Pro Chat: Helen Schettini

Photo: Phil Tifo

Besides an amazing clip from YES Snowboards last season, you probably haven’t heard that much of Canadian backcountry wonder Helen Schettini yet. But don’t worry, as that’s about to change big time…

Interview by Anna Langer, photos by Billabong

Photo: Barker

You just got to Munich today, where did you come from?
I’ve been hanging out in Hossegor the last 10 days, having a bit a vacation and doing some catalogue work and meetings for Billabong. And before that I was in Nuremberg for five days with Adidas, who are based there. They had a big general meeting, introducing to all of Adidas that they will be entering the snowboarding game now. So myself, Eric Jackson and Jake Blauvelt went up there to showcase ourselves and represent the snowboarding side of the brand, what it’s all about and everything, it was fun!

With YES Snowboards, Adidas, Billabong, and Now Bindings you have a pretty sponsor base now. How did that all come about? Seems like it all happened pretty quick…
Erm, yes and no. I’ve been with YES for two and a half years now, so that’s quite a while. They’re based in Squamish and I’m from Whistler, which is just a stone’s throw away, so I known these guys for a while. When they wanted to create a larger female core marketing area, I jumped on board with them. They said “we’re making a movie and if you get some good shots, we’ll put them in the movie maybe”. So I started filming with them a couple of years ago, which went really well and now it’s been snowballing, so it’s been great!

That YES clip from you last winter was pretty epic and we were super stoked as the female backcountry rider base isn’t that huge at all…
It’s a very hard part of snowboarding to get involved in, it’s hard as hell. And it takes a lot of years to get to that point, have that ability to go out sledding and to go out in the backcountry because it’s so dangerous, while obviously it’s a lot easier to go to a rail and go session it. I think that’s why a lot more girls are headed in that direction, which is great because you want to have that variability in snowboarding. But I think I’m lucky, no actually I’m not lucky, I worked my ass off to get into that position, where only very few girls are able to venture into that zone. I used to do the contest thing too, I think that’s how most people start, and was very heavily into halfpipe. But then one day, when it had snowed like 2 ft in Whistler, I was supposed to drive for 8 hours to go do a halfpipe contest and I was like “No, I don’t want that”.

Isn’t it quite hard for girls to take that kind of decision, because there already is so little money out there for girls?
The reason I snowboard is because it makes me happy and I love doing it. And so to have tried and not succeeded in this area I still would have been happy, because I was riding powder. I do truly believe that it might have been easier for me to possibly make a name for myself or to be a professional athlete if I had gone the contest road, as it is easier in some instances. But I didn’t want that and I think that would have given me big regrets, had I gotten to that level and not been happy. Where as here, even if I wasn’t successful I knew I would still be happy because I’m riding powder.

Photo: Phil Tifo

Do you think the injury risk is bigger riding park as well?
Hm, possibly. I think the risk is definitely different. It’s tough to say… You are on ice and rails a lot, all hard stuff, so I would say you tend to see injuries more often. But at the same time, there are a lot more people riding park, so percentage wise maybe not. Then again when you’re riding big mountain stuff, maybe little injuries are less common but if you get them, they’re huge because you misinterpreted something and fell over a 50ft cliff on rocks or there was a huge stump in the landing that you didn’t see. So I think for little injuries there’s less going on but then when you do injure yourself, it’s pretty major.

Have you been injured?
A lot yeah, and that was actually when I was riding parks and halfpipe, I’ve broken my legs three times, I’ve got metal throughout… And my back, my shoulders, my arms, everything. But it’s all really good now, I’ve made a real point to be very proactive since then. I do a lot of gym and a lot of training just, which is needed if you wanna have longevity in your career. You have to be healthy.

Are you directly from Whistler?
I’m from Kamloops, British Columbia which is like three hours away. I moved to Whistler right after High School when I was 17 to go snowboarding.

Isn’t it weird to go riding somewhere else when you live in winter wonder land?
Yes and no. I think it makes you appreciate home but at the same time it makes you appreciate other places as well, because every place has something to offer that’s different, there’s no better or worse. But at the end of the day I am very lucky because for the type of snowboarding I do, 90% of the snowboard industry, whether they’re from Southern California, Europe, Japan, pretty much everyone between March and April comes to Whistler because that is the best spot for the terrain at that time. So I don’t have to live out of a suitcase for those two months when everybody else is, which is pretty nice. But I’m so excited, I’m gonna do a lot of traveling this year! Definitely to Japan and I also want to come back to Europe and see where the snow falls and come experience this. I’ve been to France once for a snowboard trip but it was a long time ago for a junior halfpipe thing so you didn’t really snowboard you just went to the halfpipe. And I will back for ispo too, I’m really excited to check the whole thing out. It sounds so crazy… Europeans know how to party!

Which destination are you looking most forward to this winter?
(Long pause) Probably Alaska. I’ve never been and that’s definitely a plan for the later season to go up there and check that out. That’s gonna be a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of nerves but I know that it’s gonna be one of those places I will never forget.

Photo: Christy Chaloux

Are you gonna film again with YES this season?
No, they’re not making a movie this year! So it’s gonna be a bit different, but it’s exciting, good steps in the right direction. We’re creating a little web series together with Greg Martin, my manager/agent who has also been working with Jake Blauvelt’s Naturally and Eero Ettala’s Cooking with Gas. The series will be sort of revolving around myself but more about the life I lead in the guys’ world, always shredding with the guys all the time. It will be show what I deal with on a day to day basis, and for some episodes I’ll be out with the YES crew or the Adidas guys and E-Jack and Jake, or possibly Billabong. Showing my life through my own eyes. I think I’m very blessed and fortunate to be in this position but you’ll also see how hard I have to work to be there and to maintain it and to be reinvited back on these trips with the guys, because they’re not gonna put up with shit. So you have to be so strong….

Do you get a lot of macho behaviour with the guys?
No, it’s surprising, it’s great! They’re not macho at all, they’re so nice and so respectful but you are one of the guys so they talk as if you’re one of them, which is great, but they also don’t treat you like a girl, you know, you’re never gonna get help, you do your own shit. Of course if anyone gets stuck, people chip in and help out and things like that, but there’s no more help for me than any other person. I think that’s also why it’s so nerve wrecking sometimes, as a crew you’re only as good as your weakest link out there, and I refuse to be the weakest link! So I just work my ass off as much as I can because if you don’t and if you’re annoying for them at all, they’re just not gonna invite you back out.

So you do first jumps as well sometimes?
Yes, we do the Ro Sham Bo sometimes and I have gone first. I love jumping and I wanna do more, but I really like the natural terrain more. I like looking at the mountain, finding your own lines and playing around, so I don’t do the whole cheese-wedge thing as much as some of the other girls. They’ll just go out there, build a jump and hit it, because that I think is the easiest transition into backcountry if you come from the park, as you’re in the backcountry but it’s still a jump. Being able to read terrain is very difficult though, probably one of the toughest things out there, so learning how to do that is kinda more my thing.

Do you have some advise on how to be one of the guys out there?
I think you just have to have a strong mind and you can’t let things get to you. Because that’s the biggest thing, when you start doubting yourself, everything goes downhill. It’s tough, but I think you just have to be very strong, mentally, physically, everything. Just go for it and know that you are there because you wanna be there. And you have to view things more from a guys angle. They might say something shitty but you can’t hold on to that, they’re just saying it and the second they said it they’ve already forgotten about it again, so you need to just forget about it as well.

Thanks a lot Helen, looking so forward to your series!

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