Breaking Trail – In Conversation with Leah EvansEvents
Leah Evens grew up on the slopes of Red Mountain Ski Resort surrounded by a supportive community and the beauty of Canadian mountains. As a professional skier, she helps women reach their full potential on skis through her Girls Do Ski camps. She currently resides in Revelstoke, British Columbia and uses her experience in the mountains to inspire others to expand their sense of what’s possible in their lives. Hannah Bailey recently caught up with her to find out more.
Can you tell me about your early days skiing and how you came to be connected to the backcountry and freeriding?
I grew up in Rossland, British Columbia, where you would ski the hill and dabble a little bit in the backcountry. I was so curious about it because my family was always going touring and so, eventually, the hill wasn’t satisfying me anymore. I asked my dad to take me out ski touring.
I remember the first time – we went to look at ‘Roberts’ Face’ (Mount Roberts), because I was going to be taking part in an extreme competition on it. I needed to go and see the lines. We went touring, and he kept asking me questions such as ‘What are you wearing?’ and ‘Why don’t you have any water with you?’. There were all these things that I had no idea about, and he said: ‘Here’s the deal, this is what you have to have in your backpack.’
That was my first experience – it was almost out of necessity that I went ski touring. But when I moved to Revelstoke there was a huge ski touring culture, so I started going on trips with my friends and, as the gear got better, I wanted to keep exploring and learning, to go further. Living in Revelstoke has been incredible because there is so much to do.
What feelings do you get from touring that you don’t get from another type of day on the hill?
Generally, with touring, you are more connected to the snow and the snowpack. You are in charge of making your own decisions. You are always chatting with your group as you go up, creating great friendships, but you are also really bonding with the landscape.
You notice everything, like the snow is warming up, there is a little wind or the light is so beautiful. I think it is a process. When you go to the ski hill, you are on a carnival ride, and you can zone out, but, with ski touring, you have the time to process your surroundings and I find that it is far more of a natural way to travel.
So, how do you prepare for a day in the backcountry and what are the important items to take with you?
I learned from a young age that there are essentials you need in your backpack and so I always keep mine packed with the same things: a beacon, shovel and probe are mandatory – they have their own pocket and I know they are there at all times – plus I always take a first aid kit and headlamp with me.
Then, based on the weather, I know if I need to pack layers, or a certain amount of water or food. I try to have a system and keep it really consistent, to be efficient. I want to know where my skins are so that I can transition within a minute if I need to. That is the first step.
I check the avalanche bulletin and rally with my group to make sure we are all on the same page. But before all this, I check in with myself to make sure I am in the correct headspace and I should even be doing the objective, to make a good decision. I always think of it as the emotional bulletin. You can look at the avalanche bulletin, but you also have to check in with yourself. You are the human factor, the mountains will always be there. You can go out skiing in so many ways but that is my process of getting there.
It’s great that your dad opened the world of ski touring to you. Do you pass your learnings on?
This is a big part of my work and I do it through the Girls Do Ski ski camps that I run. It’s a space for people to ask questions, to have no ego and admit they have no idea what they are doing so they can get tips. I volunteer with Avalanche Canada too, and they have different events which I will speak at, touching base with people who don’t have much experience of the backcountry.
You started Girls Do Ski 12 years ago and it’s a really great initiative to get more people involved in skiing. Why did you feel the need to launch it?
When I was younger, competing in Red Mountain, I met a many girls from all over the world, and it blew my mind. I had no idea you could ski in Japan, Australia or New Zealand. It made me realise there must be more people like me that love skiing this much. I realised I was not an anomaly.
There were fewer females than males involved in the sport, so I wondered how we could all gather to raise the bar of female skiing. That is where the event idea transpired. I am really stoked to see how far the community has come. We have put in the first tracks and now they are ahead of us.
As a woman in snow sports, do you see things changing, for the better, around the idea of inclusion and participation?
Yes definitely. It’s a really cool time to be involved in getting people outside. I’ve seen an increase in participation, mentorship, and the conversation has started on accessibility. I spent a lot of my life committed to getting female skiers connected, and involved, in a community. I’m so stoked to see other people do that in their local communities too.
What do you have planned for the coming season especially with everything that is going on?
I’m currently focused on creating a Covid management plan for Girls Do Ski – last year was our biggest year of camps and this year we have to think creatively, based on the pandemic limiting things.
I feel like we have a baseline of what we are going to do and we are prepared for winter, but everyone is in the same boat, there is this uncertainty. However, we have some really good online strategies to keep everyone engaged.
You are hosting the virtual Patagonia Breaking Trail event this November, for the backcountry community across Europe. Why is this a valuable thing to be part of?
By joining an event on backcountry / ski touring planning, you are setting yourself up with the basic essentials that you need to know. Any chance you get to learn from people who have spent time in the backcountry is so valuable. You might learn some of the same stuff, but any time you can listen to someone who has committed a life to it, they have some really good tips, and everyone will teach something in a different way.
Absorbing as much information as you can is key. Not everyone has a dad who will do that for you. They have to find other people in the sphere of the mountain to call mentors. These events are important because they are accessible, and you can plug into a community and reach out to people to be guided in the right direction.
As an Ambassador for Patagonia and being part of the general fight for winter, how are you involved professionally and personally in the fight against climate change?
I was heavily involved in the fight to save Jumbo Glacier. Also, there is a non-profit called Wildsight that runs environmental stewardship programmes that connect people to nature. That has been my main focus, I work with them in the summer, connecting youth to nature. They are raising awareness of things happening in local areas to get everyone thinking. That is my passion and I want to connect people to nature so they feel something and they want to protect it.
In the summer, I’m a hiking guide. I try to make learning about nature cool so that people care, to increase the amount of stewardship. In winter, we have to know these places and environments, to realise that these trees need protecting, from logging, for example. I really try to root people to places so there are more allies to protect them.
Do you think during this time, we are more open to caring about our immediate surroundings? And do you think it will make a difference?
More than ever, people are discovering places local to them. In British Columbia (BC), it was crazy how busy it was this summer. People were visiting parts of BC they had never been to before. Normally, people would travel but now they are strongly attached to these nearby places. There are so many things that have not been positive about Covid, but we are having to become real, realising where we live and that the world is no longer global, but local, which I think is a positive thing.
Coming up, you have the Girls Do Ski camps, but what other touring plans do you have in mind within backcountry BC?
We are going to places we haven’t been before! My partner is a ski guide, and normally he is working a lot, but he has a lot more time now – as do some of my friends who are guides. I am going to have a lot more people to ski with – and, fingers crossed, we can.
There is so much I haven’t done before – even in Rogers Pass where I have been skiing my whole life. This has been a really interesting exercise in gratitude, in normal life, we never take a break to realise what is around us – we always want more. If I have to spend my whole winter here, I’m happy, Revelstoke is amazing.
Join Leah Evans and friends for an evening of backcountry conversation – to discuss every angle of backcountry touring, from voicing the stoke to fighting for winter. The is a virtual event on Thursday 19th November. For full details visit breakingtrail.splashthat.com
You can find Leah on Instagram @evans_leah. Interview by Hannah Bailey.