Friday, October 15, 2021

GLOSS Podcast: Madison Blackley succeeds in impressing her younger self

This interview is an abridged version of Crude Conversations EP 095 — “Young Madison would be so stoked on adult Madison, with Madison Blackley.” It’s part of an ongoing series between Crude and Blower Media called GLOSS, or the Gorgeous Ladies of Snowboarding and Skiing. In this episode, I talk with Madison Blackley. Listen to the full podcast here or scroll down to read it!

Madison Blackley found her way into snowboarding by way of Volcom’s Peanut Butter and Rail Jam. Fresh out of high school, she won the competition at Brighton in 2007. From there, she made it to the finals, where she got 3rd place and Best Trick. It was a formative moment in her career— it put her riding in front of industry people and it introduced her to other riders who have continued to be part of her life.

These free competitions, with gear and prize money, are few and far between now, making it difficult for many newcomers to enter the sport as aspiring professionals. The elimination of them has bottlenecked the industry into invite-only competitions, where only certain riders are chosen. If this trend continues, then less and less new riders are able to enter the industry.

Madison has an encyclopedic knowledge of women in snowboarding. She collects their stats like baseball cards—the spots they’ve hit and the tricks they’ve done. This helps her understand her peers as well as her place in snowboarding. As a woman, she says that in order for there to be more equity in the sport, the industry needs to stop marginalizing women. For example, she says that all-female videos have the potential to alienate them from the larger culture of snowboarding rather than allowing them to be part of established projects that feature both men and women.

All photos courtesy of Madison Blackley

Cody Liska: ​​So, Brooke Geery told me that you’re definitely an East Coast asshole at heart.

Madison Blackley: [Laughs] Oh, that is so funny. She totally would. That’s really funny because I’m here on the East Coast now and I’m totally loving it. And I feel like I’m fitting right in, but I don’t know. I mean, I’m in Maine. They’re not really assholes here. But I would have to say that the majority of my friends are from the East Coast, that’s for sure.

CL: And what makes someone an East Coast asshole?

MB: God, I don’t know. I mean, I guess just, like, kind of tell it like it is and don’t take any bullshit. I mean, being an East Coast asshole doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an asshole. I guess maybe it’s a mindset or something.

CL: So it’s more endearing than anything else?

MB: Yeah, yeah. Oh, it’s definitely a compliment. And you feel like you’re kind of falling into place there.

CL: It sounds like you’re not from there.

MB: No, I’m from Park City, Utah. Originally spent my whole life in Utah. I’ve done some stints in Oregon, but for the most part I’ve been in Utah my whole life and my boyfriend is from Maine. So, we just kind of decided to get out to Utah for a summer and just have, like, a nice summer vacation out east.

CL: And you were born and raised in Park City, correct?

MB: That’s correct, yep. I’m a local. Well, I haven’t been for about 15 years, but kind of.

CL: And your home mountain was Park City or Brighton?

MB: Well, my hometown was Park City. I got my first pass there when I was two years old, started skiing. And then I got my first pass to Brighton. I think I was 14 years old. And so I’ve had one to Brighton ever since. But really, like, you know, my home mountain is Park City, but I haven’t really ridden there for so long because of the whole Vail thing. So I don’t really feel like I… I don’t know. I don’t feel like I can say that. I don’t really want to say it’s my home mountain anymore.

Railing. By Mary Walsh

CL: What do you remember about those early days at Brighton and Park City?

MB: Oh, there was so much more snow than there is now, that’s like the first thing I think of. But I started at Park City before snowboarders were even allowed. I mean, it was so weird. I remember that was the first year I stepped on a snowboard—it was like the first year that they opened for snowboarding. Before that it was the Canyons, which was called, I think, Park West or Wolf Mountain before then, and they allowed snowboarding too. So then when Park City opened, you know, I kind of tried that out with the fam. My dad had already snowboarded, my brother was starting to and I was like, “I gotta be better than him.” So, of course, I was like, “Hey, I’m gonna jump on a board.”

