In a way, Bryan Igucci reminded me so much of Alex Yoder. I’m sure had I encountered Guch before Yoder then it would be the other way around, but anyone lucky enough to have spent time with both will know what I mean. To put a romantic slant on it, their shared demeanour is one of calm, absent of ego and pretense. For lack any better words, they both exude wholesomeness, and of course, a healthy passion for snowboarding.
Last October we teamed up with Patagonia to host the premier for Alex’s latest movie “Right to Roam.” The film saw Alex team up with fellow Patagonia ambassador and snowboard legend, Marie-France Roy, along with an old pal of ours Lauren Maccalum. Exploring Scotland in his van of considerable patina – the film, if you haven't seen it already, focuses on experiencing Scotland’s land access law with a splitboard. This law grants everyone rights of access over land and water throughout Scotland, provided they behave responsibly. We sat down with Alex to discuss the film, responsibility and what the future holds...
“My name is Alex Yoder, I’m from Jackson Hole Wyoming in the United States of America, a very sad country at the moment. I snowboard professionally, and I also make documentary films.”
What brings you to Edinburgh?
“I’m here in Edinburgh to show our new film Right to Roam which was filmed entirely in the Scottish Highlands. A lot of people were confused about why we decided to come and make a film here, especially during the worst snowfalls in recent memory. The reason I wanted to come to Scotland was to explore the mountain culture, it’s pretty unique. I knew from what I’d heard and through what I’d researched that the weather can be pretty harsh and unpredictable, a lot of wet weather, wind, cold weather. I had this hunch that those factors would create a fairly resilient population especially amongst mountain-goers and so I thought it’d be fun to make a film in Scotland. I pitched the idea of a documentary to Patagonia and through a little more research for the trip, I learnt about the Scottish Land Access Code and the Right to Roam, and that’s a really amazing thing. In Scandinavia and in Scotland the people and or government understand this inalienable right for humans to access the land around them. And that was something I hadn't heard of before, so with us coming to Scotland it was only right that we utilise this access code, to see if we could go snowboarding. It turned out we really could.”
“In the first or second day of the trip we met Lauren MacCallum and, you know Lauren – within minutes of meeting her, she was spouting off the entire history of Scotland to us. So, all of a sudden, we had all this truly authentic information from someone who could really communicate it very well and someone who was willing to share her Scotland with us – so we invited her to come along with us. She called her boss on the Sunday night and he gave her the “OK” – we all jumped in my camper van and drove around the highlands for a couple of weeks. She introduced us to some amazing people, showed us some phenomenal places - this really helped us understand and in-turn share what it’s really like to explore the Highlands through Scotland’s Right to Roam.”
Why Scotland and not Scandinavia? (Norway also boasts similar land access laws to Scotland)
“I had seen this picture of the Back Corries at Nevis Range and I thought it looked really fun to ride. People always go to Scandinavia, or at least they do every spring, and I know the mountains there are good. I wasn't sure if the Mountains in Scotland would be as good or even comparable, so to me, it was more compelling in the sense that it was more of a gamble in the respect we might not find anything that was that great or even possible to ride.”
But really, last year though? It was literally THE worst season on record, why last year?
“It was all Mars to us! I had never been here before so with the amount of snow that was here someone could have said to me this is a great winter and I’d have been cool with that. There is no doubting the fact that there wasn't much snow, but we did find some really good lines. You’ll see in the film, there is some really decent riding here. I was able to go full speed and not be too scared of rocks. Of course, there are some REALLY rocky areas and some riding that was picking though heather and stuff, but in general, the riding was awesome.”
The season last year is a pretty vivid example of the situation we are in globally with respect to climate change. This is obviously something you care deeply about – reflected in your sponsors and through conversation. How did your relationship with POW (Protect Our Winters) come about?
“Well, I guess from my teen years when I was snowboarding competitively, not professionally. But I’ve always been, I guess, conscious about what I consume myself, what I put in my body and what kind of effect that has on my personal environment. I think having that sort of instinct and awareness then led into caring for the earth and caring for how we treat our collective environment. I started riding for Jones Snowboards when I was 19 or 20, so I got to know Jeremy (Jones) pretty well early on, that was right around the time he was starting POW. So, I’d heard about it in its infant stages and there’s no doubts that that it’s a great idea, in my mind at least. At that time, I was riding for another clothing company who were carbon neutral in their practice – I thought it was super cool. You look up to a lot of snowboarders for their ability on a board, but what’s cool about Jeremy is that he’s taking multiple routes to spread his influence. Obviously, he inspires people to ride big mountains, but he’s also taking the stage and showing people an issue that we need to take hold of - climate change. When I got involved with Patagonia, Jeremy’s influence really became part of my motivation going forward with them. As a brand they have a big stage and it’s one they’re willing to share with me to create opportunities to grow my own, and to help spread a wider message.”
