Photo and Video Feature

Mary Rand Without Comparison

Full Part and Interview

Mary Rand is evolving. A product of the humble hills of Rhode Island, she went all in on backcountry riding six years ago, moved to the Pacific Northwest, and didn’t look back. It was a bit of trial by fire, but, despite her freestyle roots, she knew she wanted to spend her time in the high country.

It’s been a learning curve, to say the least. Yet every year Mary gets better at navigating the intricacies of consequential backcountry snowboarding. Through mentorship and experience she’s gone from student of the backcountry to leading her own media projects, including 2022’s All Right Here and 2023’s Giant Beasts, Tiny People.

The edit above is a compilation of her riding from the past two seasons. The interview below speaks to Mary’s current headspace as she learns to lead in pursuit of personal fulfillment in backcountry environs.

Mary onslope at Powdah Mountain, the community-first one-run setup at Alaska Heliskiing’s compound outside of Haines, Alaska. Photo: Alex Pashley

The Snowboarder’s Journal: Can you tell me about this edit and why you made it?

The last two projects that I’ve been a part of were all mixed footage, and I wanted to put all my footage together and have it be more focused. I also need to show Natural Selection [Tour] my riding from the past two years. [Ed: Mary will be competing with Spencer O’Brien in the Natural Selection Duels next month at Red Mountain Resort, BC].

Haines 2023 (left) and 2022 (right). Photos: Alex Pashley (left) and Colin Wiseman (right)

Have you noticed growth in your riding over the past two years?

Yeah, just the fact that I was confident enough to lead my own projects the past two years was huge growth. The first backcountry project that I did was Listen to the Eyes [2018]. In that project, I was completely at the mercy of my crew—learning from them, not in a leadership role whatsoever, nor did I want to be. For four or five years in a row, I was part of other people’s projects. So, to see my own projects come together the last two years feels like huge growth.

Layback in the Mt. Baker Ski Area, WA backcountry, for 2022’s All Right Here. Photo: Colin Wiseman

How was your experience on the mountain as a producer, director and rider?

It totally shifted the way I was approaching things. For All Right Here, being at Baker, all the riders were joking, calling me “Director” on hill. I’d be like, “Blair [Habenicht] you turn here, Austin [Smith] you turn there.” [laughs]. But it was all my friends being a part of my first project and being at home, it was very digestible. I felt at ease.

Producing the Alaska film [Giant Beasts, Tiny People] was really intense. We were shooting out in Idaho before going to Alaska and I had the heli companies calling me, the insurance company calling me, figuring out Airbnbs… since we were traveling there, it was a lot. And I was cooking and cleaning for all the boys—they need to wash some dishes [laughs].

Onslope in Haines, 2023, for Giant Beasts, Tiny People. Photo: Colin Wiseman

What kind of lessons did you take away from that experience?

Definitely choose your media and crew wisely. It’s so hard to create something with taste and meaning while still focusing on the shredding. What I learned from those two projects was that going into the film with some kind of storyline is important. You have to be able to work with the weather and everything that comes with operating in the backcountry, but having a path set beforehand is huge.

After the Alaska film, I felt so tapped out and drained and overwhelmed, being the one that everybody was looking to, to make decisions. It definitely distracted me from my riding at times. There was so much preparation leading up to being in Alaska for nearly a month—then all of a sudden we’re there, and it was like, OK, what are you gonna ride? And I was like, damn, I don’t know. I’m still thinking about how to get us all here, I didn’t really think about that. There were a couple moments where I found myself wanting to stand behind my mentors and not be the one that everybody was looking to.

Obviously, I worked through it, and having Taylor [Godber] in Alaska was great—she’s really sure of the type of riding she wants to do. I followed her lead and accepted that I’m still figuring it out on some of those big Alaskan lines—figuring out what I want to ride and how I want to ride it and being ok with that. For me, I think that’ll be like a constant evolution. I don’t have a clear vision of what my pinnacle looks like in the mountains. It’s not one specific line, or type of line. I’m very much inspired in the moment. Of course there’s a lot of foresight to get me there, but I like to leave the doors open to everything and anything on hill.

Idaho air, 2023. Photo: Alex Pashley

The process is intense—when you take on all the logistics, it must be tricky to separate the producer role and the rider role and be fully focused on hill.

Yeah, absolutely. And then coupled with the fact that heli riding is fairly new to me, even having the confidence and assuredness to know that… you don’t always just show up in Alaska and ride the gnarliest line. Taylor wanted to do that—I had to honor what she wanted while also honoring my own approach. Sometimes, I’m not always looking at the biggest line around, because if you’re not feeling it, if it’s not what’s calling your name, you’re probably not going to do your best riding there.

Pillows and spines in AK for Giant Beast, Tiny People, as seen in print in Issue 21.2. Photo: Colin Wiseman

After all that time and effort and planning, you have to be careful to not get sucked into the AK script—if you do, you might not be showing something that’s a true vision of what you do best.

That’s what I recognized on that trip. I don’t have it all figured out. Like oh, I’m here, I feel like I have to do this particular line—everybody wants me to do this. I feel like I have to ride this run because it has this name… I realized it’s going to take time and effort to figure out what I do best, what I want to ride.

