If you haven’t already, make time to watch “The Approach” film this season. It is inspiring. It is conversation-provoking. It is what skiing needs. Two years in the works, the action-driven project, spearheaded by Ingrid Backstrom and director Anne Cleary, shines the spotlight on BIPOC and adaptive athletes as they pursue fresh tracks from Mt. Baker to Alaska. While the cast includes numerous big name athletes, like Backstrom, Sophia Rouches, Spencer O’Brien and Leanne Pelosi, the project purposefully places an emphasis on other rising stars, such as Vasu Sojitra, Emilé Zynobia, Anna Soens and Brooklyn Bell. Spending time together on multiple trips for the project, Brooklyn and Ingrid had the chance to chat plenty on the skin track and off the record—this time, however, we’re putting their conversation in the spotlight as the final installment of Age Gap in FREESKIER’s volume 24.
“I was excited to film with Ingrid because she has so much experience in spaces that have been male-dominated. I also enjoyed spending time skiing with Ingrid before we actually went on any trips together. I am so honored that I had the opportunity to learn from her last season.” — BB
Filming “The Approach,” we all experienced challenges, both as a group and individually. What were some of the individual challenges you faced during filming?
I think the main one for me was reconciling the responsibility of being a mom and a parent with pushing myself as a skier. It’s ongoing. There’s no concrete answer. It’s not like I’m going to come to an answer one day and be like, “I figured it out.” I just take it all one day at a time and I’m realizing that I can make decisions and have my own personal rules or whatever you want to call them. [Things like] not going out if there’s considerable [avalanche danger]… or having certain lines that I draw. That gives me real boundaries. Some of the other things that I struggled with were my own privilege, and how I fit into the project? Is it my job as a white woman skier… to be involved in making a movie about inclusivity? Where do I fit in, and how can I do that in a responsible way, and contribute, rather than taking from the situation?
You originally had “Tokens” as the name of the film. How long ago did the concept of “The Approach” come to fruition? Why did you pivot from the original title?
Anne [Cleary] and I first started talking about making this project over two years ago. Pretty early on, we talked to Leanne [Pelosi] and got her involved. She is doing something different in that backcountry space, where she had to really fight the boys club. She’s passing on [her experience] in different ways and that was really cool to me. But it was also apparent to me and Anne that, if we’re doing a women-led, women-focused project including the same type of women… that wouldn’t really be changing the conversation or doing anything new. So it became really important to ensure the project included all the people that are actually out there right now, because that’s what creates progression and that’s what’s really going to bring skiing and snowboarding in the mountains to the next level.
Where did the name, “The Approach,” come from?
Originally, like you said, it was the concept of “tokens,” where usually there’s one person in a movie that’s the token female, the token adaptive skier, the token Black person. But the term itself was problematic because it’s relating my experience to other people’s experiences, and those are not comparable. Conflating the two is problematic because they’re not the same. And there needs to be a bigger discussion around that.
Sure… being one of few White women in movies is different than being a Black woman or being an adaptive athlete. I remember when Anne was circulating the idea for the film; at first, I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to be in a film called ‘Tokens.’ That just seems ridiculous.” But I really liked how everything shaped itself organically between our relationships. All the different places that we went felt natural and it was awesome getting to ease our way into filming with each other. Starting out at Baker, then going out to North Cascade Heli, getting a taste of the heli experience, and having trips in-between for all of us to work together. That’s unique to “The Approach” in the sense that the relationships were really organic.
Yeah, it really did happen like that.
What were some of the lessons that you learned while we were filming?
Oh my gosh, I learned so many lessons. I learned that I need to be better at listening. I think it’s really easy to come at it from a place of, “This is how it’s always been and this is how a ski movie works.” I [originally] came into it with this set of ideas and over the course of the project I realized that I need to let go of everything I’ve ever learned. If I tried to force it, it was like… hugging the puppy too hard. Like, I love this thing so much… but I have to let go of my own ideas of how things might work out and really listen to everyone’s experience and let that drive the project.
Do you have any good advice for allies in skiing?
Listening is the number one thing. Listening to someone else’s experience. Taking yourself out of your own shoes, and just letting go of any preconceived notions you might have. I’ve realized, the more I judge others or think that this is the way things should be, I’m depriving myself of an opportunity to learn from the situation.
I agree, it seems really simple… listening. I had an experience with a good friend of mine and we were going through some tension. She told me, “I don’t think you are listening to me. I think you could be a better listener.” It took a lot of work to be somebody who doesn’t listen to be heard, rather listens out of curiosity and gives people space to be who they are. As I’ve learned how to listen, I’ve realized part of it is being able to speak up at certain moments, too. It sounds simple, but it actually takes a lot of work.
Exactly. You have to be okay with setting aside your own feelings. So often we’re hearing or watching something—like, I’m watching a ski movie and I’m thinking about how it affects me. Feelings like, “I feel jealous of them. I feel envious of what they’re doing.” But if I just watch and enjoy or I just listen to what someone is saying without thinking about my own feelings, that’s such a hard thing to do. I’ve been trying to work on that.
Apart from the individual challenges you faced during filming for “The Approach,” what were some of the difficulties that the group experienced?
The pandemic was the main thing. The whole idea was getting everyone together, and that meant Leanne and maybe some others in Canada. [The pandemic] kept us apart, which was a little tricky. Then, just getting everyone on the same page; everyone had different goals for the season, different places they wanted to be geographically and goal-wise. So just getting everyone on the same page and lining it up so we could get the most people in the most places at one time. Logistics, I guess.
Did you have any shining moments from last season?
