Has snowboarding reached gender equality? An interview with Alba Pardo

Over the past few years we’ve done a good bit of introspection and started to get hung up on some philosophical questions Is snowboarding a purely selfish pursuit? Is it just another way to feed our egos? Is it anything more than an escape from reality, fueled by rich kids and corporations?  

For more insight, we teamed up with Nytaï Aidlin, a young rider from Geneva with a lot of questions about snowboarding’s ability to address society’s challenges. The result is a series of interviews with people who run organizations that are focused on making snowboarding, and our world, a better place. His first interview is with Alba Pardo about gender equality…

Hi Alba, can you start by presenting yourself?
I am originally from Barcelona, Spain, and I am currently in Sweden. I’m actually on my way to Switzerland for the Laax Open, where I’ll be hosting a conference for the Women in Action Sports Network (WASN).
I’ve been working in the snowboard media for the last 15 years. I founded the Spanish snowboard magazine, SBES, 10 years ago. Sadly, we’re the last one still running. I also do other sports like mountain biking, skateboarding, etc. And I do a lot of media related jobs at all kinds of action sports events.

A snowboard magazine in Spain? Do you guys ride a lot there?
Yes! We can ride the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada in the South. The good thing is that we have a lot of sun. Less snow, but more good weather days! We have a small but strong community.

That’s where you got interested in snowboarding first?
Exactly. I also spend a lot of time at Les 2 Alps in France when I was younger. And, as soon as I could, I travelled. I moved to Austria when I was 18. I moved to Canada when I was 19. Then I went to New Zealand, and then France… I’ve been chasing winter for 15 years.


Alba in Alaska © Markus Fischer

Is that how you got introduced to the WASN?
Yes! Back in 2009, it was called Women In Boardsports (WIB). Some passionate riders decided to invite a bunch of women that worked in the industry to Saas-Fee. We had people like Donna Carpenter, the owner of Burton Snowboards, Maritxu Darrigrand, the founder of Roxy, and former Olympic riders, like Nicola Thost. And so many of them had never met before!
I was only 19… definitely one of the youngest. It was so inspiring to see all of these women that were part of the industry. Very organically, it created a bubble that we realized was really needed. I felt it was powerful and that it could help a lot of women, so I tried to get involved since day one.

Wow, it seems like there’s always been a real buzz around these events. What’s going on with WASN these days?
After a pause and with the pandemic, we thought it would make sense to reshape the whole thing. We changed the name to include more action sports than surfing and snowboarding. We also wanted to have this sense of community year-round, which is why we decided to launch the online platform.

Why did you feel that it was important?
From my experience, there wasn’t a written path to be who I wanted to be. I had to face challenges, and they were different from men’s: being the only woman in the press group, being with mostly male athletes, struggling to get coverage for female athletes… I felt alone as a woman trying to make a living in this industry for a long time.
I was lucky enough that I had mentors around me very early on. They allowed me to see that I could potentially find a space in this industry to make a living… to do what I Iove. A lot of this help came from women that I had met in these conferences. I want to make sure that other people have the same level of support.


WIB in Saas Fee circa 2011

Why is it important to organize events where you bring women together?
For myself and for most of the women I have talked to over the years, the story of, “I was the only girl in the group” was repeated over and over again. We are just not used to hanging out with other women in the industry. However, when we are given the opportunity, the connections and the exchange, the motivation that comes out of it is incredible.
WASN doesn’t discriminate, or hate on men. We want to include, and have conversations with men. They have been present at past WIB events and they will continue to be present in future WASN events. But we still want to give the space and the opportunity for female-identifying individuals to connect, learn and inspire each other in an environment led by women.

Why do you put the emphasis on business and career? Wouldn’t a riding trip be fun and inspiring enough to bring women together?
Snowboarding is a great way to build community and strong relationships. It is also a very good tool for inclusivity and social work in many ways. But at the same time, it is also an industry. In a way, WASN reflects these two sides.
There are a lot of jobs revolving around snowboarding that go beyond the pro riders. From instructors, to resort managers, and product engineers… the list goes on. The one thing they all have in common is that whatever your job is, you are probably strongly connected to your sport. That’s where the passion comes from, that’s what makes our industry so special!
With the Network, we want to inspire, showcase and nurture all these professionals that are so necessary for the industry to thrive. We want to look after the people already in it, but also show the paths for the newcomers to make it a growing and inspiring industry to be a part of. There is a lot of good in our community, but there is still a lot more that can be done.