But there just wasn’t a whole lot of snowboarders there, you know? And it was kind of, like, where a lot of the snowboard park and freestyle stuff was starting to become really strong. So, people who were getting into boarding were coming to Utah. They weren’t really from Utah, but then when I started riding at Brighton, when I was, you know, a preteen, teenager… I mean, there was one year where the whole mountain opened on the day before Halloween with like four feet of pow and like a full Park setup from top to bottom. I haven’t seen that since, you know? And it probably will never happen again. But there were not a lot of girls riding there. There was one girl I would see who was probably in high school when I was in junior high or middle school that I would see rippin’ the park. Back when the park was underneath the Payday Chair. And it turns out I think I know who it was, it was someone I found out I’m friends with now.

CL: You never wanted to maybe ride up to her and meet her?

MB: Oh my God, no, I was so young. I was like 12 years old. I was so intimidated. Like, I had my little crew and we’d go after school boarding but, no, there was no way I was just gonna go up to the only girl. I had plenty of people to ride with. So, it wasn’t like I was alone.

CL: You mentioned your crew, the crew that you grew up snowboarding with. I feel like if you grew up snowboarding, you usually had a crew that you rode with. How would you describe your crew that you were riding with back then?

MB: My crew was just like a couple kids from my high school. There were a couple kids from some high schools down in Salt Lake and in Ogden and, you know, I kind of met them at some local rail jams and stuff and we would ride together, but not many of them still snowboard. Not many of them pursued it, really. This was also [during] my middle school days. And then in, like, high school I started meeting some other people who I’m friends with now, but all the people in Park City that really pursued snowboarding into a career that are still riding these days are definitely younger than me. Like, I think it was a different kind of generational, where my crew… they’re all just kind of normal people now, I guess. They snowboarded, but none of them really stuck with it like I did. But there’s a bunch of people who I did grow up with, like, there’s Bodie [Merrill]. He’s a year older than me, he grew up in Park City. And we knew each other, but we weren’t really in the same crew.

CL: I feel like those initial crews that we all grow up snowboarding with are part of the formative areas of our life and coming of age situations. They’re the people that you meet in school. And then there’s this transition that happens if you stay with snowboarding, and you’re a little bit more serious about turning it into a career or something a little bit more permanent. Then you get into crews where people are more serious about it and they’re kind of parallel to the way that you’re pursuing snowboarding. What was the second crew that you grew up with or that you transitioned to?

MB: Yeah, that’s good because, like I said, all the people that I was boarding with earlier from school, I mean, they were all guys. I was really like the only girl, which maybe me riding with only guys was part of what gave me an East Coast asshole personality. But then shortly after that, when I was doing competitions and stuff and started traveling more, I met so many girls. So, so many girls, most of whom I’m still friends with today. Not all of them are doing it professionally, but a lot of them are in photography or in video or maybe some other career within action sports. I’m trying to think of specific names who I rode with then. It’s funny because I feel like it’s everyone I still know today. For example, Harrison Gordon posted on Instagram the 2007 Peanut Butter and Rail Jam championship results the other day. Desiree [Melancon] was first, Bryn Valaika was second and I was third, Caley Vanular was fourth and I can’t remember the fifth round. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I still know all of these people today.” I think I was 17 years old when that happened. But like Laura Rogoski, I met her when I was like 20 years old. I would say Laura Rogoski is probably one of the people who has been snowboarding pretty aggressively the entire time since I met her when I was like 20 years old at Mount Hood. But everyone’s still been there.

CL: What do you think was the first point in your snowboard career where you realized that you could do something with it?

MB: I think it was that Peanut Butter and Rail Jam in 2007, the one that I just mentioned, because I had just graduated school early that year. I did the one at Brighton and it was just with my homeboys from high school, like that’s who I was hanging out with doing that rail jam. And so then I won that and was able to go to the finals. And I didn’t know anybody at the finals, so I drove there alone, I stayed in my car, and then after getting 3rd and Best Trick and being like getting cash… that was the first time I really won cash that was over 100 bucks. I was like, “Oh yeah, this can happen. This is huge.” And those contests, you know, people would come up from LA to watch them, the turnout was always insane. So it made you feel really special.

CL: When you think about that competition versus more recent ones that you’ve competed in and placed, how would you compare them?