Powdah Mountain session, 2023, rinsing off the anxiety of heli laps. Photos: Alex Pashley

That’s a good realization, too.

It takes time and effort to develop relationships up there—just going up and seeing SeanDog [Brownell, owner of Alaska Heliskiing] and [wife and co-operator] Rhianna and [daughter] Junie in the summer, taking their side-by-side up to [the run called] Caffeine, seeing it without snow and connecting to it and being there because I like the place and the people… I feel called to that environment. Not because it’s the Mecca where every pro big mountain rider has gone, but because I truly like it, deep down.

Sure, riding Tomahawk was sick—it was a huge shot of adrenaline. Looking back, I am thinking more about how I can ride these quintessential lines in my own way and in a way that will make me feel most fulfilled. But what I’m going to remember most is going back to 35 Mile [Alaska Heliskiing’s compound] and rolling around Powdah Mountain [the little slope at the compound] with everybody, having so much fun and feeling carefree—not worried about anything. This community thing, it always comes down to that.

Amongst ice in Haines, 2022. Photo: Colin Wiseman

A lot of people that are only after peak experience burnout on peak experience.

For me, Powdah Mountain might be the peak experience. It made riding Tomahawk feel more meaningful. If I hadn’t had the Powdah Mountain experience and just had Tomahawk, I don’t think I would have felt as fulfilled.

Seeking perspective in AK. Photo: Colin Wiseman

How do you apply that realization moving forward?

I’m still processing that trip—back off, breathe and reassess and continue to let it like sink in. Going up to the Baldface [Risk Maturity] course this early season I was having big emotions from Alaska. I’m like, wow, I’m totally still processing how I digest that amount of risk. Now, I’m trying to get inspired and motivated to make another project and to continue to develop my storytelling skills because that’s what makes it more purposeful to me: not just focusing on the riding, but telling a meaningful story that can hopefully touch people in a deeper way and make the process more meaningful.

At speed in AK, 2023. Photo: Alex Pashley

You’ve come a long way. Anyone you’d like to thank for helping you along the way?

Leanne [Pelosi] and Hana [Beaman] were both huge mentors of mine during Listen to the Eyes. They took me under their wings and taught me how to snowmobile with the help of Jake Price. I worked with Erik Leon on his project, El Sueño (2020), in Japan, with a freestyle approach to filming in the backcountry, and I learned a lot there. Mark Carter was very helpful during Range Finder (2021) and after that, too. Being a part out other people’s projects, seeing how they operate as the producer, director and rider, and taking little bits of information and insight from each person, has helped a lot along the way.

Then, of course, all those Smartwool/The Snowboarder’s Journal trips have been instrumental in me building out my crew and support system—in finding people that understand me and support me and building this mutually beneficial thing. Austin and Blair have been huge. They were my main riding crew for All Right Here and that was so epic. They had confidence in me to be a leader and it allowed me to roll into Tiny Beasts with enough confidence to do it. Alex Pashley and Liam Gallagher and you on the media side have been super helpful. These people have become my people and it’s been epic and they’re all super different too, which is great.

Baker backcountry follow cam with Liam Gallagher (left) and tube navigation for All Right Here. Photos: Colin Wiseman

Where are you at mentally going into this season?

It’s still a challenge for me to accept the fact that I am a multifaceted snowboarder and person. I don’t have this clear, one-lane direction that I want to take my career. And I’ve got to be okay with that, letting myself develop in different routes. I think it’s something that I’m still working on, not getting down on myself for not being more into uphill alpinism or more into just building cheese wedges or more into just connecting with the community. Maybe filmmaking can be a good way to experience all those different facets and learn from them, and not be so one track minded.

Even for All Right Here, having the confidence to create my own vision without comparison to others was a big step. I decided to hit a handrail for the first time in years, but I didn’t have a full street part. If I was doing something in someone else’s project that maybe wouldn’t have been possible to show.

Bellingham, WA steel for All Right Here. Photo: Ben Shanks Kindlon

Maybe diversity of experience is the answer, for you?

Some people can be singularly focused, and some people thrive on variety of experience. I’m realizing that variety is important to me.

Backside hack below the gnar. A decompression lap in Haines, 2023. Photo: Colin Wiseman

Mary would like to thank her sponsors for their continued support of her growth as a snowboarder and a human: The North Face, Smartwool, Arbor Snowboards, Smith Optics and Thread Wallets.

Linked below are the handful of movies we’ve produced with Mary over the past six years. Enjoy!

Full Go: a 2018 biopic. 

Pocket Meat: 2018 in the BC interior with Blair Habenicht.

Hoping for the Best: 2019 snow camping in Valdez with Austin Smith, Eric Jackson, Curtis Ciszek, and Blair Habenicht.

Somewhere, Wyoming: 2020 with Mark Carter and Zoe Vernon.

One for You: 2021 in Idaho with Austin Smith, Eric Jackson and Curtis Ciszek.

Made Sure We Made It: 2022 in Haines, Alaska with Spencer O’Brien, Blair Habenicht, Austin Smith, Curtis Ciszek and Blake Paul.


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