INTERVIEW • Jordan Grant-Krenz | PHOTOS • Anatole Tuzlak & CK9 Studios
The Blondes are not new to the ski scene. The trio, comprised of Emily Childs, Janelle Yip and Tonje Kvivik, have spent almost seven years in professional skiing. They each have unique backgrounds, from Janelle’s Slopestyle competitions to Tonje and Emily’s Freeride prowess. They’ve been around the world, done projects individually as well as with media giants like Matchstick Productions, and partnered with some of the largest brands in the sport. For three talented veterans who are pushing freeride skiing into the future, you’d think their pioneering days would be behind them. You’d be wrong.
With humility and exuberance, The Blondes decided to embark on the journey of making their own ski film with the help of the renowned CK9 Studios. CK9 is a British Columbia-based production powerhouse that blends thoughtful storytelling with incredible camera work and post-production skills. Emily, Janelle and Tonje enlisted their help as they wanted to direct and edit their upcoming 2023 film, “How Did We Get Here?”. Through injury, poor conditions, missed shots and the usual ups and downs of filming, the team pulled together an incredible two-year project that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
We at FREESKIER were curious about their process, their thoughts on the film, and how they’ve been able to stay together despite their individual success. Through the conversation, it became clear that The Blondes are a gem of the ski world. They take their skiing seriously without ever taking themselves too seriously, and maybe that’s why they’re so damn fun to watch. Read on to see for yourself, and make sure to tune in to “How Did We Get Here?” this fall.
Editors Note: The athletes will be referred to below by their initials, JY (Janelle Yip), EC (Emily Childs) and TK (Tonje Kvivik)
Thanks for sitting down. For those who don’t know, who are The Blondes? How did this all get going?
JY: The Blondes are all three of us: myself [Janelle Yip], Emily Childs and Tonje Kvivik. It was fate that brought us together, I’d say. We all met pretty randomly. I was living in a house in Revelstoke, and it just so happened that Tonje took a room in that house. I met Emily through a mutual friend, and I remember how great our first few laps were together in the Revelstoke [terrain] park.
TK: Emily and I met at a ski competition, but it was random chance that we all moved there the same year. We gelled as we found out that we had the same views on skiing, life and partying. I was living in a run-down trailer when I first moved to Revy, and Emily was living out of her car, but I think we were all pulled together by fate. It’s crazy that it all worked out.
EC: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up!
Were you all brought together more by skiing or by each other’s personalities?
EC: Tonje and I had competed together in a couple of Freeride World Qualifier (FWQ) events. We noticed that we both skied the same lines, so you could say it was the skiing, but our personalities definitely clicked. We both hot tubed off this cliff with a flat landing, I think my DINs were low, so we had some good laughs over our crashes.
TK: And we both got the Sick Bird award, which you get for either doing something really stupid or really sick. I did something really stupid, and Emily did something really sick, and at that point, we were thinking, okay, we should just be friends.
JY: We all had a few “Step Brothers” moments for sure.
The fantastic Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly movie?
JY: Yeah! [Laughs] There were some key times when we looked at each other and just thought, “Are we best friends now?” but instead of going to do karate in the garage like they do in the movie, we started a ski group.
What is one strength that each person brings to the group?
TK: Janelle is insanely funny. Whenever I look at videos from the winter, I can’t stop laughing because she’s hilarious! It’s the best quality to have. She can make people happy even when things aren’t going the best. Her park background also helps her look at the mountain differently. Emily is incredibly tough, and it allows her to be very optimistic and lift people up. You need that when you’re filming.
EC: I’ll add to that and say that Janelle is our organizer. She keeps us together, which in turn keeps us going. Tonje is the fearless, driven athlete that keeps us in shape. She’s the motivator.
JY: I would say that Tonje is always the one yelling, “We f*ckin’ got this”, and pushing our comfort zone in a good way. Naturally, I’ll be pretty scared, and Emily will come up and assure me that I can do it. They’re both encouraging in different ways. It’s a great balance that all crews need.
Where does this current project with CK9 Studios rank out of all the films you’ve done together?
TK: This one is my favorite, for sure. We’ve always done more or less the same thing together, but because of this project, we got to really see a lot of different places and change it up. We went to my home, Norway, and explored new areas, and to see these spots with them was incredible. Plus, we get to pick out the music we use, which is a game-changer.
JY: Everything about this was the dream project. We had creative freedom, and that was the biggest plus for all of us. I’m in the CK9 office right now, so I can tell you we’ve really had 100 percent oversight from start to finish. They’ve been fantastic, listening to our notes and being very attentive.
EC: The only other projects we’ve had full control over were our individual edits, so this was our first big feature where we could take the reins, so to speak. We’ve done Matchstick Production trips together, which were incredible, but this was a great new challenge to control it all.
*During the call, Janelle told the team that they had recently received the rights to use a song by the legendary rock crew Heart. We won’t name the song, but judging by their excitement, you can trust it’s going to be a segment to remember.*
CK9 Studios has certainly proven that they’re one of the best production houses in skiing right now. How did you connect with them?
JY: We were at iF3 (International Freeski Film Festival), and Mark Warner from Low Pressure Podcast introduced us. We all got along right away, and they pitched the idea of doing a movie together. After seeing their past works, we were obviously super stoked on that idea.
The North Face is also a big partner in this. How has it been working with a large and legendary company like them?
