FEATURED IMAGE • David Malacrida
Coline Ballet-Baz first stomped onto the freestyle ski scene in 2013 when she was invited to join the French National Team to compete at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Ballet-Baz grew up only skiing once a year with her family but quickly fell in love with the sport when she moved to Grenoble, France, for her studies at the age of 17. Access to the Alps and a city chock-full of urban features fed the French phenom’s insatiable appetite for progression and, with a little encouragement from her friends, she entered the country’s freestyle comp tour—with great success. Her performance as an amateur quickly garnered attention from the newly-established national team and after graduating in 2015, Ballet-Baz put all of her focus in making a career out of skiing. But it wasn’t competing that she dreamed of always doing.
At the end of the 2019 competition season, Ballet-Baz hung up her slopestyle skis to focus solely on filming. What came to be is her all-female freeski movie, “SKIVAS,” released in the fall of 2020. Starring Ballet-Baz, Taylor Lundquist, Marion Hearty, Juliette Willman, Emma Dalhström, Jennie Lee Burmansson, Rosina Friedel, Kim Lamarre, Mckenna Brown and Margaux Hackett, “SKIVAS” is an incredible representation of women’s freestyle skiing both in the streets and on top of big mountains. FREESKIER caught up with Coline Ballet-Baz to get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of “SKIVAS,” as well as what this incredible skier has up her sleeve for this season, including more film projects and a wild card invite to the Freeride World Tour (FWT). Keep reading for the full conversation.
Hi Coline, how was your day skiing today?
It was great, actually, it’s so deep again in Europe. It’s so nice, we didn’t have snow for a month and now it’s just dumping, so yeah it was a pretty good day. I am in Austria, next to Innsbruck with the Legs of Steel crew.
How has your season been so far? Is Covid still creating challenges on your side of the world?
One of the big challenges that Covid brought me, especially at the beginning of the season, was it was hard to set objectives. Usually, you either have comps or a film project, and everything was uncertain so you couldn’t really know if you were about to go shoot something or if you were going to take part in some events. Heading into the season, I was hyped but I didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was quite weird, actually. In the end, a lot of stuff is happening but it was weird and the snow conditions in general were super sketchy in Europe. There was almost always something that was preventing you from skiing as usual but that’s skiing, it’s an outdoor sport you get to do with what Mother Nature provides.
You got a wild card invite to this last FWT stop, tell me about that experience versus park comps and filming?
I was super honored to get this Wild Card and super stoked, of course, but I for sure didn’t have much experience competing in freeride—like not at all—and so my first thought was, what am I getting into? But it was such a big opportunity, so I was like, okay, let’s go. I have friends on the tour so I knew I wasn’t going to be alone and they would help me out a lot. It differs a lot from slopestyle because you have no training runs. You’re just scoping the face with pictures and drone shots and binoculars and then you have one run. So this is much different from freestyle comps and it’s also different from filming because you get one shot. The trickiest part for me of this comp was not knowing how big the features were and knowledge of the snow as well. I didn’t expect the snow to be how it was and I couldn’t really adapt my skiing to it. There’s a lot to be taken into consideration on a freeride comp. And also just being in the competition gate again was kind of weird but I kind of like it, especially with the good vibes. There’s super good vibes on the tour, and that’s not a surprise because I’ve heard from my friends but it was just four super nice days with a bunch of amazing people. So the whole experience was really rewarding in many ways, even if I crashed [laughs].
Why do you think the FWT is such an integral part of skiing?
First of all, I would say the Freeride World Tour is one of the only comps that keeps the freeski spirit alive because everyone is together. It’s not that I have anything against coaches and national teams, I’ve been part of that too, but here there are no coaches, no teams, everyone is hanging together asking for advice from other athletes for their lines, and it’s just like a big family. So for me, that was super nice to discover, and also because freeriding is such a big part of skiing. I mean, there’s no pinnacle of skiing, all types of skiing are amazing, but it’s so impressive. You fight against the mountain, you don’t fight against the other competitors. It’s just you and the mountains and the snow, and you just make the most out of it. It was insane to watch and it was insane to be a part of it.
When did you first get the idea to create “SKIVAS?” Was it years in the making or did it all come together pretty fast?
The 2018-19 season, I was in this transition in my mind. I was still stoked to compete but I knew I was about to transition from competing to filming. It’s always been a dream of mine to stop competing and only film, so I remember doing the World Champs in Utah and thinking I might stop at some point because it was snowing so much and I had a little backcountry session with Jeremy Pancras with his movie and I was only thinking about this backcountry session and not even thinking about the World Champs. At this point, you should probably stop competing if you are at the World Champs and you’re just focusing on the backcountry session you’re going to have when you come back home [laughs]. So I finished the competition season, of course, got injured and came back, and then I thought, okay that’s over.
So when I decided to quit competing, I thought about what was next and the idea of doing a female-only ski movie just came so quickly in my mind because I had met so many inspiring girls and seen girls through the competition years. I just wanted to bring all these girls together and show that girls can also make a dope movie because the level of freeskiing for girls has increased, particularly in comp but, in my opinion, there was still so few girls doing video parts and filming backcountry, some street and I really wanted to be able to provide a scene for the girls to expose themselves in front of the camera. It just quickly came to mind that I wanted to do a female freeski movie and it’s been a dream of mine for some years. I didn’t imagine exactly what this movie would be but I thought about doing a female freeski movie for so long. The big goal of the movie was to show the vibe and the atmosphere behind our sport, it’s not just performance but also friendship, helping each other and a collective effort.