MB: Well, the fact that it was free makes it so accessible to so many people. And then if you win, it opens up the door to give you another opportunity, you know? There’s just not a whole lot of contests to bring people in like that anymore. One of my big things for like contests recently is, it’s very hard to judge people if you don’t have a very good system, and they had a very good system that was the same every stop, it was the same every year. You kind of knew what to expect going into it. And also, if there are good prizes, and good money, girls who are maybe less qualified to be hitting some of those features will sign up because there are awesome rewards for it. These days, you can’t really find free contests that give awesome rewards. The ones that are free, you don’t really find a lot of people doing them because there’s really no risk versus reward, especially with healthcare these days. I’m not going to go do a rail jam because what if I get hurt? But if you give me a rail jam where I can win $5,000, you bet I’m gonna huck some shit out there. That’s worth it, that’ll pay the bill if I win, you know? Or there are no contests that are just registration—they’re all invite-only. They all have these prerequisites. You know, you used to be able to sign up for all these things and now it’s like, “How do you even get into these contests?” You have to be on a team and then somehow your coach talks to somebody and gets you on the list? I don’t know.

I mean, there were a few that used to happen back in the day. Peanut Butter and Rail Jam was one of them. They did the Nikita Chickita. There was the Billabong Flaunt It. That was one of the just-the-registration, win money kind of competitions that were super awesome. Now, everything’s kind of just based on X-Games, the Olympics, US Open, Dew Tours, and there’s not really any other rail opportunities out there, which is weird considering video parts and rail riding is still so prominent. There’s still a lot of money for that. So it’s kind of weird that those don’t really exist.

In addition to stunts, Madison does her own modeling. Photo: Alex Malik

CL: Where does The Uninvited and The Uninvited 2: An All Girls Snowboard Film fit into that mix?

MB: Well, it’s weird because I filmed so much with Too Hard in the past and I’ve also filmed with Hana [Beaman] and Erin [Comstock’s] P.S. webisode series. And I filmed for a lot of female projects in the past. Leanne Pelosi’s Visionaries, I was in some of that as well. Especially with Too Hard… I mean, they’ve always been there, they really always have been there—they’ve always been highlighting people. But the problem is that in the past they highlighted… you know, it’s like, there’s a set cast, almost like, this is the crew. And this is who’s a part of it. And, you know, if you’re there, you’re there. And you can get a clip and it’s high quality, you’re good, but if not, you’re still kind of on your own as far as the filming and the budget. And with The Uninvited, Jess [Kimura] definitely put her hand out and like monetarily sponsored certain people of her own from her own budget, which is the difference. You know, that’s definitely like a big step to show like, “Well, if nobody else is doing it, I’m gonna do it.” And she did that. Like actually called around and found filmers in people’s areas to say, “Hey, I know this girl and she wants to go film, you need to go film her.” Nobody else does that, you know, because in a lot of the other projects, with big name riders, you have the filmer, that pro filmer. And if you’re not with that guy, then it’s not going to make the cut. So, she definitely opened it up to a lot of other people by having basically an open call. Like, if you have clips, send them over and they are going to get used. She takes iPhone clips, you know, if they’re good, she’ll take that. That’s never been done before. So, a barrier to entry has now just been broken down. And it can give these people this platform, especially with how big YouTube is.

CL: Have you noticed a difference between filming with a crew with a mixture of men and women and with a crew of strictly women?

MB: Well, I’ve never actually filmed with a crew of all dudes that are like pro guys. The guys that I film with are just riding because they love riding, they don’t really have sponsors or anything. And I find a difference really—and it has nothing to do with gender, it’s in ability. You know, you see people doing all these amazing tricks and all these amazing rails and you’re starting to get into filming street and there’s a lot of girls who just don’t know how to do it. So, if you’re going out with your crew that you’ve been filming with for a while, it’s pretty easy. You guys know the drill, there’s an etiquette, you know? Don’t do the same trick with your friend. If you do the same trick, just know that it’s not going to get used… or, whatever, use it, I don’t really give a shit to be honest [laughs].

