Words and interview by Mary Walsh, originally published in the December 2017 issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding. 


Two seasons ago, Kimmy Fasani reached the pinnacle of her career to-date, joining the prestigious Absinthe Films crew in the fall of 2015 for /fterForever and dropping into Alaskan faces for the first time alongside Nicolas Müller and Manuel Diaz, an experience that resulted in an award-winning video part and Women's Rider of the Year distinctions from both TransWorld SNOWboarding and SNOWBOARDER Magazine. Kimmy had reached a peak she had been scaling for years, and her momentum was unmistakable. As autumn turned to winter, Kimmy was poised to build on her previous season, to seek steeper lines, return to Alaska, and put together a second segment with Absinthe. Being in this position was no small feat considering what the gregarious Mammoth Lakes local had worked through to get to this point: her early career spent in slopestyle contests before transitioning from the park to the off-piste, an uphill battle for access to big mountains crews, seasons spent collecting footage unsure of where it would end up or if it would be seen.

Then, just a few days after the start of the winter in the Eastern Sierra, Kimmy received news that all but canceled her season, shifted her immediate priorities, and ushered in a new outlook on how her professional and personal lives coexist. And she still managed to release a video part in Absinthe's 2017 movie, TurboDojo.

For the first minute-plus of her TurboDojo part, Kimmy bails. Shot-after-shot of faceplants into powder, end-over-end scorpions, and air chair flailing. The clips are par for the course for any pro piecing together a video segment, but for Kimmy they're emblematic of what she went through to get to the place she now stands. Her struggle is laid bare for the world to see. And worth noting, she's still smiling. Through hardship and tragedy comes clarity, and Kimmy's outlook is no surprise considering her track record of sustaining through challenge and emerging stronger on the other side. Her optimism and ability to transcend as opposed to retreat when things get tough, both on and off her snowboard, often belie the tribulations she's been though.

And while she's long been an outspoken member of the snowboard community, continually working with her peers, the media, and her sponsors to proliferate things she's passionate about, she is private about what has made her the determined individual that she is, preferring to focus on the positive instead of the adverse. Now, as her recent experiences collide with overarching discussions about female athletes in general--the way they're marketed, the role they occupy, and the way having a family can affect their career--Kimmy is in the perfect position to share her thoughts, her sights set on helping catalyze a change in what the role of a professional snowboarder can be.

Mary Walsh: Let's start with a little recent background. A year ago, where were you sitting professionally, and where was your head at?

Kimmy: Last year at this time, I had just come off a highlight season. I was able to spend the winter filming with Absinthe in a crew with Nicolas Müller, Manuel Diaz, and Austen Sweetin. Those guys really embraced me which made a huge difference in my riding and my confidence. Knowing I had a crew that wanted me out there and having that support made it easier for me to step into the lines that I wanted to ride. I knew that filming with Absinthe was a huge opportunity to progress and demonstrate what I was capable of. I think it was one of the most fun seasons I've ever had, and I think that kind of relates to how successful you are.

Kimmy Fasani in Revelstoke. PHOTO: Erin Hogue

And then that all changed. What happened?

As the premieres started for the movie, I was feeling super motivated. I felt like it was just the beginning, like I had finally hit my stride, and I had a lot of ambitious goals for this coming season. Then, four days after Mammoth's opening weekend, my mom was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. From November 19th until the beginning of February, I moved to Tahoe and put snowboarding on the backburner. I was lucky enough to have a job that would allow me to step away because the most important thing was to spend that time with my mom.

And everything, including snowboarding, was put on hold.

I feel like my whole life has been a balance between successes, downfalls, and challenges. My parents were never married. My dad struggled with alcoholism and ended up passing away when I was 14. My mom raised me as a single mom; she worked her butt off to give me opportunity and became my best friend. She was everything to me. To not only to lose my dad at a young age, but also to have to go through the loss of my mom when I was at the highest point of my career, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with. But it also makes me aware that we have to appreciate every day for what it is--just because you have a good season doesn't mean that the next one is going to be equal or better.

