Words by Zoe Oksanen, photos by Chris Owen
Hannah Teter is snowboarding’s golden girl in more than one sense of the word. Most famous, perhaps, for her gold medal at the Winter Olympics half pipe contest in 2006, she is unarguably one of the top contest riders in women’s professional snowboarding. The youngest snowboarder to ever make the US snowboard team at 15 years old, and already a veteran of the X Games at just 23, Hannah is a success story of podiums and prize money. But Hannah’s gilded persona has a whole other life and one that is gaining pace by the day. For she is one of the most socially active professional snowboarders around, working closely with several charities, running a donation-driven family maple syrup company called Hannah’s Gold and, impressively, donating 100 per cent of her contest winnings to charity.
The straight-talking, effusive personality, which first got Hannah noticed as a teenage girl blasting onto the snowboard scene, is now being channelled into a strong political and socially conscious woman who has a lot to say and will be heard! Opinionated, committed, and brimming with compassion and determination, Hannah Teter is going to try damn hard to make this world a better place. But when she does, just don’t forget the girl can throw down one of the meanest 900s in the half pipe you’re ever likely to see.
How will the Olympics be different for you this time around, both in terms of riding and emotionally?
I am approaching this year’s Olympics with a way different mind set than the last. I feel more knowledgeable this time around.
Do you feel a lot of pressure surrounding the Olympics, with everyone looking to see if the Gold medallist is still on top?
I take it as an opportunity to be a major influence for people, and to be more open about different topics that they may not have thought about before.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Dew Snowboard Tour last winter. Congrats on taking 2nd place overall in the half pipe. How did the tour compare to other snowboard contests you’ve been in?
It was higher paying than most other contests, so I got to donate more money towards my Kenya clean water project. 100 per cent of my contest profits are donated. This year I won about $65,000!
Girls like you are instrumental in closing the gender gap in snowboarding, and yet there is still a lot of inequality throughout the sport. Do you feel this is justified in any way, or just an outdated notion?
Luckily in snowboarding competitions, the pay is exactly the same. Above that I think there are a lot more important things to make sure are justified, such as the Muslim laws that will stone a young girl to death if she’s caught "hooking up" with a boy that isn’t approved. Or the Catholic views that say you’re "going to hell if you use protection in intercourse". Or the law just passed in Australia that now regulates herbal supplements to be purchased only through a pharmacy because they are “dangerous". Or maybe the factory farms where billions of animals are slaughtered inhumanely for their meat, causing disease and illness among consumers. There are many outdated notions to consider.
Is there much bitchiness in professional snowboarding between the girls, or is it a pretty supportive environment on the whole?
The bitchiness-meter is very low. We all feel pretty grateful for our lifestyles, and connected to everybody in the industry as a whole.
Snowboarding at your level takes big balls. What else does it take to get where you are at?
Well actually its takes no balls! I think women need to be praised as being strong creatures that can do relatively anything they put their hearts to. Suppressed for centuries, I think its time women feel equally as powerful as men, because if women ran the planet, there’d be no war! And therefore there wouldn’t be trillions spent on nuclear weapons, and millions dying for no reason!
Where do you see your snowboarding heading in the future? Sticking to the contest scene or soul searching in the backcountry.
I see it heading in a direction that may be different from anything I could ever imagine. I’m building a dome in Vermont, buying a wind-turbine, and looking at being totally sustainable for the rough times that might be coming our way.
In 2006 you were honoured by the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) as a Sportswoman of the Year, partly due to your humanitarian efforts. Did you just wake up one morning and think, “It’s time for me to start giving back", or have you always worked with charities?
Growing up with my family made me realise the opportunities that come from being raised with a very open-minded upbringing. My parents were loving, thoughtful and considerate, letting us make our own decisions on who we wanted to be. They also let me know that many other children around the world did not have such opportunities, and often were not nurtured, loved, or taken care of. Knowing that at a young age made me want to help other kids to live the best way possible, and to try to achieve their dreams just like I was getting to do.
You’ve progressed from being sponsored yourself, to actually sponsoring a whole town in Kenya now. Are you going to be the next Angelina Jolie, working towards a career with the UN once you are done with snowboarding!?
We’re all parts of changing this world, our world. But most of us don’t realise that, and therefore take no initiative. Animals are becoming extinct, trees are being cut, but nobody knows, and do they really care? If people don’t start to care, and start to care quickly, scientists say humanity WILL become extinct because of all the imbalances and stress we're imposing on our life source, mother nature.
What inspired you to become a spokesperson for Boarding For Breast Cancer?
It’s important for girls and women to know that breast cancer stems from lifestyle decisions, such as what we put in our bodies, how much stress we have, and how much love we feel for ourselves and everybody else. Illnesses are very simple when you get to the core of what causes them, but most people aren’t told that. They're told "Here, take this prescription drug. It will help you".
Success came at a young age for you, being the youngest member of the US Snowboarding Team at 15, and becoming financially independent enough to own your own home by 18. Have you ever had to have a talk with yourself about getting caught up in the whole fame/wealth game?
I always knew that I had life so good, that many others were suffering, and that money didn’t make you happy anyways, so why not use it to do good things?
You meditate, practise yoga, and generally seem pretty sorted emotionally and spiritually for someone of your age. What would you attribute that to?
Organic food, vegetarianism and open-mindedness.
Outside of snowboarding, what matters to you in life?
Making sure our planet doesn’t become extinct.
If you have kids one day, what will be the most important values you try to pass down to them?
Taking all things into consideration. The obvious isn't so obvious when you really look at it.