Professional snowboarder and Team USA member Elena Hight stands out even among professional snowboarding’s elite. At the age of 13, she became the first female to land a 900-degree turn in competition. She’s participated in two Winter Olympics and in 2013, she became the first snowboarder (male or female) to land a double backside alley-oop rodeo at the Winter X Games.
Post her decorated career, Hight is expanding her impact, filmmaking on backcountry slopes and supporting the future of women’s sports. Part of this effort is the snowboarder’s work with the Women’s Sports Foundation as Title IX’s landmark legislation turns 50.
In a wide-ranging conversation, The Manual chatted with Hight about these efforts, how they’re shaping her career, and the future of snowboarding.
(This conversation has been edited for clarity.)
TM: What have you been up to in the off-season?
EH: Snowboarding has a nice cadence to it. We actually do get an offseason, so I have some time to work on other passions, one being some of the nonprofits that I work with. I’m also working on editing for some films that are coming out in the fall. It’s been a great evolution. The filmmaking is super creative, and film is a really 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 my entire career and really immerse. I’m now tapping into a whole new skill set and learning so much every time I go into the mountains. It feels very exciting.
TM: I assume going to less-traveled places opens up the world and shows you again how big it is …
EH: One of the reasons that I’m drawn to the mountains so much is the expanse that you feel. There’s really nothing like being able to get back into the mountains and be so far away from the normal, everyday distractions to focus on what’s right in front of you, and really be present and connect with nature. That connection and that time motivate me to come back into our society and live in a way that is hopefully going to leave this world a better place.
TM: It’s interesting to hear that Title IX has impacted your career. I’m curious, how so?
EH: My experience in school, being able to participate in soccer and running and organized sports is a net benefit of Title IX that I felt at a very young age that then led me into snowboarding. That’s where I developed my competitive drive.
Those were organized sports. Snowboarding has this raw, unorganized, “get out in the mountains and do whatever you want” feel that’s different than a soccer game. I’m really fortunate to have grown up in a time when I was encouraged to do sports.
I didn’t learn about Title IX until I was much older, probably a late teenager. At that point, (I) had the ability to reflect on how much sport has affected my life. It’s given 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 sport.
TM: What are some of the things you’re doing with the Women’s Sports Foundation?
EH: I’ve been a part of the Women’s Sports Foundation for quite a long time and their work is so important. They’re focused on giving girls and women at all levels more access to sport. A lot of their work is done (for) girls to have opportunities and to make sure that laws and rulings aren’t being passed that limit women’s participation.
For me, we are always trying to bring snowboarding to more girls out there. There’s really a huge opportunity for females in snowboarding right now. When I was a young girl, females were a very small part of the snowboarding community, and it’s been really cool to see that grow so much over the last couple of decades. The snowboard industry has done a great job help(ing) women not only progress within the sport, but support(ing) them throughout their careers, and making a space for women from the sponsorship (and) the competitive sides.
Working with organizations, it’s all about the feel and if it aligns with my values around equality and sport and in the environmental space.
TM: Who were your female snowboarding idols and/or mentors?
EH: Kelly Clark was a huge inspiration to me. Gretchen Bleiler, Shannon Dunn, Tara Dakides, and Barrett Christy were some of the women who really inspired me as a young kid to get into the sport.
That is part of why Title IX is so, so important in sport. We look to the outside for inspiration and guidance. To have those mentors and inspirational figures helps young girls dream. The more women we can get into it, the more that’ll permeate the future generations.
TM: Why did you join with Clif for the Clif Athlete partnership? What excites you about the project?
EH: I am lucky enough to have been working for Clif for gosh, I think, almost eight years now. I grew up on Clif Bars. They were a staple in our home. Spending so much time on the go and in the mountains, they’re an absolutely necessary and welcomed source of subsistence. But what excited me so much about joining on with Clif Bar was the commitment to athletes that they have beyond just fueling them.
At the core, Clif Bar is committed to female athletes, specifically, (with) the really amazing Female Athlete Program. And they’re committed to environmental health. The company stands for all of the things that I think are important in business and in life.
TM: How is Clif Bar trying to balance male and female sponsorships?
EH: One of their initiatives is to become a more 50/50 brand, where females are just as represented as males. Internally, they are committed to this equality, which is a huge step for any company. On the athlete side, they’ve got some pretty bada** females — Venus Williams, myself, Casey Brown, an amazing mountain biker — who are really pushing the boundaries. I’m honored to be a part of that.
TM: What are you looking forward to for the rest of this year?
EH: I’ve got quite a few things on the docket. Right away, we have an HBO docu-series I’m a part of dropping July 12 and called Ends of the Earth. I have another film that I worked on with Arc’teryx that’s going to be coming out in October. And another snowboard film coming out, I believe in November.
It’s been a busy, busy winter.
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