I think adversity helps us grow and fine-tune what's important to us. I love snowboarding, and I've put a lot of energy into getting where I am today, and selfishly, it was a huge struggle for me to sit in Tahoe and watch it dump snow, not being able to fulfill all the things that I wanted to do. In the beginning of January, I was invited to go to Japan with Absinthe for a week. It was Terje [Haakonsen], Nicolas [Müller], Mikkel [Bang], and I. My mom and I talked about it, and she was feeling pretty good. She said, "Honey, I'm not going to let you stay here with me. You have to go." She was always the biggest supporter of me chasing opportunity and loved seeing me happy and successful with snowboarding. Coming off the season I had and getting the awards, she was right there with me through all of that. We were able to share that very intimately which is something that I will always cherish. So I went to Japan, but I ended up flying home a day early because things were declining more than I was comfortable with, and I just knew it was time to go. She passed away two weeks later.

“My part came together in probably three weeks on snow, ” – Kimmy Fasani. PHOTO: Erin Hogue

After your mom's passing, how did you jump back into the season?

It became this fine balance. I wasn't very forward-facing about what I was dealing with personally with my mom because we didn't know. Every day was different, and she was so sick so fast. During that period, Justin [Hostynek] at Absinthe was so supportive and had faith that I was going to work with the project, even though I had to keep telling him, "I'm not even sure if I'm going to be able to film this year. Don't hold my place if you have somebody else that could fill it."

I just had too much weight on my shoulders, and I didn't want that to be a pressure because I didn't know if it was going to take two or six months for my mom to succumb. As soon as my mom passed on January 29th, I took two weeks to try to sort out some of her estate and then got on the road. My plan was to start filming the first week of March. My biggest goal for the remaining season was just to have fun and be in the right mindset, because I knew I was already emotionally damaged, and putting pressure on myself to have a season that topped my prior one was not realistic. But it wasn't that I was just snowboarding, I was also managing everything that my mom had lived through for 71 years. Balancing that, I drove to Canada with my truck and sled and just started picking away. I stayed in Revelstoke for about ten days then went up to Alaska. My part came together in probably three weeks on snow.

Woah.

It was the best I could have done given the situation. Justin was really a huge influence because he chose not to fill my seat. He and the crew were so supportive. Being able to spend time with Nicolas and Mikkel in Japan and then again in Alaska and Revelstoke, it just made any day a good day because they knew that if I was emotional or having a down moment, I could do my thing and peace out, and they understood why. I wasn't having to prove myself, which is definitely what I felt like the season prior. This year, everybody knew what I was capable of, and they saw what I was going through and just valued that I was able to be out there, let alone pushing myself.

As a professional snowboarder in today's social media-driven landscape, you are, in a sense, your own marketing platform. Your persona exudes a very positive outlook that belies a lot of the challenges you've faced.

I think all of us have our own issues, and we all have "poor me" stories. I have chosen to be very forwardly positive because I don't think negativity brews positivity. If people can see us go through adverse situations and rise above them, I think that is far more inspiring than always being a downer. Yeah, I've had a lot of bad things happen. But are they bad? Or have I learned from them, and they've made me who I am. I would never say, "If I didn't have my dad die, or if I didn't have the crazy childhood I did, or if my mom didn't die, I would be so much happier." Because I'm very happy. I've just dealt with a lot. Dealing with loss and struggle and emotional roller coasters is what brews strength and the ability to rise above whatever bad things happen to you. As for my persona within snowboarding, I portray myself living the life that I do live, and there's no false reality in that. I have just chosen not to always bring the downsides into it and when I do, I've tried to show their silver lining. And that's where my "good girl" image comes from, and people aren't necessarily seeing the depth that I have had in my life.

Do you think that there have been situations in which you've had to prove yourself further because of that perception?

Oh, for sure. I think because I haven't always showcased my trials, it's made it look like I have no worries and that I live this picture-perfect life. I have a pro skier husband, and we have a cute dog, and we travel around, and I film in the backcountry--it may look like I don't have to work that hard. But I feel like I have put in so much energy to make people realize that women can stand on their own--along with men and with other powerful women--and we have a voice. Sometimes I'm not quite vocal enough, but I think through the path I've taken with my riding, people realize that I do things my way. I don't have that edgy, hardcore attitude, and I'm not sharing all the struggles, but there are people that relate to it both ways.

Kimmy Fasani and husband Chris Benchettler inn Mammoth. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

True to that, you're starting a whole new adventure now. This fall, you and your husband Chris announced that you're expecting your first child.

