Professional snowboarder and member of the American team Elena Hight stands out even among the elite of professional snowboarding. At the age of 13, she became the first woman to perform a 900 degree turn in competition. She has competed in two Winter Olympics and in 2013 became the first snowboarder (male or female) to land a double backside alley-oop rodeo at the Winter X Games.
After her decorated career, Hight is expanding her impact, making films on backcountry trails and supporting the future of women’s sport. Part of that effort is the snowboarder’s work with the Women’s Sports Foundation as landmark Title IX legislation turns 50.
In an extensive conversation, The Manual spoke with Hight about these endeavors, how they’re shaping his career, and the future of snowboarding.
(This conversation has been edited for clarity.)
TM: What did you do during the off-season?
HE: Snowboarding has a nice cadence. We actually have an offseason, so I have time to work on other passions, one being some of the nonprofits I work with. I also work on the editing of certain films that come out in the fall. It’s a nice development. Cinema is super creative and film is a very powerful way to talk about issues and tell powerful stories.
The best part is being able to experience the mountains with snowboarders that I’ve looked up to throughout my career and really immersed myself in. I am now tapping into a whole new skill set and learning so much every time I go to the mountains. It’s very exciting.
TM: I guess going to places less traveled opens up the world and shows you again how big it is…
HE: One of the reasons I’m so drawn to mountains is the expanse you feel. There really is nothing quite like being able to go back to the mountains and be so far away from normal everyday distractions to focus on what’s right in front of you, and be truly present and connect with nature. This connection and this time motivates me to come back to our society and live in a way that will hopefully leave this world a better place.
TM: It’s interesting to hear that Title IX has had an impact on your career. I’m curious, how?
HE: My background in school, being able to participate in football, running and organized sports is a clear benefit of Title IX that I felt at a very young age which later led me to snowboarding. This is where I developed my competitive spirit.
They were organized sports. Snowboarding has this raw, disorganized, “go out in the mountains and do whatever you want” feel that’s different from a football game. I’m really lucky to have grown up at a time when I was encouraged to play sports.
I didn’t learn Title IX until I was much older, probably a late teenager. At that time, (I) had the ability to reflect on the impact of sport on my life. It gave me not only the tools to be the human I am today, but an entire career and a passion. I wouldn’t be who I am without sports.
TM: What are some of the things you do with the Women’s Sports Foundation?
HE: I have been with the Women’s Sports Foundation for quite a long time and their work is so important. They aim to give girls and women at all levels greater access to sport. Much of their work is done (to) ensure that girls have opportunities and to ensure that laws and decisions are not passed that limit women’s participation.
For me, we are always trying to bring snowboarding to more girls. There really is a huge opportunity for women in snowboarding right now. When I was a young girl, women were a very small part of the snowboarding community, and it’s been really cool to see that grow over the past two decades. The snowboard industry has done a great job of helping women not only advance in the sport, but supporting them throughout their careers and creating a place for women in sponsorship (and) competition. .
Working with organizations is all about feeling and whether it aligns with my values around equality and sport and in the environmental space.
TM: Who were your female snowboard idols and/or mentors?
HE: Kelly Clark was a huge inspiration to me. Gretchen Bleiler, Shannon Dunn, Tara Dakides and Barrett Christy are some of the women who really inspired me when I was young to get into sports.
This is part of why Title IX is so important in sports. We look outward for inspiration and guidance. Having these mentors and inspirational personalities helps young girls dream. The more women we can integrate into it, the more it will permeate future generations.
TM: Why did you join Clif for the Clif Athlete partnership? What excites you about the project?
HE: I’ve been fortunate enough to work for Clif for, I think, almost eight years now. I grew up in Clif Bars. They were a staple in our house. Spending so much time on the move and in the mountains, they are a much needed and welcome source of sustenance. But what got me so excited about joining Clif Bar is the commitment to the athletes they have beyond just fueling them.
At its core, Clif Bar is committed to female athletes, specifically (with) the truly amazing Female Athlete Program. And they are committed to environmental health. The company represents all the things that I think are important in business and in life.
TM: How does Clif Bar try to balance male and female sponsorships?
HE: One of their initiatives is to become a more 50/50 brand, where women are equally represented as men. Internally, they are committed to this equality, which is a big step for any company. On the athlete side, they have some pretty bada** women—Venus Williams, myself, Casey Brown, an amazing mountain biker—who really push the envelope. I am honored to be part of it.
TM: What are your expectations for the rest of this year?
HE: I have quite a few things on file. Right now we have an HBO docu-series that I’m a part of on July 12 called Ends of the Earth. I have another movie I’ve been working on with Arc’teryx that’s coming out in October. And another snowboard movie coming out, I think in November.
Winter has been busy and busy.