Donna Carpenter leads a seminar for WIB

Do you think that the snowboard industry has reached gender equality?
I believe we have come a long way in only ten years when it comes to gender equality. But no, we cannot say that it is equal.
I had this conversation the other day with Anne-Flore Marxer. She is one of the first pros that fought for equal pay on the Freeride World Tour. She explained that despite getting a lot of backlash, she did it because it was public and easy to show the gender gap. Then, there are less visible inequalities: sponsorship, deals, contracts, work positions…
My belief is that the female snowboard scene is younger compared to the male scene, and that applies to action sport in general. But a lot of women are snowboarding and there’s a lot more room to grow. Everything needs time to catch up, and it’s catching up quickly! What made it evolve is time, for sure, but also money. If we want more women out there snowboarding, we have to invest in it. And that also means having female coaches, event organizers etc… All of these things need money. And at the end of the day, it’s just about the stupid money…

How would the snowboard community benefit from having more women occupying high positions in the industry?
When it comes to this topic, a huge thing is representation. If you don’t know something is possible, how are you supposed to think you can do it?
It is important to have these role models. As a little girl, you can see the guys, of course, but it’s different. When you’re 14, you have your period, they don’t. It’s funny that I say that, but at the same time, the teenage years are the biggest stage when girls drop out from sports.
It is also important to see mothers snowboarding. From my experience, I have a small daughter. She was six months the first time I took her split-boarding. Because no one was doing it, I wasn’t even sure I could take her on a chairlift! I also had to create inventions to transport her: buggies designed for cross-country skiing, backpacks, wraps. I didn’t have a role model to learn from. And that also applies in the industry. Role models are important.


Alba and Pia out splitboarding

Do we need an industry that is more representative of the community?
We need leaders that have a clear vision. A couple of months ago, I had one of these conversations in a hotel restaurant where all of a sudden, you sit next to a brand manager in Action Sports, in charge of all these athletes. And he asked, “Why are women not as good as men?”
Where do I even begin?! He asked, genuinely, and he wanted to educate himself. I am not bitching about it. It was a good thing that he asked, honestly. But it kind of hurts to hear him ask. He should know. He is in a position where he should have a clear view of it.
For me, a very clear example of improvement when it comes to gender equality is Burton. Yes, they sexualized women in their products for selling boards years ago, but they now have one of the most comprehensive programs for their female employees. They work towards an even 50/50 ratio, offer childcare solutions, created an in house Women’s Association, etc. It’s a really good example to follow and build on.

We’ve seen a lot of things happening with women’s rights recently, partially due to the #MeToo movement. Would such a movement be legitimate in snowboarding?
Despite all of the progress in gender equality, harassment stories within the industry are unfortunately still quite common. Of course, there are many levels of discrimination, but no matter how small, they are not ok. I can’t speak for every woman, but I have had my own bad experiences that are enough to say that nobody should have to bear with any of these.
I have been asked, “what are you doing here?” in a very condescending way, whilst shooting at a world-class event. I mean, I had my camera and a press pass!
The worst experience I’ve had was when I was offered a job to cover a world-class event by an important industry media company. A few days later I refused to sleep with the editor and that job was revoked.
I have heard of female athletes losing their federation support because of their age, sponsors dropping well-performing athletes to sign better-looking ones and I have seen events cutting off women completely…


Alba at the Laax Open

That is not what we’d expect from a sport that claims to be so inclusive…
I think that the beauty of our sports is the community. We have a cool community, but it is young. These are growing pains and we need to make it better. As I said, I have seen a lot of improvement in the past few years. We are learning.
One of the goals of the Network is to facilitate this evolution. Not only for the women in the community, but for the industry in general. We are not perfect and we’ll have to learn, just like companies have to learn. But if there’s a north star, this group voice that address these topics, it will be easier to learn from each other. For me, it’s not so much about looking into what was done wrong. I prefer to focus on what’s going in the right direction, and then do more of that.

What are you preparing us for at the Laax Open?
We are organizing a discussion panel on Friday January 14th called, “The progression of female snowboarding: is equal prize money enough?” I will be the moderator and the panelists will include legends and professionals like the former pro rider and current World Snowboard Federation President, Satu Järvelä, amongst others.
We’ll address different topics about what’s necessary to bring women’s snowboarding to the same level as men’s snowboarding and secure its future. We’ll talk about opportunity, money and physical differences… but also the role of companies, events and the importance of representation. I expect some uncomfortable moments or comments, and also differences of opinion. Hopefully, it will spark interest and inspire the people present to look for ways to personally and professionally push towards positive change.

Thanks for your time Alba! We’re looking forward to seeing you in Laax!