The following interview is one in a series of discussions had with snowboarders who have transcended the traditional boundaries of sport and come to represent something ... more. In trying to define the somewhat indefinable spirit of snowboarding, to put words to the feeling that propels us at the deepest level, we sat 10 riders down and asked them this question: Why do you snowboard? This is one response.
In the world of women's professional snowboarding Annie Boulanger has often stood alone. The domains of halfpipe and slopestyle riding have seen women advance in skill and style with calculated regularity over the years. Yet in the more complicated arena of backcountry freestyle snowboarding -- a field still dominated by men, where sometimes just getting there is a feat unto itself -- few women have crossed the gender lines as successfully as Boulanger has.
Yet, with the work, knowledge, awareness and stamina required to excel in this discipline comes a reward -- a oneness with nature and a satisfaction on a whole different level than that which comes from success found on the contest circuit. This is where Boulanger finds her energy. This is where Boulanger has championed a movement.
As fellow French Canadian pro David Carrier-Porcheron notes, "Annie has always charged. From her early contest days to discovering freeriding, she has definitely made her space in the world of backcountry shredding."
in her own words, here is what keeps Annie Boulanger inspired to maintain her passion for backcountry snowboarding:
There was a time when there were no girls going into the backcountry in Whistler. As a professional girl rider 10 years ago all I could do was competitions. But from the beginning I just didn't feel like that was the definition of snowboarding for me. I didn't like the rules. I didn't like being judged on two runs… I don't think that brought out the best in me.
Then some opportunities came along where Martin Gallant, who is a legendary rider in Whistler, invited me to go out with him and film with the Gathering, his production company at the time. Along with JF Pelchat, they said they would teach me to snowmobile and show me the ropes of backcountry riding. I was so excited to say the least!
When I approached my sponsors about riding backcountry and getting exposure that way they didn't want to support it. That hurt. So I would make little threats like, "I'm not going to the next contest then!"
Some sponsors never thought it would be marketable, but eventually they came around -- I always had to push for support as far as that goes though.
When I started riding backcountry I fell in love with snowboarding all over again. But I did feel like a beginner again too. It was like having to relearn everything. All I saw was rocks and snow; I didn't see lines or landings or anything! But by hanging out with those guys I just watched and learned -- for an entire season. I saw that it was even more impressive than I realized, but I also saw that it was the definition of snowboarding for me: the creativity and the friendships and the freedom.
Snowmobiling was the biggest fear. Snowmobiling itself is really scary and hard to learn. The first couple of years I wouldn't sleep at all knowing we were going out the next day. It was really intimidating not knowing where we were going or if I would be getting stuck or pissing off the guys all day. And not knowing what the day would bring as far as where we were going or jumps or lines or avalanches, just not knowing what the next thing would bring is really scary.
At first I just followed the guys. I wouldn't talk too much or suggest anything. If I strapped my board on once in a day those first few years, that was a really good day for me. So in a way it was frustrating because I wasn't as productive as I would have liked so I had to look at it from the perspective of, "Hey my job is to go out with my friends on snowmobiles and enjoy nature!"
To be in nature is huge for me. It makes me happy! To me there is no other way to live my life than to go snowboarding in the mountains. To enjoy nature is one of the most important things in my life.
With the years, as I got more confident on my snowmobile, I was better at where I could go, so I would start hitting little things off to the side of what the guys were. But at the same time it was kind of hard to pull the filmer away for a minute when he's getting all this footage of someone like Romain or DCP. So just getting the confidence to say, "Check this out, I'm going to try this." That took a lot of confidence.
Whenever things are rough I look at it from the perspective of: It could be a lot worse. So I'm often just feeling really lucky to get to ride where I do and with the people I do. And yeah, I take a lot of good wipeouts. But at the end of the day instead of saying, "I suck" I am just thankful that I am actually getting money to get in a helicopter in Alaska.
To me it's easy. It's all about just following your heart and what you love. By doing that and not giving up on it I believe I attracted the right people. Having really great friends is huge too. Martin, JF -- THANK YOU!
Don't listen to anyone who doubts your passion. They don't know. I've been hearing that forever, but I know what I want to do and what my heart tells me I can do. Don't let other people's limits apply to you. Just listen to yourself.
I think snowboarding was my way to learn about myself, period. It made me work on myself a lot whether it was an injury and thinking about why I attracted that, or seeing limits and reaching past them. I don't know if it's taught me one thing in particular, but maybe if you just follow your heart and what you love you will attract happiness. If you are able to do what you love and not follow society's rules -- that is success in my book.