Standing on top of imposing Mack Face during the finals of the 2011 Canadian Freeskiing Championships, Leah Evans couldn’t see what was happening below her, however, she did know her fellow competitors were struggling.
After recording the top score on the first day of competition, Evans was set to ski last of seven women in the final. As she waited, the six other finalists struggled through the challenging conditions, each of them falling, one losing a ski and another injuring her shoulder. While she couldn’t see the terrain below, she could hear what was happening through the radio.
She had planned a line along the skier’s right of the face but, as she put it, a race official forbid her to go that way. Third place finisher Nicole Derksen skied a similar line and struggled most of the way down through the snow that had gone to hell due to avalanche control work.
“Usually I go in with one plan and don’t change because uncertainty creates mistakes,” Evans said. “I ended going somewhere where no one else went. I didn’t know where I was and I just cruised down.”
She managed to stay on her feet and won by a wide margin. Winning that way was bittersweet, she said. “When I win, I like to win because I skied well. Sure, I skied down, but I didn’t ski what I wanted to ski.”
The win was Evans first on the Freeskiing World Tour. In 2009 she finished third at an event in Snowbird, Utah, and she has also posted a number of successes on the Canadian big mountain circuit.
However, she’s much more than a big mountain competition and her biggest mark on the ski world these days is her Girls Do Ski program and successful series of Girls Day Out ski camps.
Evans, 24, was born and raised in Rossland, B.C., one of Canada’s first ski towns. It’s local ski hill, Red Mountain Resort, was the first ski hill in Canada and the town produced Olympians Nancy Green and Kerrin Lee Gartner, who Evans grew up idolizing.
Evans was put on skis at the age of four. She entered into the Nancy Greene Program and eventually found her way on the racing team. In addition to the local heroes, she recalled watching American Picabo Street race and then signal to her family by touching her nose.
“I always wanted to be on TV, have a symbol and go to the Olympics,” said Evans.
Racing was her passion until she was 16, when her parents could no longer afford to keep her in the program. It was a heartbreaking experience but instead of moping, she found new friends, skied every weekend and discovered the joy of powder skiing. Local freeskiers like Meg Oster and Stephanie Gauvin became her new idols.
“I wanted to be a sponsored skier,” Evans said. “That was the dream. It changed so quickly.”
At 18, Evans went off to university in Virginia on a field hockey scholarship. While at home over the Christmas holidays, she entered into the Canadian Freeskiing Open at Red Mountain. She made the finals and at the end of the school year, she gave up field hockey to focus on skiing. Her life changed – skiing in the winter, work in the summer and school in the fall. She is currently taking women’s studies and business at the University of Victoria.
Leah Evans doing what she does best. Photo by Dylan Page.
When she was still 19, Evans approached Rossignol about sponsoring a girls ski camp. The idea came to her when she started spending more time with other high-level female skiers. At first she was intimidated but eventually she became more relaxed in their presence.
“It made me realize I had to create a space where people could gather and interact with no bias and young and old could come together and celebrate female skiing,” she said.
Thirty women came out to the first camp at Red Mountain. It was free and she got local women to coach.
“I didn’t expect it to be that huge. I just had an idea and it just happened,” Evans said.
The next year she started charging and took the camps on the road. This year there are camps at Revelstoke (which is sold out), Kicking Horse, and Red Mountain.
At Revelstoke the coaches will be Evans, Izzy Lynch, Sarah Frood, Tessa Treadway and Leslie Hogg. The camp, which takes place on Jan 28-29, is sold out, but there is a waiting list available.
The camps are divided into three groups for different levels of abilities. At the top is coaching for those looking at getting into bigger terrain, drops and competitions. The bottom group is for skiers looking to make the transition to off-piste skiing.
“The girls who come to the event, I’d like them to gain another level of confidence within themselves and I’d like that to translate into their skiing.”
Revelstoke is now Evan’s home. She works as a forest fire fighter in the summer.
I was able to meet up with Evans at RMR for a day of skiing.
She was decked out in her sponsors’ gear – Rossignol S7 skis, North Face clothing and Smith goggles. It was the middle of a dry-spell at the resort so I asked her to show me her line from the first day of last year’s freeskiing competition.
We skied down the ridge overlooking North Bowl. Some people make skiing look effortless and Evans is one of them.
We stopped where there was a small gap between two trees. The terrain fell away steeply and disappeared below us. Last year, Evans navigated that gap through the trees, leapt over two rock bands and skied smoothly to the finish line en route to her first place finish.
On this day, we just looked down – with no fresh snow I was in no mood to ski it. Instead, we went down Vertigo, which was barren in spots. “That was survival skiing,” she remarked.
On our next run we hiked out to Greely Bowl and along Gracias Ridge to take a look at Mack Face. She talked about last year’s experience; one of the things she mentioned was that she really didn’t want to get hurt and jeopardize an upcoming month-long trip to Japan.
I chased her down Gracias Ridge, through Beauty Glades and back to the Ripper Chair. On our way up, I asked her about filming. Evans has done trips with Ride Guide TV and the Japan trip was for a documentary. This year, she is scheduled to travel to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia for a story about skiing there.
Evans will be competing in Revelstoke but she said she is planning on stepping away from competitions this year. “I’m at the spot now where I can create instead of follow,” she said.
Girls Day Out was her first creation but she hopes to do more to encourage women’s sports.
“I still feel like I haven’t created what I’m supposed to create yet.”
For more information on Girls Do Ski and Girls Day Out, visit girlsdoski.com