JY: They’re certainly a big company, but they have a very core family feel about them. They were really the first group to start athlete teams years ago; that was their idea, and you can tell they’re passionate about it. It was daunting at first, but we’ve gotten to know people on a personal level, which makes it so fun to collaborate.
TK: You can tell they’re genuinely stoked about [our film] too. They have many different projects they work on each year, but you can tell they care about them all. It doesn’t really feel like business; it feels like a team effort.
Without spoiling too much, what’s the broad synopsis of the film?
JY: The film is called “How Did We Get Here?” and it’s different from our previous edits, where we were just getting sketchy and seeing how to chuck ourselves off things. This one is more personal. We wanted to create something that describes how thankful we are for the lives we get to live and shows the hard work we’ve put in to make it happen.
EC: It certainly focuses on our friendships together. There’s plenty of skiing, but the movie also dives into our lives and activities together outside of skiing. I don’t want to say too much and give it away, but it’s got a lot of cool factors to it.
TK: Like Janelle said, it’s a very personal ski movie. We got some incredible skiing in there, but it really gives a bit of background and how we’ve come together. The cinematography is also insane, thanks to CK9 Studios. They are so talented, and it shows in everything from the follow-cam shots to the editing and sound design. It’s going to be very different to watch from the projects we’ve done before, which I think people will love.
It sounds like it’ll be a great watch. What benefits do you see the ski community gaining from this film? Or what do you hope people will take away from it?
EC: I don’t think our movie is necessarily more unique than others because there are so many great films that come out every year. That being said, an all-girls ski crew is certainly rare. The movie goes into more than just skiing, and I think for up-and-coming skiers, it can be great and encouraging to see professional riders outside of their ski lives, which the film shows.
TK: I hope people walk away with a feeling that anything is attainable if you put your mind to it. We’ve all had to work multiple jobs at once just to keep skiing or live in a shitty situation, but if we can do it, so can others! If people are inspired to keep pushing for their aspirations, we’ve done our job.
JY: Our careers in skiing are very random, and we take it seriously but try not to take ourselves seriously. I hope people get that in the film and walk away with that in mind.
Where was the most memorable place you shot last season?
TK: For me, it was my home, Norway. I’ve always dreamed of bringing my Canadian friends to Norway and showing them this weird and lovable little country. Our guide, Sol Idland from 62 North, was fantastic. Even though we didn’t have the best snow, it was such a great adventure to new spots I hadn’t really explored.
JY: Norway would be my vote, too.
EC: I agree, it was a memorable place, especially with these two. This project has been a two-year process, so we’ve had some incredible stops along the way. Janelle’s injury certainly extended our timeline too, but it was incredible to see her come back so strong, and it made the whole journey that much more rewarding.
What was your injury? Was it challenging to get back into skiing after your recovery?
JY: I kneed myself in the face pretty badly on a road gap landing and broke a bone in my face just below my eye. These guys were instrumental in helping me get back on skis. They were getting after it the whole time and were so encouraging when it came to my return. I was certainly phased by the whole thing, and the possibility of repeating a flat landing or something else is scary, to say the least. But it pushed me to go hard the next year, and I’m so lucky I had this crew to help me.
TK: Janelle came back super strong; it was incredible. Obviously, something like that is tough mentally, but I couldn’t see any limitations in her skiing from it.
EC: It was a shock seeing her get hurt and a shitty feeling when there’s not much you can do about it. But to come back and charge like she has, it’s been really inspiring.
*The Blondes noted that their upcoming movie touches on the injury and Janelle’s comeback in more detail. A great story for anyone coming off of a traumatic injury in the mountains and looking to bounce back.*
What three songs are going in the queue when you’re all heading up to the mountain?
JY: I have a whole Led Zeppelin playlist that I rip on the way up. “Your Time is Gonna Come” might be my favorite.
TK: Anything by 50 Cent. “Back Down” or “Many Men”. When I’m about to drop in on a line, I’m playing 2Pac though, for sure.
EC: “Mariah Carey Christmas Album” or anything by Lil Wayne for me.
Are there any skiers that inspired you last season?
TK: Hannah Epsteyn! She’s 15 and already just so awesome.
JY: I think the Milk Box Girls are doing the woman ski crew thing way better than we ever have! They’re so talented. I mean Addy [Rafford] is such a great filmer and skier, it’s wild.
EC: Molly Armanino is one that comes to mind. She’s such a strong rider and a great person.
What words of advice would you give to young skiers trying to make their own version of The Blondes come to life?
TK: Don’t care too much about what other people think. Go out there and be passionate, have fun and work hard. It sounds corny, but things can fall into place easier than you think. That being said, have a plan. Know what else you love and how that could work out, too. There are so many great things to dive into. Don’t limit yourself.
EC: Do it because you love it. And if you keep loving it, keep doing it. If not, there are many other roads that open up.
JY: There’s such a strong Instagram branding mentality in skiing these days, but you can’t focus on that too much, or it’ll suck the life out of the process. Go find your friends and rip around, don’t worry about the Instagram bullshit. But like Tonje said, have a backup plan! We’ve always had our own backups. It’s important.
EC: And for god’s sake, don’t take it too seriously. We like to think that it’s all a joke, and it just keeps getting funnier!
The Blondes would like to thank everyone who has helped bring ‘How Did We Get Here?’ to life and extend their deep appreciation to the team at CK9 Studios.
Akailah Yocom – Main Editor
Simon Shave – Producer
Clay Mitchell – Director
Anatole Tuzlak – Filmer / Photographer
Aaron Leyland – Filmer
Ty Theoret – Filmer