I have always wanted to be a mom. Chris and I have been together for fourteen years, and trying to pursue our dreams was already a task, but trying to figure out how and when to start a family was something that is almost unimaginable if you want to maintain your career, especially as a woman. Who is going to stand by me as a sponsor? Will my body be the same? Will my mind be the same? Will I be able to go back to it? Will I want to go back to it? These are all questions I've battled, but after going through this last season and seeing how life changes so fast, I think Chris and I both just snapped, like, "What are we waiting for?" I really believe that I don't have to give up my career to have a family. Even though that is the stigma that we have in snowboarding, I think we can alter that mindset. If I were to blow my knee in the middle of the season and take a year off, nobody would question that I would come back. I've had a year off snow before, and my sponsors were fully supportive, so why would having a family change my career? This became my mindset, and it really just clicked in my head. I'm going to be very pregnant this winter, and it's a weird, wild ride, but it's opening a conversation that I am excited about.

The list of women who have started their family mid-snowboarding career is very small. Pregnancy seems to put individuals in a vulnerable place for acceptance in the industry.

Yeah, and that's the craziest concept to me. When somebody says they're pregnant or want to have a baby, I immediately think they're retiring from our sport. And that is such a horrible misconception. Why are we thinking that way? We can totally change the mindset. In our industry, women have either been pushed out and then had kids or have chosen to retire and then have kids, so you don't really experience them going through the process of having a child publicly.

I want to be very forward-facing with everything I'm experiencing, showcasing that I'm still being active, doing everything I can to have a healthy baby. I'm excited for people to be able to be part of this journey with Chris and I, because I think it is something that should not be shamed; it should be celebrated. When Chris told his sponsors, he was kind of cringing at what they would say, but nobody really bats an eye. If guys get to have children and families and maintain their careers, like Devun Walsh, Gigi Rüf, Jeremy Jones, Jussi Oksanen, Terje, and others, I think there should be a platform for women to do the same. It was one of the most humbling things I've ever had to do, to approach my sponsors and say, "Hey, I know you've supported me… I'm pregnant. And no, I didn't ask, and I know all of my contracts are up." And all of them are being so supportive; it's amazing, but the question that follows is, "Okay, how do we support you? What does it look like?" I think that's a beautiful thing. We are opening up a different realm because I'm not willing to retire. My love and passion for the mountains is not going to change; it just might look different.

Kimmy and Chris painting the baby wall. PHOTO: Jeff Wright

Do you think there has been a general shift in thought more recently?

There have been a lot of dynamic shifts. Social media has changed how athletes are used within companies. Personally, I feel like my value is to be more attainable and relatable, and though that's not what I want to be showcasing all the time--I would love for my action to speak louder--I think that there is this sense of outdoor adventure that really is hitting a high note and being able to show people in an inclusive way is where this element is fitting in. If my sponsors want relatable and attainable, this is probably the most realistic form of that they could get. I know that there are a million other badass women out there who have had babies. There are many amazing adventure moms. I think this is just the first time that snowboarding has really had to face accepting it and not pushing us out--though I'm now choosing to have a family, it doesn't mean that I'm done. I'm 33, and I've just come off two crazy seasons, and I still have a lot left to share. If we start talking to families and show women that they can raise their children in snowboarding, I think we're only going to help grow the sport more. That's what I'm hoping to help expand as this process goes along for me. For example, Barrett Christy, Maria Thomsen, Erin Comstock, Janna Meyen, Tara Dakides, and Shannon Dunn have this collective brood of kids that are the next generation of snowboarders. We need to make sure we are embracing the children and really elevating them, showing them what it means to be respectful of the environment and of one another and being inclusive.

Have you encountered any challenges navigating your pregnancy in regard to your professional life?

Yeah, they advise you not to share the news until after your first trimester. I had a few photoshoots and sponsor obligations during that time frame. I basically felt forced to share the news prematurely because I wasn't drinking and didn't want my sponsors to think I was hiding it from them. Plus, it's hard to hide your changing body. I remember calling Donna Carpenter. I think that was the scariest phone call I've ever made, not because I didn't think she was going to support me, but because I'm calling the owner of Burton who has invested in me for many years, and I am telling her that I am pregnant, and I don't want this to be the end of my career. But the conversation went so well. Having a woman like that run a company is groundbreaking because she supported me and said something similar to the fact that we need more role models who are willing to share this experience. That acceptance alone took so much pressure off me because I realized that there were people out there who would understand. I had very similar conversations with the rest of my sponsors, Clif Bar, Zeal, Mammoth Mountain, lululemon, evo, and Skullcandy. I am so grateful to be aligned with brands who see this as a new opportunity to support female athletes.

