There aren’t many snowboarders who’ve had as profound of an impact on snowboarding and its culture as Laura Hadar. Hadar showed up when women’s snowboarding was synonymous with cutesy girls and bright pastel colors. Her raw energy and ambition was immediately felt throughout snowboarding and her impact was a paradigm shift for an industry that thought girls didn’t belong in the streets. Hadar changed all of that with her hard-charging and rebellious approach to filming parts and bucking trends. She dressed like the boys, ate shit like the boys, and didn’t pull any punches when it came to speaking her mind. Suddenly there was a female anti-hero who was changing the perception of a woman’s place in a male dominated industry.
After filming a number of high profile video parts and amassing a collection of the most sought after sponsors, Hadar set down the torch and retired from professional snowboarding. No one in the industry could challenge her decision and while snowboard enthusiasts would miss Hadar’s contribution to the pro-ranks, she had certainly paid her dues and if she wanted to end it on her own terms we had to collectively respect her decision.
However, a snowboarder trying to leave the mountains can often be like a fish trying to leave water. Even when we find ourselves burnt out and needing a break, we often realize that the mountains are our place of solace and freedom. Hadar attempted to reintegrate into normalcy, but normalcy has never been Hadar’s bag and after a short time away from the healing energy of the mountains Hadar found herself struggling with anxiety and depression.
Like a moth to a flame, she returned in a meaningful way and started to feel the healing magic of the Colorado, Rockies. Throwing herself at some of the highest peaks in the lower 48 once again gave Laura purpose and her struggles began to smooth. A new project emerged and after bagging a few of Colorado’s famous 14ers, Hadar set forth to be the first female snowboarder to climb and ride down all of Colorado’s 53 14,000-foot peaks. In typical fashion, she’s doing this on her own terms and at her own pace. I caught up with Laura to talk about her new project, struggling with depression, and how she is balancing an ambitious project with real life responsibilities.
Your recent feats don’t seem like retirement. How did you go from the chilled out vibe most people associate with retirement to such an ambitious project?
Well, life is a funny thing. Maybe like a river you’ve never floated before. Sometimes you just don’t know what’s around the corner. After snowboarding, I was ready for my next thing. I tried working full time at my shop FICE Gallery in Salt Lake, but that didn’t feel right. So I made a move to Portland, Oregon, and applied for a few industry jobs, but I didn’t get them. Portland wasn’t the same as when I was 21. All I wanted to do was leave the city, and not be in it. I ended up getting a job commercial fishing up in Alaska that summer. And it was there, sleeping in a space no bigger than my body width, with my head near the engine of our small boat that I realized I didn’t have to find my next career right now. I could float for awhile, and let it come to me. I trimmed that fall down in Ashland. Then went back to Colorado to visit my mom and go for a little raft trip in the Utah desert. Back home in Carbondale, CO, I met up with the head coach for Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club and he offered a job coaching for the snowboard team at Aspen/Snowmass and I thought hey it’s pretty much like being paid to be outside again.
How was that winter, was it strange transition to go from being a professional to coaching young riders?
Well, I rode around 110 days that season (15/16). It was fun to be on the other side of the spectrum and coach these teenagers. It definitely left me wanting more. I always thought I would end up in a really cool and challenging environment where my ideas were producing content for a company that I was proud to work for. Instead, I was living in my mom’s basement, in my hometown, and coaching kids who could be brats sometimes. They were also awesome and I don’t want to take away from our season together. It was really amazing and a great birth control substitute. It would be so hard to watch your kid fall like that.
What was it like being back in your hometown, did you feel like you were regressing in a way?
It was like a semi-funny and sad blockbuster movie. I ended up dating one of my only friends who was super rad. He loved snowboarding and Aspen and was a hit on so many levels but I just couldn’t get into it. Aspen is a weird place, and I missed the community I had built in Salt Lake for the past decade. I pretty much just went from a mild sustained depression, like ‘I can get through this. Be positive stuff’ to a full month or two of being pretty funked out. I had my first and thankfully only anxiety attack. Luckily I was sleeping on my friend’s couch and our homie Ryan was there, and he was there for me and helped me breathe through it. I finally went to a therapist who said it sounded like I was depressed and was having an existential crisis. I was crying all the time. It was the weirdest thing I had never experienced before. I wasn’t sad, but I was so gone inside. When I finally got that diagnosis I stayed in the house for three days straight, barely eating and just laying on the couch incessantly. It was insane. Then it snowed a bunch and they opened Highlands for two Bonus weekends and I went snowboarding. I remember it was pow and I was riding alone and I was going up the Temerity lift and I was just about to break down and just cry. I was so over it all. Then I met up with a shredder homie Aaron and the whole day changed. We went and did some Road Laps and it was the best runs of my 110 days that season. All of the sudden the world just opened up to me. And I met Nicky.
Nicky is your boyfriend, you two have been on this mission together?
