explained to Snowboard Magazine, perpetuates a damaging cycle. Snow brands and media point to their male-dominated demographic as the reason for male-dominated messaging. Women, then, don’t see images of other women snowboarding. Instead, the images they often see are airbrushed pretty faces—the faces of professional women snowboarders who ought to be depicted on the mountain.

“How do we get more women [snowboarding]? Is it by putting models on snowboards or by showing women that they can snowboard, that there are other women snowboarding and they can do it,” Van Gyn said.

If the snow industry depicts women as merely pretty faces instead of showing them in action: on a peak, in a terrain park, then “what you are going to get back is fluff,” Van Gyn said. Alternatively, when women begin to see themselves in the shoes of people like Van Gyn, they see possibility. That would grow the industry both in interest and profit, Van Gyn said.

Rice, for his part, is keenly aware of the industry’s reluctance to close the gaps of gender disparity. In fact, he was seeking a woman rider to appear in one of his films long before Depth Perception. For his 2016 film The Fourth Phase, a three-and-half-year project, he “really wanted to involve a woman, but for a number of reasons it didn’t work out.” During that time certain prominent women were working on other projects, he said.

Years later, when Rice started planning for Depth Perception, he knew including Van Gyn, a denizen of the British Columbia backcountry, was “a no-brainer.” Although her experience in BC placed her on Rice’s filming radar, he has followed Van Gyn’s career for years and regardless of gender, she “is one of the more certified pro-snowboarders I know,” he said. Van Gyn is a “strong-minded, confident snowboarder”—essential qualities when you’re riding “the most dynamic, most interesting terrain on the planet—which you have in BC,” Rice said.

Van Gyn began her snowboarding career at the University of Calgary. She entered the competitive milieu—big air, rail jams and slopestyle contests before setting her gaze on big mountain snowboarding. As she amassed backcountry experience and certifications that drew her to coach in the Andes and tailguide at Baldface, she cemented her place in big mountain terrain.

Robin Van Gyn during a recent trip to Japan. (Tim Zimmerman)

Of the Depth Perception crew, which included Austen Sweetin and Bryan Fox, Rice said Van Gyn “was one of the strongest members on our team.” Still, Van Gyn entered the project with reservations despite Rice’s words to her: “I am not just bringing on a woman, I am bringing on the right woman.”

It was, in fact, a mental battle for Van Gyn. She knew she was capable of filming with the likes of Rice, Sweeten and Fox, especially in her backyard. But given her crew’s stature, she lost her confidence. “I was so intimidated going into that project, like I had to snowboard better than I ever have and I actually wasn’t snowboarding very well at first, not until the end,” she said.

Ultimately, though, Van Gyn won that internal battle. She finally acknowledged she deserved to be there and her riding was demonstrative of that truth.

Van Gyn’s part in Depth Perception preceded her appearance in another prominent film with a snowboarding icon. For Teton Gravity Research’s Far Out, she finds herself in Montana’s Crazy Mountains with professional backcountry riders Jeremy Jones and Mark Carter. “Jeremy’s level of snowboarding is so out there,” Van Gyn said. “I have so much respect for him and how he sees the mountain. He is enjoying it even when it’s bad. It’s icy? ‘No big deal—I’ll get out my ice axe.’” In other words, Jones doesn’t wince when conditions are crap.

Entering Jones’s world meant venturing deep into unexplored terrain for multiple days at a time. Such was the case filming for Far Out. Van Gyn, accustomed to partial sled missions, found herself on a 10-day winter backcountry camping trip, where foot-powered first descents were often on the agenda. That meant Van Gyn was splitboarding all day long. It was physically grueling and when Van Gyn and Carter were done with a mission, exhausted and dreaming of their tents, Jones was ready for more.

“We went into this zone that doesn’t get a lot of snow and got really lucky,” Van Gyn said. The crew named one such first descent “Vision Quest,” after the spiritual journey that Native Americans in that area have commonly embarked upon. Afterward, Jones looked at the crew and said: “I think I am going to go for another.”

Van Gyn is straddling an important line filming with the likes of Rice and Jones because she is also involving herself in efforts to empower women not just by the image she propagates in film. Recently she appeared at Outessa—a four-day all-women retreat that offered 450 women a supportive atmosphere to cultivate their skills in the outdoors. “That was one of the coolest events I have been to in a long time, just to see people come out of their shells—mother-daughter duos, university students. It was a great culture to try something you have never done before.”

For Van Gyn, part of her progression as a professional snowboarder includes finding meaningful ways to use her platform. Snowboarding is an individualistic pursuit, one fueled by a person’s independent might, but with a life in the public sphere “comes a responsibility to use your voice for something good, whether it is interacting with youth or standing up for environmental causes or inspiring people to achieve their dreams,” Van Gyn said.

“It’s fine if you are just using your voice to be a snowboarder, but I do admire those who are using their voice for good.”

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