You've experienced avalanche situations and are well aware of the risks of spending time in the mountains. How does starting your family affect this concept and vice versa?

Not until I have the child am I really going to understand what that feeling of unconditional love is, though I am already a pretty calculated person. Even though I live what some think is an extreme lifestyle with lots of risk and scary circumstances, I listen to my body. Being pregnant and having my body change weekly has made me more cautious with certain activities. Once I have my baby I'm guessing I will be eager to get back to doing all the activities I love again. I saw my mom live a very passionate life, and I hope that my children can see me doing the same. I think that's going to be a fine balance after we see how the emotions take us through raising our baby, and I can imagine that will change my psyche a bit, but I don't think it will change my love for the mountains and my desire to be outside. There's always risk in life. I've never been one to live based off the fear of what may happen, and I'm hoping to maintain that thought process while raising my little one.

Shifting a bit, "women's snowboarding" can be a challenging term. On one hand, as women we want to be "as good as a guy," because that's this huge compliment. We want to be a great snowboarder, not a great "female" snowboarder, but at the same time, there is strength in acknowledging that you can be part of the greater snowboarding community and part of women's snowboarding within that--that the two ideas don't have to be mutually exclusive. What are your thoughts on this term, and what it is like to be a female snowboarder today?

I actually just read an interview with Jess Kimura in which Blue Montgomery said something to the effect of, "We do not sponsor Jess because she is a female; we sponsor her because she is a great snowboarder." That's such a powerful demonstration of leadership and the way we are communicating about females. If we can be recognized as great snowboarders universally, I think it's just going to make a lot more impact. I remember watching Stand and Deliver with Tara Dakides and being so inspired by her video part. And Victoria Jealouse in all the projects she did. These girls made such a huge impact, and they were riding the wave of one-woman-in-a-film project at that time, and here we are, fifteen years later, still trying to fight for the same place. I grew up riding with guys. It's not that I'm trying to separate myself from women, it's that I feel like the more men see us as assets to what they are doing and partners they can trust in the backcountry, or in the park, the more opportunity women will have to actually grow and progress. It's all a matter of having that acceptance and invitation.

When writing about female riders, it can be a struggle whether to reference "women's snowboarding." You don't want to limit women with this terms, but it shouldn't feel like a bad word either.

Exactly. Identifying women as such isn't inherently a bad thing. It's just imporant to make sure it's an inclusive voice--that it's not pushing us to the side. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I'm invited on a team photoshoot and it's an only-girls shoot. I feel like we are being shunned from the rest of the team, like they don't think we're capable. Or when guys have their own shoots and they have zero women come to them, it's like, really? You don't have any women snowboard friends that you think could hit the jumps you're hitting? Amusement Park and Amusement MTN--it is a women's event, but I invite mentors who are males. I don't shine the light on them, but I have them there so that the women know that they can trust these guys, session a jump with them, and have fun. And the guys kind of see women on a different platform. It's like being able to show that even though we might not be able to do all the same tricks as the guys, we still should be given that outlet to try.

And not as a "token female."

Totally. Prior to filming with Absinthe, unless I was filming with Chris, I never had a crew that invited me out because they wanted me to be on the crew--or at least it didn't feel that way completely. Whereas with Absinthe, from day one, I was part of that crew, and I was invited to do whatever they were doing all season long. I never felt like I had to sit out because of the conditions or because of the terrain they were riding. They always gave me a choice. I think what has really elevated me to be the best I can is having people who say, "We totally believe in you. Now step up and do it."

How do you think this fits into the overall state of women filming in video projects currently?

I'm very inspired by all the women who are stepping up to do their own projects because they're showing everyone else, "Okay, if you're not going to include us, we will make something of ourselves. We will do it on small budgets, and we'll still make something badass." Full Moon, The Uninvited, Too Hard, and Jetpack are perfect examples. These ladies charge and should have the whole industry backing them. Movie projects are changing, and we have to take a step back, get a big picture perspective, and realize the way we were doing things for the last twenty years doesn't have to stay the same. The market's changing. Social media has changed everything, and we need to remember that, yes, the focus is to sell product, but we also have amazing stories to tell, and doing it together just makes us stronger. There's no positive in staying divided, and women have to get up and wave their flag now more than ever.

Especially as of recent, there's been a lot of talk about how brands showcase female athletes, everyone from sporting goods giants like Nike to endemic brands in action sports. What's your take on this?