Yeah after we met we made plans to hike and snowboard Castle Peak. He had rented one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts. Then after that, we made plans to camp up at Maroon Bells and go for Maroon Peak. We got turned around because of a late start and then went back a week later and got it. Then about 10 days later we did North Maroon. And that was it. I was cured. All I had to do was climb mountains. I went back to the therapist once more and said, ‘You know as soon as you told me I was depressed, I was. I owned it. I didn’t leave the house for three days. Then I realized I was the only one who could truly make myself happy. And hiking those mountains, that just gave me purpose. It filled my heart with happiness. It cured me.’ I’m sure she thought I was bipolar at that point. Which, without mountains in my life maybe I am? I still struggle. I still have moments. I should still probably go to a therapist and work through some shit. But for now, I have a goal. I’m working towards something and that gets me through the hard days.
You obviously had an illustrious pro career, but that was mostly freestyle. How did you start to make the transition from filming freestyle parts to mountaineering?
I was convinced after a season back in Colorado coaching at the resort, that Colorado was the flattest place. So boring. I could not get my rocks off. I complained a lot. Then on May 5th, 2016 we hiked up Castle Peak and rode down one of the steeper lines of my life. And I saw that Colorado was not flat at all. You just had to walk 6 miles into the backcountry and then climb up some crazy peak to get to the sick lines. I feel like you almost kind of have to have some mountaineering skills to get out to lines in Colorado. Plus there is a vibe here. Skiing is really big in Colorado still. Utah and Washington are more boarders, there’s more pow and less need for mountaineering.
It seems like snowboarding is starting to be a little more evolved in terms of what’s cool and acceptable and maybe you don’t have to be the hot dog rail kid to get support, are you interested in putting a foot back into the sponsored or pro rider realm again?
Shit, I have no idea. I appreciate all the love I’ve gotten over the years and all the people who still hook me up. I would love to have this project sponsored just because it would take a huge weight off our shoulders, but I’m not dying to be a pro rider or anything. I feel like it’s so nice to have the freedom to support different brands and try different things. I would like to work with specific companies more though. I would love to have a direct line for R&D stuff. Work directly with product developers and designers. With that said, I would like to maybe look into other things in this realm. Guiding perhaps, or starting a kids camp is one of my long term goals.
Why the 14ers, why does this project speak to you?
My grandma said before she passed away this winter something to the effect of, “People just want their name written down, but does it really matter? There will always be too many mountains for one person to climb. Feeling special is the disease of humans.” I think in many ways she is right. But no girl has snowboarded all the 14ers, so I’m gonna go ahead and try. Push the boundaries, push my boundaries.
We obviously have a lot of women who charge in the backcountry, but it feels like there is still some space to be a pioneer in terms of women’s snowboarding and mountaineering. Are you consciously trying to change that?
(Laughs) Well, maybe? I think for me, I’m just working with what I’ve got. I don’t know if I would be doing anything like this if I lived in Canada or Washington. I’d be too burnt out from riding pow all year! In Colorado, the snowpack is really unstable in the winter. So the spring is the time where you can get out and climb on top of these really insane peaks. I love being on my own path, and this is something no other girl in snowboarding is really visibly getting into, so I’m going to be that girl who takes her crampons, ice axe and fucking snowboard and gets some (Laughs).
One of the most profound parts of following your story is how open you are about your day-to-day life and the transition back into the real world after being a paid pro for many years. Can you tell us a little bit about how you balance having to have a job and an ambitious outdoor project?
Well, I don’t know how open I am or not because in the end, I’ve always just seen myself as someone who got lucky. I had the best job in the world for over 10 years. Now I just keep my head down and try to work hard. Since retiring I’ve run a boutique, served pizza, commercial fished, served pasta, coached kids, landscaped, coat checked, and now I work at a mountaineering store in Aspen called The Ute Mountaineer. Which is feeding my love of mountains and retail. I would love to have another career that I can work hard at, but for now, I am keeping it seasonal so that I can follow my heart. Maybe this will be my next career or maybe it will lead me to it. I don’t know, just trying to stay positive and work hard.
Have you run into any dicey situations?
Not really yet. There are a few peaks that I am really nervous about. Capitol and Pyramid and maybe a few others. But those two make me not want to ever finish the project. They are rideable for me, but it will be a true feat to ride them safely.
What’s the timeline for completion?
We started getting peaks May of 2016, but it really became our project this year and we are hoping to be complete by 2018.
Knowing how ambitious you are my guess is you might already be planning your next project, are you already dreaming something else up?
My partner really wants to travel and do more filming work in the backcountry. I really want to find a job that I love. I also want to find a new home whether it be back in Salt Lake, up in Washington, or maybe even one of these rad little colorado towns we keep coming across.
Alright well, you are doing such rad stuff and as a fan and long time admirer, it’s great to see you still out there inspiring everyone. Where can people follow your journey and stay connected to your adventure?
Our end goal for the project will be a documentary, but in the meantime watch out for our website that will launch soon, and check my Instagram for stories and pics @laura.hadar