Where did the title SKIVAS come from?
Anna Marcinek, one of the creative producers and Julien Eustache, our filmer’s, girlfriend. So Anna helped with this name…We were looking for a name for some weeks and then she came out with SKIVAS and we thought it sounded good and original. It doesn’t exist anywhere and it was a mix of [the words] “ski” and “divas” to remind the girly side. So once she came out with this name we were ready to go.
What were the conversations like with your sponsors about creating this movie? Was there pushback on the idea? Were the brands excited right off the bat?
I had positive feedback straightaway. I think the idea of a female movie, they all liked it, I only had positive feedback from everyone—media, sponsors. I’m thankful it wasn’t hard to convince them to go on this adventure and you can’t make a movie without a budget.
How did you decide who would be in the movie with you? Just friends or did you pick out specific women you knew would elevate the film?
I definitely chose the ladies because we were friends or because I knew it would be nice on the human side. Because, as I told you, I really wanted to show the good vibes and so it’s easier with people you know and they will be motivated to perform at their best in the streets, or difficult environments where you have to do everything yourself. I chose the ladies in the movie because of their level of skiing too, of course. I didn’t know Mckenna [Brown] for the street segment, it was Taylor [Lundquist] who said, “I have this friend and she’s super dope, can she join?” And she was super dope and super nice, so that was awesome. But other than her, it was ladies I knew.
Did you ever consider a female video crew to make it entirely female-made? Or what made your film crew so perfect for this movie?
I would have loved to have some female filmers but there weren’t any female filmers I knew at the time and the easiest thing for me was to contact the filmers I had worked with in the past. I had never worked with Julien before but our producer, Rafeal Regazzoni, knew him super well and he was available all winter, which was a good point too. The photographer is also a good friend, I know his work and I’ve worked on many projects with him, so I chose the people I knew already and were available.
Do you have a favorite moment from creating “SKIVAS?“
I would say two components. At the end of filming the street part in Quebec, it was a really big relief for me because I had never done anything like this— three weeks of shooting—and I didn’t know how it would work. In the end, the street part was done, it worked well and the movie was on. I remember the last day of the trip we couldn’t ski anymore so we just hung out and partied a little bit and I was on a little cloud for the last two days. It was a dream come true filming with the girls and the vibe amongst us was so high the whole trip just helping each other. Street is hard, so filming with the right people can be even harder, but with the girls, it was easier. It went smoothly. So that was a good moment. And the day I landed the double backflip, that evening I was on a little cloud again because I really wanted to land this trick for a while.
You took a pretty gnarly slam while sliding urban rails, being taken away by stretcher. Are you okay? What happened? Did that slam change the way you approached urban features after that?
At that spot, I really wanted to do a switch two on, and to me, it didn’t look like too gnarly of a spot but the landing was way more flat than what I expected. So the first try I was just straight-airing, gapping the flat part and straight-airing into the rail, and I landed it but took a knee to my lip. I thought, okay it’s a little flat but that’s probably the worst that can happen, just a heavy landing. Then when I tried a switch two, on this try, I wasn’t locked onto the rail so I slipped out and it was flat down there and I just took a knee to the chin and it knocked me out completely. I didn’t get injured, I didn’t have a fracture or anything, just a blue face. But it knocked me out, so that’s why they called the ambulance. I was out for one minute, maybe, but I was feeling pretty good, no headache after or anything. So I got back out there after like three or four days. I didn’t have any concussion symptoms so I went back out and was super careful. If I had any symptoms I would have sat out and helped the other girls but after three days I felt good and strong, so I went for it again. No regrets [laughs].
What was the biggest challenge creating “SKIVAS?” Timing? Locations? Skiers? Did COVID cut off filming at all?
Yeah, for sure Covid cut off filming. We were supposed to have a park shoot at the end of the season and that got canceled. We were about to go to Crans-Montana to film the introduction because we were supposed to film the introduction to the movie during this park shoot as well but we had to postpone. Otherwise, Covid wasn’t a big issue. Maybe the hardest part for me was to step out of the skier-only role and having to organize things a little bit. On the mountains, filmers and photographers are kind of the organizers, and me on the mountain, I was like, no I’m the skier [laughs]. I should have been more of a director since it was my movie, but I didn’t do so much of that, so that was a challenge to be a skier and the organizer and producer. I learned a lot.
What kind of influence do you hope “SKIVAS” has on the future of female skiing?
I would love to have “SKIVAS” inspire more girls to go film, for sure, in the streets or anywhere, to come out with some nice edits and dope music. And also, to show it’s possible to have a career in skiing without competing. That was a concern I had when I stopped competing, will my sponsors drop me, can I make a living doing this anymore? And now I’m even better off than before, so I can tell girls to go out and film and they will be rewarded for it. There’s so much to gain from being with your friends and helping each other, you can learn so much and improve your skiing, so even though skiing is an individual sport, it’s a collective effort.
What else do you have up your sleeve for this season?
I’m super excited to be filming with the Legs of Steel boys to figure out how they work and it’s going to inspire me a lot for my next project, for sure. Otherwise, I have a super nice project with Picture Organic Clothing, we went out into the backcountry in France for 10 days with some tents. So we set up a camp, carried everything on our backs, built the camp, stayed there for a week and skied some lines. That was such a nice experience with some great people, and the movie will be fun and nice to watch. We had a lot of fun, it was a great adventure. It was my first time winter camping and it was awesome.