Next month, in her adopted hometown of Aspen, Colo., Australian-born Ramona Bruland will make her debut as the new host of the X Games.
No stranger to the action-sports scene, she grew up skiing in her native South Australia (even making a brief foray into competitive snowboarding in the 1990s), earned her degree in outdoor adventure -- literally -- and lived the "endless winter" ski-bum lifestyle for more than a dozen consecutive seasons. She continues to indulge her taste for adrenaline by never saying no to an opportunity to try something new -- whether that's working toward earning her pilot's license or making a guest cameo as herself (16 times!) on the daytime soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful."
Bruland's been in front of the camera as a reporter and host for a decade, keying in global viewers to everything from current snow conditions to luxury vacations to adventure-based exploration in the northern and southern hemispheres. Her passion for sports, as both a fan and a participant, is as evident in a taped segment as it is over a quick phone call in a weather-hampered airport. Read on for a conversation with the new face of the X Games.
ESPN.com: You grew up in Australia and then moved to the States; tell us about how you went from one side of the world to the other.
Ramona Bruland: Born in Perth, grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, took a year off straight out of high school and "went walkabout," as Australians call it. [I] spent 12 months traveling around North America with a backpack on my back -- Canada, Mexico, the United States -- and during that time was when I learned to snowboard, having been a skier all my life. [I] did a ski season in Vail, Colo. -- the '98-99 winter. [I] went back to college and then, the day I was finished, jumped on a plane and came back over to Telluride, Colo., and did the endless winter for six and a half years -- 13 seasons back to back -- just kind of following the snow and the lifestyle.
And what were you doing for work to sustain your cross-hemisphere adventures during that time, from ski town to ski town?
Well, you know, as any ski bum starts off doing hospitality, you kind of do what you can to get by, but in 2002 I got my first job in television, which was as a snow reporter in Falls Creek, Victoria [Australia], where I would do snow reports on the nightly news for Channel 10 Melbourne and Channel 9 Adelaide, which were two of the six capital cities in Australia. I also did a bunch of early-morning radio reports and hosted media and all that kind of stuff, so they had me working full time from June to October, which is the ski season in Australia each year.
Then that same company that hired me to do Falls Creek Media did a travel TV series called "SNOWSHOW," and we would go on tour in North America for five weeks around February/March each year, in the Northern Hemisphere. We'd ski Eastern Europe, we'd ski Japan, we'd ski North America and just do destination stories on these ski resorts. So I had full-time work in the snow industry in television for about six months of the year, and the rest of the year I was laying on a beach or bartending and snowboard-bumming it in Telluride. It all kind of fell together.
How did Vail become the place where you learned to snowboard? What's your connection to that place?
My dad went to college in Denver, and it was kind of like a friend of a friend on Facebook happened to be doing the season in Vail, so, you know, you kind of reach out for anyone that you kind of don't really know, but pretend to know, and then crash on their couch until you get yourself established. [Laughs.] Yeah, I just kind of said, "Hi, I'm Ramona! You don't know me, but I'm gonna come stay on your couch for a few weeks while I find myself a job and a place to stay!" [Laughs.]
Vail, it's that big international brand, and the skiing there -- they boast really great snow and lots of terrain, so it was easy. It was kind of the go-to.
What was it that made you want to decide to try snowboarding as opposed to just sticking to skis?
'Cause it was cool! Because it was way cooler than skiing! [Laughs.] I don't know; you know, you grow up with skis, you've got all those pictures of you in those, like, bibbed overalls in the mid-80s, skiing around with your sisters, and then, snowboarding -- this was, like, '98, '99 -- was so hip and so hot and so cool, and it kind of popped out of this action-sports culture, you know? It was just something different -- a lot more freedom, I think, with snowboarding than the rigid "Make-a ze perfect turn on ze skis." [Laughs.]
Did you study journalism in college? What was your degree program?
No! [Laughs.] I started studying international management. Kind of embarrassing, but I was like, "Sweet, 'international' means I can travel, and 'management' means I can tell people what to do. This is gonna be awesome!" But I dropped out after three weeks and split for the ski fields in Australia. And while I was up there, I won a full-ride scholarship to study outdoor education.
