Julia Pickering isn’t only a split board expert (as you will know from our current issue), but also an absolute pioneer when it comes to female mountaineering. No wonder we asked her to tell her story!
Interview by Anna Langer
I think my attraction to the mountains grew from a childhood obsession with snow and the outdoors in general. When I was really little we lived on a farm on the edge of the Pennines in North West England and I used to ride my bike all over to far and distant lands. We would often get snowed in in winter and my parents have cine film of me and my brothers building igloos.
When I was six my parents took us to Aviemore in Scotland for a ski holiday. They didn’t ski but my eldest brother had asked to go skiing for his birthday present in January. We had so much snow we couldn’t leave! My Dad has hated the Cairngorms ever since! The next time I went to snowy mountains was on the school ski trips aged 11. I didn’t snowboard until university.
My fascination with the far North also stemmed from my childhood and after working freelance in the outdoor industry for several years, I got myself a part time job working for an Arctic expedition company. My first trip to Greenland was through them.
You are hundreds of miles from any sort of civilisation and will never see another person apart from your own team. The silence is deafening.
In the Arctic it’s the remoteness that’s the really overwhelming part. You are hundreds of miles from any sort of civilisation and will never see another person apart from your own team. The silence is deafening. There is no mountain rescue on hand or any avalanche reports. You are completely self reliant. Just existing in that environment is really hard work. It takes 2 hours every morning just to melt enough snow to eat breakfast and provide water for the day. 24 hour daylight can make sleeping difficult and bring energy levels down. Arctic storms can last for days, even weeks, on end. 100 mph winds, 30 below temperatures combined with heavy snowfall is not uncommon. Travelling is impossible in those conditions, you are literally tentbound. But when it breaks and you awake to blue skies, untracked powder and perfect line after perfect line. It’s all worth it.
The mountains have taught me that plans can never be set in stone. If conditions aren’t right, that line you really want will still be there another day when the conditions are right. On expedition when the weather goods aren’t giving you that window you have learn to fester without going insane. And never blindly follow other peoples tracks, they may not have known where they were going either!
The mountains have taught me that plans can never be set in stone.
When I first started out I couldn’t afford my own splitboard so I made my own. If you can’t saw in a straight line get someone who can to help you. I did! My first one was on a really old disposable board to see how it worked first. In principal it did, although the board was too short for me and too flexible. Then I did it again with a better board. When a solid board is split it will lose a lot of its rigidity so it’s best to start with a very stiff board.
As far as professional goals go, I have a snowboard project in the planning stages that I can’t say too much about at the moment, but I’m super excited about it! I’d also have ideas for other adventures that are non snowboard based. I’ve been doing a few talks in schools recently which has definitely fired me up as to how I can use my experiences to educate. I’ve also written my first article for a snowsports magazine and I’m looking forward to seeing how that looks in print. It was great getting my experience into words and I would love to do more articles. As far my private life goes, in winter I live in my van in the Alps and I’m torn between wanting to live on the road fulltime or get a cabin in the mountains somewhere. I also want to surf better so my mountain cabin would have to be not too big a drive to the sea!
In winter I live in my van in the Alps and I’m torn between wanting to live on the road fulltime or get a cabin in the mountains somewhere
I mainly ride with guys and I certainly never get any sexism from them (not to my face anyway!). My team certainly don’t allow me any leeway. As much I try to play the girl card they still make me carry the same weight in my pulk. On a broader scale there’s definitely still a sense that women can’t keep up or ride as hard or tough out the conditions as well. Yet I know many women who can keep going in the face of adversity when the guys are crying like babies. In my experience it can be hard to get taken seriously as a British female snowboard mountaineer, as I guess the whole concept perhaps seems a bit unreal to many.