I've seen a shift over the last three years of models moving into a place where they are becoming more forward-facing than actual female athletes. I totally respect models. It's more so the brands that are having these models represent them. For me, as a professional snowboarder, I was feeling like I didn't have a place anymore on social platforms as the athlete that I am. I would show up at photoshoots, and there would be more models than riders, and I was starting to feel diminished in the sense of, "What value do I actually bring to a brand if they are finding that models are bringing them more success with the consumer?" For example, Burton has had an amazing women's team for so many years, and the company has always stood up for us and done a great job representing us on comparable levels to the men. Recently, I noticed the women's team wasn't getting showcased on the social platforms, maybe because there was a belief that the brand needed more relatable content in order to connect with the consumer. Models were brought in to help showcase the brand in that capacity, which I understand and respect. But it becomes an issue when female athletes aren't being used for action and on-snow lifestyles. As a woman in snowboarding, and as an athlete, I trust brands more when they show their athletes--both men and women--in the elements because it lets me know the product works! Eventually, I felt like it was necessary to sit down with leadership at the company to share my concerns and say, "I want to know how you value us, as a women's team, because I think we should be given the same opportunities as the men. I see the men getting action photos all over the social platforms, but I don't really see the women getting that opportunity." Immediately there was a shift, and the women's team was back on the social platforms being highlighted again.

We are lucky that in the snowboarding industry this can be a collaborative process between brands, riders, and consumers.

I am empowered by seeing women in action, riding hard and doing amazing things, and I want other women to see me snowboarding. I don't think we should be downgraded to be more relatable and attainable. We have a place. The question is, why are we hiring models to represent our women, but not the guys? I've had conversations where brands have asked me to be more relatable and attainable in the content that I'm sharing. I feel like the reason I am being asked to do that is because people are intimidated by what I do in the mountains, and they don't understand that there are many women out there doing way gnarlier things than I am. We need to provide a platform for all women to feel comfortable pushing their limits, and I think that's where we never limit guys. We let them have free reign. But we put a hesitation button on women because it looks scary or too intense. Or it doesn't look normal. But what is normal? Let's put guys and girls next to each other and have them go rock climbing, have them go trail running, have them go snowboarding. If I can get out of the heli next to Nicolas Müller and those guys and have them embrace me, why can't we do that in general with women in the industry?

In order to catalyze change, these challenging conversations are often necessary.

It's terrifying to stand up and say, "I don't agree with this or the way I am being represented," because overall, I love every aspect of what I do, and I would never want to jeopardize my position with a brand or come off as complaining unnecessarily. But I think it's also important to invoke change when needed. The conversations I've had with Donna Carpenter in the past six months have been so positive, because earlier this year, I sat down with her to discuss how my role as a female on their team could be more valuable. Then, here I am, raising another question in September, not only saying, "Okay, yeah, I want equality for our women's team"--which Donna does an amazing job standing up for; she's an amazing role model for leadership in women--but now I'm saying, "And I'm going to stretch your capacity one more time because I'm pregnant, and I still want the same benefits I was fighting for in May." I already had so much admiration for Donna, but with her understanding and eagerness to really help make things right within the brand and wanting to support me though my pregnancy, it shows me that Burton has an amazing direction. I think it's going to shine a huge light for the rest of the industry if Burton can support us and kind of shift the way they're marketing their women's team to be more representative of how we want to be branded, and also support a woman through pregnancy, showcasing what that looks like so that other women have it easier moving forward. I think that's the end goal.

You're now heading into a new winter, in a very new position, yet again with lots of momentum.

In my video part this year, the first minute is bails. I've had mixed reviews on it, both men and women asking, "Why would you have a crash segment in your part?" And I kind of laugh inside, because we all get beat down out there. Eric Jackson had one of the best parts I've ever watched, and he had a full song of bails before it started. I like seeing the flaws. I like seeing how hard people work. And that was what happened with me this season. We called this season "The Beat Down" for me, because it was like, how much more could I possibly take? I basically missed the whole winter. My mom passed away, I was managing her estate, and I bailed harder than I've bailed in the last three years. I hope people relate to that. Just because you're down, doesn't mean that you're done. That is what makes us who we are. We get down. We rise up. I don't need to worry what people think of me. I'm just going to say who I am, and if people like it or don't like it, that's fine. At least I know I'm keeping myself happy and staying true to me.

Check out the full movie from Absinthe, TurboDojo, here!

More from TransWorld SNOWboarding here!