Robin Van Gyn’s RnD Backcountry Contest Sets New Standard for Snowboarding

RVG talking lines with competitors, and the bootpack for the second run (right). Photos: (L) Andrew Miller, (R) Chad Chomlack

The Inertia

In late March this year, about a week after the Natural Selection Tour crowned a pair of new champions, 14 of the world’s best young snowboarders gathered for a brand-spanking new event, one that aims to create more equality in backcountry snowboard competitions.

The inaugural Research and Development (RnD) contest went down on a hallowed backcountry zone just outside of Nelson, BC’s Whitewater Resort. And despite the venue being hammered by wild mountain weather leading up to comp day, the riders showed us that the future of snowboarding is already here.

RnD was brought to life by veteran pro snowboarder (and 2021 Natural Selection Tour winner) Robin Van Gyn, who’s always been an advocate for representation in snowboarding. The contest spanned a seven-day weather window and included two days of filming and one day of judged competition. The overall winner, determined via video review of the week’s action, will be awarded a spot on next year’s Natural Selection Tour. 

Truckee’s Ellery Manning took the win on comp day, tackling an exposed left-hander on her backhand with speed, power and flow. Nelson’s own Estelle Pensiero took second while Salt Lake’s Stefi Luxton wound up in third. But the contest’s overall winner will be determined in the coming months.

I caught up with Robin via email from Norway – where she and a stacked crew of shredders are currently making marks on the Lofoten Islands high country – to talk RnD details. 

So what inspired Research and Development?

I want to see equal parts men and women on the NST tour. To me, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be seeing that, no matter the level, no matter the logistics. It’s really important to be visibly represented equally to the audience. It’s important for young women and boys to grow up feeling that they’re equals and we have so many up-and-coming women who can 100 percent compete in this arena; we just needed to give them the opportunity to try. Sometimes, instead of talking about it over and over, you just have to do something about it to show that it should happen. NST has been incredibly supportive of RnD and are on board to take the next steps.

And was the event your brainchild? Or did someone approach you?

Yes, this was my brainchild, but a bunch of us had been chatting about it for a while and I definitely consulted with other veteran riders about how to do it, so I’d say it was a collective effort. This season was a great time for it. The girls have been ripping and I had some time to create and fundraise for it because I chose to take a year off of full-time filming and filmmaking.

Robin Van Gyn’s RnD Backcountry Contest Sets New Standard for Snowboarding

Kaleah Opai, adding style to the day. Photo: Mirae Campbell

Tell me a bit about the conditions.

The conditions were VERY challenging. It basically was tropical for a week and then froze and snowed four centimeters (1.5 inches). Some of the north aspects weren’t terrible, but overall it was hard for freestyle. Considering the conditions, the girls went ham, which was so rad to see. We definitely made the best of it. And that’s just competing, you get what you get in your window. 

And the contest was on the Trash Chutes, no? Was everyone just boot-packing? Or how did the logistics work?

Yes, the contest was in Trash Chutes in the Whitewater backcountry. We took the lift up and traversed into the zone and then we hiked it. We put in a bootpack ahead of time to make the laps quicker and easier for the riders. Everyone got one run and then hiked back up for a second. 

I watched the stream and it felt like a very honest, no bullshit, way of showcasing snowboarding. Tricky conditions with everything captured by Chip (Justin Taylor Smith) on your iPhone. How did you feel about showing the world something that didn’t get polished first?

I mean, we didn’t really plan it out too much. It just happened naturally and on the fly. Liam Griffin from the NST lent me the Starlink kit from Revelstoke last minute and Carmen and Chip both jumped in the mix the day before. To me it was just a fun way to have some instant media up and running around it. I didn’t think it was going to look like the live broadcast that it was. Honestly Carmen and Chip just did an amazing job with it. 

It’s great just to have some realness and unpolished media because that’s the reality and that’s a true reflection of what’s going on at a lower budget level. I personally resonate a lot with basic iPhone filming and instant moments because it’s real for most people. There’s a place for polished, beautifully produced TV, but this wasn’t it. 

Winner, winner, she eats these lines for dinner. Ellery Manning, showing up and blowing up. Photo: Chad Chomlack

And there’s an edit coming out in the fall?

Yes, we’re going to put all the footage from the week together to create a short piece around the contest. We wanted to make sure we got the time to get a really good grasp on all the footage and the contest as a whole to decide as to who was being chosen for NST 2025, and also to have time to create something awesome that’s intended to be a true representation of who we are as snowboarders.

Were you able to use a lot of the NST crew, riders etc?

We had a couple riders like Hana Beaman, Marie-France, and myself out filming and helping the riders choose lines etc, and also Leanne Pelosi and Maria Thompson in the mix as mentors and judges. Shin Campos [legendary Canadian pro and film industry heavyweight] helped me produce the event and Liam Griffin [NST Co-Founder and COO] gave us the internet support as well as a spot in the next year’s tour. I also used Liam as a consult to help me figure out how to do an event like this. 

So how are they actually choosing the spot for next year? It’s not jus the podium winner?

The week was two filming days and a contest day. The spot for NST 2025 is selected based on film footage plus contest results, so it’s not necessarily the winner of the podium that will go onto the NST, but the rider that overall impressed us the most with their ability to freestyle, freeride, and adapt to any terrain overall. The podium was awarded $5,000 in cash prizing.

Okay but talk a bit about Ellery Manning? She kinda came out of nowhere to take this thing out.

Ellery wowed us and the judges big time. She rode with authority, confidence and speed as well as making sure to add in some freestyle elements into her run. She picked a very exposed line and executed it with power, it was so impressive especially coming from our youngest rider who was also an alternate. One of the invited riders got hurt and we called her in last minute to fill in. She was late to arrive, but spun around and dominated. It was so rad. 

Robin Van Gyn’s RnD Backcountry Contest Sets New Standard for Snowboarding

A bunch of young women showed up and threw down in the woods. Melissa Riitano, deep in the Whitewater jungle. Photo: Chad Chomlack

So, does this all mean we’ll see the women’s field at the NST expanded next year? 

I certainly hope so. I’m definitely going to push even harder than before for that, but ultimately it’s not up to me. This contest has shown that the women are ready to compete on that level without a doubt, so I can’t see any reason why we can’t be equally represented. Again, I can’t speak to the logistics of how that will happen, but I’m sure as hell going to be pushing to make it happen.

What other riders and moments stand out from RND?

There were so many! Everybody rode so well and with their own unique style. Some standout moments were Telma’s huge, perfect backflip, Katie Kennedy just absolutely sending it, and Mia Jones going full Jones on some gnarly lines. But the best moment to me was seeing everyone buzzing at the end, full of confidence and joy knowing they all showed up like bosses. That to me is the biggest win for snowboarding overall.

What’s it like watching this next generation of women snowboarders coming up?

It’s an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” scenario. I’m so excited to see the next generation fired up and ready to level up. We’re there. It’s happening now in real time. 


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