Real Women: Ingrid Backstrom
Ingrid Backstrom may be the most humble person on the planet. She's quiet, kind, and she blushes when you compliment her.
The irony is that if anyone deserves to have an ego, it's Backstrom. For a decade, the Squaw Valley, Calif.-based professional big-mountain skier has been one of the ski industry's most visible athletes, with nine years of jaw-dropping film segments from Matchstick Productions, five Powder Video Awards for best female performance, first ski descents in Greenland, Antarctica, and China, and this year, an invite to the inaugural X Games Real Women contest, which went live this week for fan voting.
In the Real Women contest, eight female action sports athletes -- surfers Coco Ho and Maya Gabeira, skateboarders Leticia Bufoni and Mimi Knoop, snowboarders Jess Kimura and Hana Beaman, and Backstrom and fellow skier Michelle Parker -- submitted 90-second video parts. The winners will be announced in mid May during X Games Barcelona.
"I was shocked to be included in the list of people [for Real Women]," Backstrom says, genuinely incredulous. "They are all such incredible athletes in their sports."
Although Backstrom used to compete on the Freeskiing World Tour and other big-mountain contests, in recent years, she's moved from a contest skier to a film skier. "Usually big mountain filming is just a competition against yourself," she says.
This winter, everything seemed to be going just her way -- she had trips lined up and grand plans to film her Real Women part in Alaska -- and then a couple of months into her winter of filming, Backstrom's season was suddenly cut short.
It was February in the backcountry of Revelstoke, British Columbia, 12 miles by snowmobile from the nearest signs of civilization.
Backstrom was in Canada to film with Sherpas Cinemas for their fall 2013 film, "Into the Mind." After snowmobiling in, the crew strapped on climbing skins and toured deeper into the mountains. Once out there, Backstrom climbed to the top of a pillow line that looked like a good option from below.
"It took me a long time to get to the top of the line, and when I did, it looked flatter than it had from the bottom," she says. "I should have gone with my gut feeling, but I figured it would be okay. I just went for it, and the last air was a flat landing."
The snow was harder and more compacted than she expected and on impact, something in her knee had to give. She tore her patellar tendon, a relatively rare ski injury and one that required surgery and six months of recovery.
"It feels really good now and the surgery has a really good recovery rate, so hopefully I'll just be stronger when I get back," she says. "I really can't complain, I've been super lucky."
In the 10 years Backstrom has been filming, she's only missed three months due to injury.
But the timing of this injury put a serious dent in her filming plans for her X Games project. "We had only been filming about four days, with maybe one usable day," she explains, a hint of frustration surfacing in her voice.
The filming wasn't for Real Women, it was for the Sherpas' new movie, but the Sherpas agreed to let her use anything that wasn't going in their movie for her Real Women edit. "And I had a few shots from last spring that hadn't been used for anything yet," she says.
Mainly, she says she's just happy she got to be involved in the contest. "This exposure will be good for everybody, and our sports, to just get it out there," she says. "I hope this is a way to see how women's sports are received and hopefully allow them to expand."
For the last few months, Backstrom has been posted up at her parents' house in Seattle, near the surgeons who fixed her knee. It's been an ideal place to heal and work toward her most immediate goals, which are to be strong and ready to ski and coach her own women's freeskiing camp in Chile this summer.
The upcoming session in Chile will be the second year of her camp, run in conjunction with Powder Quest, at La Parva, Chile.
"Last year, I had this amazing group of women who just wanted to charge; they were up for anything, and we had all ages, from 18 to 50," she says. This time, Backstrom will be joined in coaching by Revelstoke, BC-based skier and fellow North Face athlete Leah Evans, allowing the camp to double in size. After La Parva, Backstrom will head to the Ski with the Superstars camp at Portillo, Chile, for another coaching stint.
At this point in her career, 34-year-old Backstrom's future could hold any number of opportunities. "Being injured I think about my other options a little more, and what might be interesting," she says. "I get to work with such great companies. I definitely want to stay in the ski industry, but I don't know what I would do yet."
No matter what she does, her plan is to keep on skiing and to enjoy both the ups and the downs of her sport.
"I'm getting more into the backcountry and into hiking right now. I think as people get older, they enjoy the uphill more," she says. "You get a different kind of satisfaction when you stomp a line, but as I have gotten to go on these trips that are more human powered, I find I enjoy the endurance challenge."