INTERVIEW • Andy Cochrane | PHOTOS • Blake Jorgenson
Follow the Sea-to-Sky Highway a hundred miles north from Vancouver, past Squamish and Whistler, and you’ll find yourself in Pemberton, British Columbia. A sleepy town of 2,500 at the northern extent of the Garibaldi Range, “Pemby,” as the locals call it, is situated where the highway turns inland towards Revelstoke. Most people, including skiers, just drive by.
Perched just 700 feet above sea level, Pemberton is often overlooked as a middling logging town. Sitting in the shadow of Mount Currie at the cusp of the Coast-Interior divide, summers are dry and winters are rainy and relatively mild. As recently as the mid-1960s, access was train-only. Its modest collection of homes and local businesses are connected by a web of paved and dirt roads—it’s not exactly Aspen or Jackson.
Yet, a surprisingly large number of professional skiers live in Pemby, including Tatum Monod. For her, access to world-class terrain is a just snowmobile ride away—in nearly every direction she can access the alpine in less than an hour. Unlike nearby Whistler, solitude in the winter is common, an added perk. With a view of the 8,500 foot summit out her kitchen window, Tatum loves calling Pemberton home.
Almost two months into the COVID-19 quarantine—and two months into her sabbatical from skiing—FREESKIER caught up with Tatum on a call. The conversation wandered from sourdough to sweater design to breaking skiing’s glass ceiling. Keep reading for the full interview, edited for clarity.
Tatum! Hey, how are you?
Tatum Monod: Hold on a second! I’m pulling an angel food cake out of the oven… I’m good! How are you?
Saw you making pies the other day. If the skiing thing doesn’t work out maybe you can try your hand as a baker?
[Laughs] I should probably stick to my ski career but I did just finish Episode Two of Tatum’s Taste. Go check it out to learn about sourdough bread!
Let’s rewind to early March. What were you doing when things started to change?
It all happened really quick. I was filming with Michelle [Parker] and Elyse [Stausgard] in a remote part of British Columbia. I remember thinking it was the perfect place to hide during a pandemic. We didn’t have great service and couldn’t follow the news very closely, but when we got back to Pemby a few days later everything was a lot more serious. There was talk of the border closing, so Michelle and Elyse left almost immediately to get back to the States.
Did you stop filming, too?
Not right away. I went to Banff with the film crew with hopes of continuing [our project], but when we got there we realized it wasn’t possible or safe. The goal was to do a scene with some local families and their kids, and that didn’t feel totally responsible to me—so we called it.
Tell me more about the upcoming film?
It’s a dream project, really. The story is about my family and how the sport of skiing is in my blood. My grandfather lived in Chamonix in the ’50s and was a mountain guide [around Banff]. That’s where he founded the family store, Monod Sports. I plan to go back and connect with the community, ski the mountains that he did and dive back into the roots of my family history. My dad, aunt and uncles also skied professionally–skiing is in my DNA. I have the opportunity to tell my story only once in my career so i want to do it justice.
Do you feel any pressure telling your family’s story?
Yeah, definitely. I want to give everyone in the family a voice and let them say what they want to say. It’s the biggest project I’ve ever embarked on… I feel really grateful to have all the support I do from family and sponsors. It’s hard to describe it as anything but a dream project.
Who are you working with?
With something this personal, it’s really important to have the right crew. I’m helping produce and I’m working with CK9 Studios to tell the story. I work really well with Clay [Mitchell], Cam and Simon [Shave], for me it’s a dream team. The goal is to tell the story with imagery—try to capture as much as we can naturally, not hear someone explain it. That takes a lot of creativity, so I’m glad I have the right team.
It’s been almost two months since you stopped filming—have you been skiing at all?
No, which is crazy to say because it’s my job and this is prime ski season. But the bottom line is that I didn’t want to put others at risk just for the sake of skiing. I kind of knew I should stay inside. A huge bummer. So now the film will be a two-year project. Fortunately all of my sponsors are supportive of that. It might be a good thing, giving us more time to plan and do the story justice.
What else have you been doing while in this crazy isolation?
I’m taking this time to work on myself. Early on, I would grab my phone to fill time—what felt like every ten seconds. For the sake of my mental health, I knew that had to stop. I took a two week break from social media to do other things and be more present. I’ve been reorganizing all my fly fishing stuff, re-rigging my rods, trying to learn how to skateboard which at the age of 28 is no joke. Mostly just trying to slow down.
How do you see the COVID situation affecting skiing in the long run?
Of course, I hope we go back to normal next winter and can travel freely, but, without [trying to sound] pessimistic, I think the ski industry is going to take a hit. Skiing is expensive and may not be as much of a priority or as financially accessible for as many people.
How is your family’s shop, Monod Sports, doing through all this chaos?
Covid had a huge impact. In 73 years of business, we had never closed the doors. It’s really hard to see. My brother recently bought the business from my dad and uncle, and it’s hard to see him struggle. He’s been running some online sales to keep a portion of the business afloat, but still had to lay off the entire floor staff. It’s a financial hit and a deep emotional one, too. The staff has always felt like a family.
The silver lining is that they are getting more creative than ever through their advertising. When you get a chance, check out their new delivery ad. It’s hilarious, I’ve watched it 5 or 6 times, it doesn’t get much better!
Turning the page a bit on the conversation. You’ve been pretty vocal about getting more girls skiing. What does that look like?
Early on, I was focused on my career but the older I get the more I see the big picture. The whole purpose of what I do is to inspire. I want to encourage others to chase their passions. Backcountry skiing can be intimidating to get into—it really helps to find a mentor to help get you started. I’m starting to think about putting on backcountry ski camps for women. Last season, I partnered with my ski sponsor Rossignol. We did an all-women’s ski camp at Whistler Blackcomb and had 250 women sign up in ONE day! To say it was a success is an understatement.
Who were your skiing mentors?
I’ve had quite a few. So many people helped me along the way. Some of the guys I grew up with pushed me. When I moved to Revy, I was fortunate to meet some great skiers in the Freeride World Tour that helped me step up my game. And now, here in Pemby, I have a great crew of people I trust. I’m pretty particular about who I go into the backcountry with, I choose partners that I know have my back just as much as I have theirs.
There’s a lot of banter about women in ski films, differences in sponsorship and other forms of equality issues. What’s your take?
Honestly, for me, I try not to draw that line. I’m a firm believer that if you have the talent and work ethic, it doesn’t matter if you’re male for female. I’ve seen a big shift recently with sponsors stepping up and working with more women, the production companies too! Right now, being a female arguably provides more opportunity than being a male. There are so many talented women skiers doing incredible things– they just need to be seen. They need opportunities.
With filming done for the year, what are you looking forward to next?
I got a design internship with Arc’teryx, which I could not be more excited about.. Hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to be in Vancouver and work closer with the team there. For now, I’m working on some concepts and I’m super grateful to be mentored by two of Arc’s lead designers. I love that my sponsor is supporting me with more than my skiing—this is the opportunity of a lifetime.