This Ski Film Highlighting Female, BIPOC, and Adaptive Athletes Will Inspire You to Get Out, Shred, and Share the Mountains With Everyone
As a kid, Ingrid Backstrom saw a ski movie where a woman did a backflip. The simple and elegant visual made her realize she needed to dedicate her life to the shred as a professional freeskier. That little ski scene was also the catalyst for Backstrom to ensure that other people could see themselves reflected in action sports too.
Since that fateful viewing, Backstrom has not only gone on to become one of the greats but has also gone on to appear in several ski films herself, including Warren Miller's "Impact," "In Deep," "Attack of La Nina," "Superheroes of Stoke," and more. In each movie, Backstrom shows off her unique skills, undoubtedly inspiring countless other skiers along the way. And now, she's sharing the limelight with others in her film, "The Approach," which highlights a diverse group of female, BIPOC, and adaptive skiers and snowboarders in epic mountain locatons.
The film, which is available to watch on YouTube, created in partnership with The North Face, features Backstrom ripping up the mountain along with the purposefully diverse cast.
"We wanted to show who's out there shredding. We wanted to represent all the people that are out there enjoying the mountain, and we also wanted to represent really good athletes and really good action," Backstrom told Travel + Leisure. "We just wanted to help increase the diversity of representation in snow sports across the board and also make a really great action movie that showed amazing athletes doing their thing."
In addition to shining a spotlight on the skiers and riders, including Sofia Rouches, Brooklyn Bell, Vasu Sojitra, and Emilié Zynobia, Backstrom also worked with a pair of nonprofits in Washington to further the goals of the film: the Vamos Outdoors Project, which provides programming to get kids outside, and the Service Board, a youth-led community initiative focused on snowboarding and youth empowerment.
T+L recently caught up with Backstrom to talk about everything from diversity in mountain sports to what went into making the film. See more of her answers below.
Q. Why did you decide to make the film?
A. The idea really came from my friend Anne Cleary — she's the filmer, director, and editor of the movie. When I met her several years ago, I'd been in this industry for a long time and working on ski movies for 16 years, and meeting a woman who could shred with a big camera pack and get great video and still images was just really rare. We had a lot of fun working together on other projects [and] at a certain point, it just became clear that the project that we were hoping for wasn't just going to fall land in our laps. We had to make it.
Q. How did you decide who to feature in the film?
A. When we initially set out to do it, it was going to be an all-female movie. But soon into conceptualizing it, we realized that if we just make an all-female movie, we're not really doing anything necessarily super different. We would just be doing the same thing that's already out there, but just with women instead of men or with more women. We really wanted to widen the scope and represent the mountain community that we wanted to see.
Historically, when you look at ski media, ski movies, ski magazines, and snowboard contests, it's predominantly white people doing it. Representation is really important in helping people, young kids especially. Being able to see themselves in these faces and feel welcome and know that that's an activity or a space available to them.
Q. How do you feature diversity without tokenization?
A. That was a real central question of making the movie. That's why it was really important to bring together a group of people that, had they been one person in any other film, that would have been more tokenization. But if you bring everyone together in a common goal and just make sure that everyone is being heard and that there are benefits to it. If you're really just coming in and trying to put one person in there just to check the diversity box, that's tokenization.
Q. How do you get to a point where diversity in skiing and snowboarding is the norm rather than the exception?
A.It's a multi-pronged approach. It starts with people having conversations about 'hey, why are the mountain communities so white? Wait a minute, what's going on here? Isn't this available to everyone?' Having those conversations within the communities and then supporting the programs helping kids get outside and do those things [is key]. And it goes back to representation. The more things change within the ski and snowboarding industry, the more opportunities are shared. There are so many different things that have to come together. Hopefully, over time, it changes.
Q. How has social media changed the ski and snowboard community?
A. You have to be able to see yourself in that position to even think that it's available to you. When I was growing up as a little girl, it took me seeing a woman in a ski movie to be like, 'oh, whoa, maybe I could do that.' It doesn't matter who you are, you need to be able to see that that's an available option for you, whether someone's in a wheelchair, or maybe grew up really far away from the mountains, [or] has never seen any Black people skiing or snowboarding.
Q. What was the filming process like?
A. We did a lot of lifts at resorts, a lot of backcountry where we were touring up and skiing back down. It actually took place over the course of two years. Part of that was because of the pandemic, but I think it probably would have taken two years anyway.
We had a crew working in Canada and a crew in the U.S. The whole plan was to get everyone together to meet up and be able to shred together, but the pandemic just really prevented that. We couldn't just jump across borders like we normally would be able to. So that was the biggest logistical challenge.
Q. Which mountains did you end up filming at?
A. Mount Baker in Washington state, Stevens Pass in Washington state, and Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Other than that, everything else was in the backcountry — there was a lot of backcountry in British Columbia, there was a lot of backcountry in Washington state, there was backcountry in Wyoming, and backcountry in Alaska, and some backcountry in Montana as well.
Q. Your kids appeared in the film. Why did you decide to feature them?
A. It's part of showing who's out there. There are moms that still want to have fun and shred. There's definitely a work/life balance that comes into play when you are a parent. It's an important part of the story to tell that it's not just sunshine and rainbows. There is a lot of thought and consideration that goes into it. That is the whole point of the movie. No matter what your approach is in the mountains, it relates to life.
Q. What's going through your head now that the film is complete?
A.It's been great. It's really been well received, and we've heard from many people who are encouraged to see it. And that is what means the most is when you hear from someone that's like, 'I never thought I'd see a movie where someone that looked like me was doing that.' Those are the types of things that make it gratifying.
Q. What do you hope viewers get out of the film?
A. I hope it expands people's horizons a little bit and maybe helps them step outside of their own shoes and their own experience and imagine what it may be like to ski around in someone else's boots or sit-ski for a little bit. The more that we can all just treat each other like humans, no matter what we look like or how we shred down the mountain, whatever our approach to life is, all types of humans are normal and beautiful, wonderful and capable. That's really the goal of the movie.
Q. What's next for you?
A. We're working on an Approach 2.0 next level. I think that was a really good [experience] getting our feet wet and seeing how we work as a team, but everyone's kind of ready to take their riding to the next level. I think it will be largely a similar crew. And just trying to support people in each of their individual goals of what they want to work on, using that theme of, when we support each other, and we all get together, we can really [rise] to the next level.
Editor's note: This interview was edited for both clarity and length.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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