It’s clear that you’re a very inspired guy. Your choice of sponsors, Patagonia and Gentemstick, along with a passionate involvement with POW, reflect this. Both POW and Patagonia have been vocally critical with regards ot the actions of the new Administration in the States, how bad is it?
“It’s pretty bad at the moment. What’s happened over the past few months is that we have this new President, who is basically the opposite of our previous president, who we had for eight years, and who had a pretty progressive agenda all things considered. He designated a lot of public land that the outdoor community was pretty happy about. He made a lot of good decisions, he actually believed in climate change, acknowledged that it was an issue that affects us all, and began implementing some solutions. Now we have this new guy who’s basically wiped the whole slate clean and associates with climate deniers – the list goes on as to why it’s a terrible situation.”
“What’s most prevalent for me is their shrinking of the public lands for private capital gain – this is something that really ties into the inspiration behind Right to Roam. In the US it’s very different to Scotland in that private land is very strictly private, and so if you own property and someone trespasses on your property in a lot of states, you can legally shoot them. So for me, coming to a place like Scotland where you can legally walk in to someone’s land without fearing for your life, made my head explode. It was barely understandable at first, but it becomes very easy to understand why that right exists when you discover that the majority of Scotland’s 800,022 square kilometres is privately owned by less than 500 people – those are some crazy numbers! What’s happening in the US with these public lands shrinking is that our access is then shrinking and we’re losing these amazing spaces that we use to create. The more and more that happens, it raises this experiential issue that we’re going to have an entirely privatised country – unlike Scotland without the Right to Roam – which is a huge issue for someone like me who spends 80% of their life outdoors.”
“The biggest problem in this situation and in the world in general is one that’s hopefully understood by most people – it’s greed. Greedy people that want to make more money are ruining the world, they don't look at the land with a holistic view. They see Bears Ears National Monument for example and they don't see hieroglyphs and the artefacts, the climbing routes, the mountain biking and the potential for kids to grow up and learn real lessons in the wild. They see it as: “There’s probably oil underneath them rocks, let’s give it a drill and see what comes out.” It’s disgusting to me for a few reasons – mainly the fact that there is no repercussion for greed. Yvon Chouinard would say or has said: ‘For these private interest companies, it takes one win then they win. For grassroots activists or people like us who are fighting for public rights, you have to win every day.’ You have to win and win and win, it’s an up battle – these people have minimal risk and we run the risk of losing everything.”
“The real fight or focus for us, to me, is to inspire the youth. The real sentiment of this film is to remind people that their experiences with nature and the feelings associated, whether that’s fun or being scared or whatever it might be to the individual, it’s all really a feeling of wellness. You can’t get that anywhere else except from raw nature, and perhaps it takes being reminded or shown that feeling for us to realise that it’s our responsibility to protect it. I have an opportunity with a small but ultimately direct influence to try and effect someone – if I can inspire one person with the work I do, who then takes that and spreads that through their life or community, then to me, that’s a success”
Reflecting on the above, hypothetically consider that the top 10% of action-sports athletes pushing the boundaries in their respective sports are from North America – it seems backwards that anybody would want to cap or ignore the significance that public land access has had on these individuals and their careers. Take Alex Honnold and Margo Hayes for example – their achievements in 2017 simply wouldn't have been possible without access to say the likes of Yosemite or Boulder Canyon.
Individuals rely on public lands in order to uncover their talents and passions, realise their abilities and discover their physical, and more importantly, mental potential, which something that can be harnessed in life outside of the sport or activity. Land access arguably seeds the progression of the respective sports, not only in nation-defining achievements, but also in boosting their mainstream reach and global engagement. As a result, an existing audience becomes enthused and the door is opened to a new one, which ultimately grows and influences a customer base that the outdoor industry needs on a global capacity in order to stay afloat.
To put it into perspective, in 2016 the outdoor industry itself contributed 2% of the USA’s GDP at $373 billion USD, according to the US Department of Commerce. Furthermore, a report published by Protect Our Winters, outlines the economic and social value that winter sports and associated recreation has in the US. In total 191,000 jobs were supported by winter sports during the 2016-2017 winter season, generating 6.9 billion USD in wages, whilst increasing the of economic value to the national economy by $11.3 billion USD. In short, people need these lands to put food on the table as well as have fun.
It seems completely mad that anyone would want to infringe on something that can not only achieve economic and social growth equally. Here in Scotland we have the Right to Roam, and that’s incredible, but despite its title, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s in fact not a right, but a luxury. As Alex noted – the freedom to explore and positively engage with the land is not an internationally acknowledged priority. Subsequently it is our duty, past, present and future, to be responsible and humble with this access when and where it’s available. Planet earth is a lot bigger than any company or government, and despite the rules they impose, we are all engaged in a duty of care to look after and contribute to its conservation in any way we can.Whether you live in Edinburgh or Jakarta one thing is certain – we all need winter.
For more information about how you can take positive steps against climate change visit:
Words: Lewis McLean