I had a lot. It was so special in the early mornings and skinning, just being able to hang out with everyone. In Alaska it was amazing being out there with everyone and being in a role where I could just watch and feed off of everyone else’s excitement and energy. That was a different way to experience Alaska for me. It was also really challenging because [in Alaska] you want to have the best conditions. Alaska is tricky—everyone’s vying for the same lines, and sometimes you don’t quite get the conditions you want. So trying to balance [those expectations], but then also trying to enjoy just being there in the moment. One shining moment for me was when we were all together in Jackson Hole, in the backcountry for hours. It was one of the busiest days in Jackson—two hours of traffic—but we ended up in the backcountry all day long, it was dumping powder, there was overhead blower and we didn’t see a single person the entire time.
My next question touches on motherhood. For me, being a multi-sport athlete—going from mountain biking to skiing, from skiing to mountain biking—I bring so much of those sports into each other. I’ve learned a lot of different lessons from each one. What are some of the lessons from motherhood that you’ve taken into your career as a skier?
That’s so interesting because I love the way that you approach skiing. Being out there with you, it is so cool to see the different ways you think about the mountain. You were like, “Oh, this is like when I’m rolling a rock line on my bike…” And I was like, “Whoa, she just blew my mind.” You totally changed the way I think about skiing… and it was really refreshing. To answer your question more specifically, though, being a mom has helped me see the bigger picture. Keeping everything in perspective, not taking things too seriously. Skiing is fun. And skiing with my kids now is one of the most fun things I can do. Just taking it back to that simple joy of wind in your hair, sliding down snow. That’s what it’s all about.
What are some of the boundaries that you have for yourself as a mom of young kids and as a pro skier, when you are getting onto tricky lines or you’re out in the backcountry. What does that look like for you?
I think that if I have any weird doubts, I’m like, “No, I’m cool.” I’ve had to let go of caring what people think of me saying no, just being okay with it and not beating myself up over that. There’s also [the mindset] of “It’ll be okay… just this once.” I try to really be aware of that. Those kind of decisions are easier for me now; before [becoming a mother] I’d say to myself that it’ll be fine, that I could get away with it. Now, I’m really aware of those thoughts.
Seeing you establish those boundaries, I noticed that also contributing to your segment in the film. You were able to conserve your energy for what you really want to ski and completely grease those lines. You weren’t forcing anything…
That’s one thing that I can say I’ve learned from experience—I’ve gotten better at knowing which lines I’m going to be good at skiing and which ones are not for me. When I first got into filming, I got to ski a lot with Shane McConkey. And his rate for skiing a line and getting it in a movie was like 90 percent or something. He was so good at just recognizing which lines he could ski, so experienced at looking at the mountain, knowing exactly which one he could make look cool. Either that, or he crashed spectacularly.
What do you think is the secret to picking the perfect film-ready line?
Ooh… I have to pick one I’m 75-percent confident I’m going to nail; you have that little bit of uncertainty. That’s going to help you step up your game. It also [has to be] something fairly straightforward, where there aren’t going to be 10 elements throughout the line. And there has to be a clear exit plan for when the crap hits the fan.
What’s your advice for approaching bigger terrain?
Just working your way up, really getting that muscle memory. There’s a lot of ways you can practice at your home resort: Just picking a line, skiing fast and rolling into it blind [is one way] to get that muscle memory. Also, as you’re going up the chair or at the bottom of hill, looking at a line, picking one out and then seeing if you can match it up from the top on the way down.
How much do you think your career has been opportunistic versus self-driven?
I’ve gotten so many opportunities from being in the right place at the right time. I’m so lucky. When I moved to Tahoe to become a ski bum, I just happened to meet the right people and was participating in contests at the right time when the right people were watching. I had a lot of factors on my side… I had friends that would help take me to competitions. I always had going back to my parents house with my tail between my legs as an option, if chasing my dreams as a skier didn’t work out. There are a lot of different ways I could tell that story, but there were a lot of key, opportunistic pieces of the puzzle in place that I was really fortunate to have.
Who would you award skier of the year for last season and who are some people we should be watching?
Oh my gosh. I haven’t seen everything out there this year. I’m not sure. That’s such a good question. Who would you give Skier of the Year to, Brooklyn?
Vasu [Sojitra] for sure.
Yeah, okay… I was only thinking women, but… see, I shouldn’t place any limits on myself. There’s my bias right there. I’ll second that with Vasu, 100 percent. In terms of just pure athletics alone and being a well-rounded skier, he had freeride projects, mountaineering projects, everything. In terms of a skier that had the most well-rounded year across a variety of disciplines, he checks the box.
What’s your advice for people, like me, really diving into skiing as adults?
That would be your job! You skied a bit when you were little… but then you came back to it in college when you were 18 or so. What would you say?
Just going skiing a lot. Like I said in the film, skiing with people that push you, but also who are good friends and supportive of you. Then, just committing to the sport. I know it’s really tough… to figure out a way to get a season pass, to figure out a way to get up to the mountains. Even if you don’t get good at skiing, if you ski for a full season and you’re committing to it, it’ll be worthwhile. It’s one of the coolest experiences ever. And you never get to be a beginner skier again—so enjoy being a beginner.
Favorite pump up song?
After filming, it has to be “Started Out” by Georgia or the “Toast” by Koffee. Both songs that were in the movie.
Pizza or french fries?
A favorite place to ski outside of the United States?
Walk us through your perfect line.
Let’s see… Drop in. It’s really steep, but you can kind of see all the way down it. There’s maybe an air right at the beginning. Then you land and you’re on a spine. You ski the spine, and there’s a perfect little hit at the bottom that you can try to do something ridiculous on. You land on a really steep, nice landing and finish with wide open apron.