Feature | Snowboard

Snowboarder Elena Hight reassesses dreams and makes jaw-dropping comeback in new film 'Blank Canvas' 

Two-time Team USA Olympian on her new snowboarding movie, reframing failure, and why we need to protect the winters before we lose them for good.

By Ed Knowles ·

Elena Hight went to the Winter Olympics twice to compete for USA in half-pipe snowboarding.

Her aim was to make it onto the podium and take home an Olympic medal.

“We all set these goals and sometimes failures happen,” she said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

"How many times can you fail so that you can succeed at the end of one of them?" - Elena Hight, two-time Olympic snowboarder

After missing out on the USA team for PyeongChang 2018, she decided to move away from contests and concentrate on some new goals.

“I think a lot of failures lead you to the journeys that you're supposed to be on.”

Snowboarder Elena Hight during a contest in 2017

Her transition to back-country snowboarding is documented in her new incredible film ‘Blank Canvas.’

Back-country snowboarding is riding ‘a slope that’s not within the maintained and controlled boundaries of a ski resort’.

Elena became the first female to take on legendary snowboarding spot Grizzly Spine in Tahoe, USA.

It looks impossible – and that’s because it probably should be.

The Olympic Channel Podcast caught up with Elena to talk about this new project, climate change, and how to follow your passion.

The questions and answers below have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Elena Hight: Moving into backcountry snowboarding

Olympic Channel (OC): How did the move away from contest snowboarding happen for you?

Elena Hight (EH): I competed professionally for 16 years. I think anyone who's had a career for that long can say there's probably times throughout your career that you are on a downward slope and you question what you're doing.

I always loved competing and love what the sport has brought me and the competitive lifestyle.

I was trying to make it to the 2018 Olympics and missed it, I didn't do well in the qualifying and was really just like out there snowboarding for fun.

I had these Olympic dreams of winning a medal, which I never fulfilled. It is always hard to step away from. And, I don't know, take that defeat. I think I'm still competitive.

But I got invited on this trip with Jeremy Jones. He was like, ‘I know you've had a crazy season, with the Olympics and everything. I'm going on this trip’. And we ended up going on a nine-day traverse of the mountain range.

Elena Hight went to the Olympic Games twice to represent USA in the half-pipe 

Elena Hight’s new movie: Blank Canvas

OC: So that trip kickstarts this new film that has been released… What was the motivation behind making it?

EH: The motivation behind ‘Blank Canvas’ really was to share an authentic, raw, journey of me really leaving my comfort zone, which was competitive half-pipe snowboarding, and feeling this call into the backcountry.

I went on this trip and realised that I just had this fire to pursue this new dream. And, it really scared me a lot to step away from what I've always known and really my secure place in my life,

And I think that that is something that everyone can relate to at some point in their lives, whether you're a snowboarder or just in your everyday life.

"It's not going to be easy. It's not all rainbows and butterflies" - Elena Hight on following your dreams

I think that we all hit these forks in the road where you can pursue [something] or really stay where you're comfortable and secure.

And so, my goal with the film is to show that journey of mine and hopefully inspire others to be able to follow their heart in those situations.

It's not going to be easy. It's not all rainbows and butterflies. But hopefully, on the other side of it, you can look back and be really grateful for the experience.

Elena Hight on climate change challenge

OC: The landscapes and nature in the film are unbelievable. You know these places better than most, in 20, 30, 40 years’ time, are they still going to be there with the same snow?

EH: This season, the 2019/2020 season, was the first time that a lot of these zones in Tahoe have been rideable in a decade.

California has been in a huge drought and Lake Tahoe is really at a lower elevation. We’ve been getting a lot more rain. We've been getting a lot less precipitation every season.

I think the reality of climate change, specifically in snowboarding and snow sports, it's happening before our eyes. And it is scary.

It's scary to think that this sport and place that I love, like in these home mountains or even anywhere in the world, are going to be completely different in 20, 30, 40 years. And we see it everywhere.

I've been lucky enough to travel the world, to snowboard specifically, [and] a lot of the glaciers in Europe are retracting at alarming rates.

There are ski resorts all over the world that have closed because they're too low elevation and they're not getting enough snow. It's been a wakeup call, I think, for me to realise that this was happening.

I think for a long time, climate change is something we all thought of as, 'this is going to happen in the future, let's plan for it.'

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OC: With the various confinement measures due to the pandemic, a lot of people are reconnecting with their local outside areas. How important is that?

EH: First and foremost, we have to get people into nature. We have to get kids into nature and people who are stuck in cities, into these natural areas to be able to experience them and appreciate them.

And once we do get into these areas and become more of an outdoor enthusiast, [hopefully] that translates into having this personal connection with nature and wanting to do your part to save nature.

Listen to the full interview on the Olympic Channel Podcast, also available wherever you get your podcasts.

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