Perspectives : Getting Deep with Robin Van Gyn

This feature originally appeared in the December issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding. Subscribe here. 

Robin Van Gyn –  Riding through life at the right place, right time

Robin Van Gyn blazes through the open door of room 316 on the third floor of the Aava Hotel in Whistler, BC, clutching her iPhone, wearing a Roxy T-shirt, grinning ear-to-ear. It’s Full Moon’s highly anticipated premiere day, and she’s just come from making rounds with mainstream media. I promise I only need a few moments to talk about her multifaceted shred career and delve into ideals on how she seeks to spend her time on this swirling blue ball we call Earth. Robin doesn’t bullshit, so a quick catch-up in a dimly lit hotel proves enough time to get her take.

Van Gyn has steadily gained traction as a pro rider, carving her niche in snowboarding with an intuitive nature that lands her in the right place, at the right time. She’s unabashedly herself, doesn’t settle for mediocrity, and sacks up and sends it on steeper and gnarlier terrain than many of her contemporaries are even willing to step to.

At 16, she got hooked on shredding pow. When she graduated high school, it consumed her. Robin’s break came from rounds on the Canadian contest scene, where she ended up winning a big-air event held by the now-defunct MGT camp. That night, while letting loose at a sushi spot, the camp offered her a job as coach. In 2008, she got a call from Leanne Pelosi who offered her a spot on a Runway Films trip for a TransWorld shoot. She dropped out of school, quit her job, and rallied at the opportunity.

Her style and passion oozed through, determination to excel evident. This parlayed into a lengthy tenure as a guide at South American Snow Sessions in Bariloche, Argentina, where she made the Andes backcountry her stomping ground for over 10 summers. In the winter, she posts up in Whistler, BC.

Where she’s built a keen understanding of zones and an adept crew to explore them with. She fillmed with Full Moon for the last two seasons and bagged arguably some of the best shots in the movie, which also earned her Women’s Video Part of the Year. While maintaining a fruitful pro career, she’s also taken up guiding at Baldface Lodge, further illuminating her desire to evolve as more than a pro snowboarder.

Whistler Backcountry. Photo: Darcy Bacha

What in life do you consider most important?
Experiences are the most important parts of life. I carry everything that I have done, seen, and learned so far with me, and it shapes who I am and how I Iive. It’s not the things I own or have that will serve me or anyone else, but taking advantage of my time here and making sure I can do that with purpose and contribution is most important to me.

How do you work toward attaining that?
By doing the things I like to do and not worrying about what I “should” be doing. Sometimes I feel sel sh for doing what I like and not contributing more, but I would like to think that the things I do and promote can help. Maybe they will inspire a young girl to feel like she doesn’t have to be de ned by what she wears or who she marries. And she can live independently and do all the things she imagined herself doing before someone told her what she “should” do.

Snowboarding is a freaking expensive sport— even as a pro, you have to cut corners. How have you saved money traveling?
I’ve slept in a lot of airports. Once I spent over 20 hours in the Santiago airport sleeping and drinking coffee just because the hotel was too expensive. I have a hard time paying for a hotel for six hours or less. I can always find a nice corner to have a nap.

Photo: Colin Adair

As someone who makes a living riding backcountry, how do you evaluate risk versus reward?
Thinking about it, listening to your intuition, evaluating conditions, and using your skills and knowledge to make an educated decision. You have to speak up and listen when it matters. You can’t know everything; there is always going to be a gray area. There are times I think I probably should have died, and maybe I got lucky, but I would like to think that I used my tools to avoid that. We walk the line all the time, and sometimes you’re dumb and get lucky. Other times you’re smart enough to know when to go and when not to. It’s a mix.

What is the gnarliest thing you’ve witnessed in the backcountry?
Digging a kid out of an avalanche in Argentina was defnitely gnarly. It could have been anyone—he was just trying to make some soul turns. Things can get real, really fast. The rescue was successful because of our SGT guides and our staff, but we all took something from that to move forward with. As a snowboarder, we are always glorifying the backcountry and with good reason—it’s sick. But there is a responsibility that goes with that. Doing what you can to help people get the right skills to be out there is important to me.

Photo: Ben Girardi

What did you want to do when you grew up?
For my entire teenage life I thought I would follow my father into dentistry, which sounds weird to aspire to, but it was more the lifestyle. He always had a really good lifestyle and offered us so much as kids that I thought I would want to do that also.

What’s the hardest part about your job as a snowboarder?
Judgment. Everybody is always judging you, especially yourself. I am my biggest enemy in snowboarding. I hate every shot I get; nothing seems perfect enough. There’s always something you could be better at. Beating yourself up all the time is taxing on your psyche. But I don’t think I would have gone anywhere in snowboarding if I always thought everything I did was great.

Baldface Lodge – Photo: Tim Zimmerman

What do you suggest to up-and-coming riders who are considering snowboarding as a viable career path?
It’s not a career path. If you are looking for a career, be a lawyer. It’s a lifestyle choice you can make money at if you love it enough and have a strong enough vision for. If you love it and work hard enough, you can make it your lifestyle. You don’t have to be the gnarliest; you just have to make others jealous of your fun. And by jealous, I mean inspired.

Random Robin facts: Go…
If I were a fruit, I would be a peach. My feet are weird looking. I was a dancer—not the stripper kind—for half of my life, so yes, I can tap dance. I am a pretty slow driver. I can’t stand doing the dishes. My dog, Stella, is more popular than I am. I lived in France when I was 12. My sisters are twins. My dad is a DILF according to all my friends. I have a degree in communications and a minor in geography. I’ve probably worked 15 different jobs. I love to sing. Austen Sweetin and I bonded over our love for gluten.

Baldface Lodge – Photo: Tim Zimmerman

Check out more from Robin here.