CL: [Laughs]

MB: If it brings you joy, just use the clip, whatever. Yeah, like, if you were really stuck, who cares. And then there’s a lot of girls who I love, I love riding with them, but bringing them out to a spot to get some footage is different because it’s like so much of it as mental, you know. You start thinking of consequences. You don’t really know how to build a lip, you’re not really sure about the speed. That is the biggest difference that I’ve noticed: there are girls who’ve been doing it and then there are girls who are really good in the park and have never actually done the street thing. And it’s a huge, huge difference. Like I would rather go out with somebody who’s hit spots for a few season and maybe doesn’t necessarily have the trick ability there, but it’s gonna be a way better experience for me. Like as much as I want to be there for everybody, sometimes it just takes too long and I’m not really willing to sit there for eight hours, I guess.

CL: For sure. And I think that there’s energy there, right? So if somebody is at the same level, then their energy is probably matched and even that kind of friendly competitiveness is also matched. Rather than kind of like taking your younger sibling to a party. They’re not going to match your energy.

MB: That’s a perfect way to say it, like taking your younger sibling to a party. I love hanging out with them at home, you know what I mean? But you’re probably gonna get wasted and puke all over this person’s house instead of just having a couple beers and having a good time. And that doesn’t happen all the time. It’s just that there are a lot of really amazing riders in Salt Lake City, who all have, you know, they can all do it, but I don’t necessarily want to be the one with them. As unfortunate as it is to say, I’ve done it enough.

Hot doggin’ at Bear Mountain. Photo: Kieth Rutherford

CL: Yeah. Have you been involved in any of the conversations surrounding the intention of these all women videos?

MB: Not really. I guess I’ve seen them from the outside, but I haven’t really been involved in it. And I think it’s great, but I don’t necessarily think that it… the problem with the all-women videos is it means that there’s no room for them anywhere else. It means that they’re doing it out of necessity to be recognized. And they’re awesome, and they’re great, and I think that they should be there, but I don’t think that an all-women’s project should be the only opportunity that women should have. You know, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t have a clip in another men’s movie, just because you’re already filming for the women’s project.

CL: Do you think that these videos exclude women from those videos, the men’s videos?

MB: Yeah, absolutely.

CL: Really?

MB: 100 percent. I’ve never been in a men’s video. I mean, I’ve been nominated for Video Part of the Year and I’m like, “I’ve still never been offered to be in a men’s video.” I’ve literally only filmed for women’s projects. And I’ve never had an opportunity to film a men’s video either.

CL: Have you reached out to film in a men’s video?

MB: Well, that’s when it just gets kind of weird. Like, do you reach out to your brand? Who, you know, isn’t supporting that project or maybe hardly supports you? And, I mean, the girls that get into the men’s projects, it’s probably because they’re just closer friends and they just swoop them up. But they know they can’t swoop up five girls for their project, or they’re afraid to scoop up five girls for their project because they’re afraid it’s going to slow them down. Maybe. I’m not really sure. I think that that’s definitely a conversation that we need to have. And it has nothing to do with women. I think it’s a conversation that needs to be had on the men’s side about, you know, how do you go about including women within your snowboard projects? I don’t know if that’s really ever been asked before.

CL: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting conversation because in a lot of those videos, you know, there’s the token, one, two, or maybe three women in that video.

MB: Three, if they’re lucky. Like the Vans “Listen to the Eyes” came out four years ago or something and Mary Rand was in that and it was kind of like her first real part with Vans. And then it was Leanne [Pelosi] and Hana [Beaman], which have been on Vans for years. And then the last part that Mary Rand did was with Rendered Useless, which was like a men’s movie. And so then she had that amazing part, you know what I mean, and won all of these awards. It was so awesome. And then the next part that she’s working on is—Vans puts out two movies a year and then they give the girls one month to film an all-powder movie when they could have just included us in the men’s project, considering those are all incredibly huge names. And they can all totally hang with the guys. So I’m just like, I don’t know, maybe people like to see women’s projects only. It’s definitely easier for the girls to talk to each other and say like, “Let’s do this project.” But when I do that, I’m definitely not trying to exclude men. I would love it if guys would join me and snowboard on a project. I think that’d be amazing. Maybe it’s like, the guys feel weird about it. I don’t know. Like, when you say a women’s project, it kind of… I feel like it sounds inferior. Versus, starring all women, if that makes sense. Or you could just have a project with two women and two men, but you don’t call that a coed project. That just seems weird. So I don’t know, the whole women’s project is kind of weird. I think it’s great to have a project with all women, but I think that when people phrase it that way, it kind of makes it seem like men can’t get involved either.