So basically I went to college where we took youth at-risk groups into the wilderness, we would do team-building things with corporate groups; they basically taught us how to survive and do search and rescue and get our qualifications to be teaching a lot of different disciplines of sports. It was a whole experiential, wilderness, outdoor-adventure college experience for me. It was perfect. [Laughs.]
Right? Because now there are more sports that you participate in regularly than I can count on fingers and toes, and that includes everything from whitewater kayaking to yoga, road biking, gymnastics, snowmobiling, dirt biking -- even stunts. Which of those are you certified to instruct?
I got my Level 1 snowboard instructor's, back in '01-02. I only did a couple seasons of that 'cause all my friends would blast past me being like, "Woo, powder day!" and I'd be stuck here on the magic carpet with beginners. [Laughs.]
I can teach kayaking, I can teach high ropes. I've taught snowboarding, I've taught gymnastics, I've taught ballet, I've taught tap dancing. But in my college they teach you how to lesson-plan and how to safely teach someone an outdoor adventure or activity or trip.
Part of what you're doing as a journalist is to inspire people to try these new sports, try these new experiences, even if they've got some fear that they maybe can't do it or that it looks dangerous or risky. When have you had experiences where you've felt you had to kind of psych yourself up to do something that was a little scary for you?
Well, pretty much everything I do, I try and put a little adrenaline into it. Adrenaline's one of the coolest feelings out there. Everything I do is exciting and adventurous and gets that adrenaline spike going in many different ways.
But everything that I do is very risk-managed and calculated. It's much more dangerous to get behind the wheel of a car and drive down the street than to actually do most of these things, but with that in the back of your mind, you can really let yourself go and just scream and really enjoy, whether you're skydiving or doing acrobatics in a glider or 20 feet underwater with a spearfishing gun in your hand. [Laughs.]
They let me do some really bizarre things. If it's fun and exciting, I'll do it.
You've interviewed celebrities, you've interviewed professional athletes, I imagine you've interviewed just locals in the places where you visit. So what is it that piques your curiosity about people and what is it that you try to get out of an interview with someone on camera?
Being that people who are used to being on camera have their stock, go-to responses to pretty much everything, what I like most about it is the fact that I am so casual and chatty and easy to get along with that I can just pull out coffee-table conversations with people that they wouldn't normally otherwise do on network television. Just kind of relaxing and getting to know them outside the staged, typical questions.
So what do you feel you are going to bring in that capacity, and in the general event-hosting capacity, to the X Games now that you'll be present for all six of the events this year?
Well, it's kind of almost a new brand with Global X, the six stops, destinations all around the world. I love to travel, I love to experience different cultures, and a lot of the athletes that compete in X Games are from Brazil and different corners of Europe. To actually be able to give them home-ground advantage is huge, and I think it's gonna change the dynamic of who's on the podium in many ways.
I'm not an expert analyst, but I'm very passionate. I think with delving more into the culture of these destinations and these athletes and bringing the real spirit of action sports -- I guess kind of getting away from the "Yo, bro, this is an exclusive community of badasses" to "Hey, this is so cool that everyone in the world needs to watch and take notice and be a part of the action-sports scene."
What was it about hosting the X Games that grabbed your attention?
It feels like we've been so desensitized to watching action sports on television. Because with video games and everything, you see someone do, like, a triple cork 1440 and you're like, "Yeah, that's really cool," but until you see it in person, and see them traveling 85 feet through the air, three stories high . You get adrenaline standing in the audience watching these kids and then you root for them.
I don't know about you, but when I watch action sports, I'm borderline crying half the time because I just so badly want them to do their best and land it and do it perfectly and be the best they can be. Rooting for these kids is such an amazing feeling, to get to go and get behind your favorite athletes and experience the whole action-sports scene.
So will you be sticking around in Aspen now that you're part of the ESPN X Games team or are you going to be leaving your wintry homeland to be located somewhere else?
I'm not ready to leave Aspen. [Laughs.] The beauty about this job is that it's getting me traveling, gets me to all these other amazing new countries with the Global X lineup, but I can come home to Aspen in between and get on my dirt bike and get on my skis and snowboard and play in the wilderness that I love so much. Then get back on a plane and go do it all over again. For me, it's the best of both worlds and it's the dream job.