CL: No, totally. I always try to think about how we will look at things like this, like, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. And in my mind, I would see this—especially the way that you’re describing it, which I actually completely agree with—as almost like a form of segregation. But it’s asking you to be happy about it.

MB: Yeah, definitely. I see that, like, “But you should be happy.” I would love to win Video Part of the Year in just a big movie. Like an Absinthe movie, just to name a huge brand. Last year they had women in their movie, but all the women they had in their movie, their footage was already used in other women’s movies. So it’s like, “Good try, but I think that we can do better.”

CL: How do you think we do better?

MB: I don’t know because the whole project thing now is, like, there used to be buy-ins. A company would buy people in, and they’d always put the one girl in and now I feel like it’s hard to even get the one girl in because there’s so many just women’s projects. But you just kind of got to be friends with them. And I don’t think it has to do with brands, you know? I don’t think that has to do with the industry. I think it is still just individual mentalities from people, not standing up for women in a group circle, you know, if 10 dudes are getting together and they’re like, “Hey, we’re all homies, let’s make a video.” Like, I don’t think one person is raising their hand and saying, “But what if we have three girls?” Because maybe they’re afraid of the backlash? I’m not really sure. I don’t know. I mean, you’re gonna have to ask some guys about that, I guess.

CL: I think maybe the answer lies in allowing and accepting women in higher positions in snowboarding, and allowing them to be people who make these decisions. And when that happens, equality can be at least progressed toward, maybe not achieved immediately. But when people are excluded from things, then they’re eventually just given their own lane, right? You know, “You can go over there and do your thing. We’re doing our thing over here.” As opposed to being like, “Come be a part of what we’re doing.”

MB: Absolutely. That’s very, very well put there. And I mean, all this stuff, it’s not like I’m not saying, “I’m getting screwed over here.” This is just, you know, a general statement that I’m sure a lot of people, a lot of women, think this way. The women’s projects are great opportunities, but they are definitely not the best opportunities that could be presented to them. But it does take time to have women in those leadership roles that are a little higher up that do have the power. And some of them are getting there. I feel like there are a lot of women who are stepping into those roles as of recently, who are definitely trying to make some better changes in the industry. And that takes years. I mean, this isn’t even within snowboarding, this is within America as a whole. You know, let’s be honest. There are a lot of sports and a lot of people who have it much, much worse off than us snowboarders. This is definitely a First World issue. Like, “Man, my life sucks. I get to travel and I can’t film with men.” It could be worse.

Madison, always winning. Photo courtesy Red Bull

CL: Do you see yourself staying in snowboarding as a rider, or maybe getting into the marketing and management of things, or moving into something else entirely different?

MB: I see myself as a rider for as long as I can. But also, I would like to do something different, definitely within snowboarding, or maybe the environment or just the outdoor industry in general. I don’t know if I would really like to go into the marketing side of it. I don’t know, that just seems like it’s not for me. And like I said, it’s a dying sport. Dying in the sense of climate change—let me clarify there. I just feel like I could probably contribute so much more in some other aspect. I think it’d be cool to be in research and development or maybe work for a mountain on sustainable energy. I just want to snowboard. Obviously, I’m probably not going to be able to snowboard professionally forever. I mean, times are changing. There are many women and snowboarders who are aging who are still in the spotlight because they’re killing it. I would say like half of the pros from when I was growing up are still pros today. So, I don’t necessarily think that the reason I would be stopping would be age. I’ve been very lucky with my body and health, my whole career. But you know, anything can happen. You know, if something happens, and I’m not able to snowboard, I will definitely still be within the snowboard industry, that’s for sure.

CL: What do you think young Madison would think about where adult Madison is right now?

MB: Oh my God, young Madison would be so hyped. I honestly don’t even feel like a different person than from when I was 15 years old. I feel like I snowboard the same, I feel like I party the same. You know what I mean? I still feel like I got good friends. I want all the things that I wanted then I either am doing or still want now. Like, I’m pretty stoked on the person I became and young Madison would be so hyped if I hung out with myself I’d be going to school the next day telling everyone how cool I was. I’d like to think!

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