Chatting with the Pros: Snowboarder Caley Vanular on Breaking Industry Norms and the State of Women’s Snowboarding
Caley Vanular chats with Snowboard Expert Bobby Chadderton about her untraditional to pro-status, the adventures she encountered along the way, and being a woman in the industry.
Snowboarding is an extremely young “sport.” For many riders, even labeling it as a sport is nonsensical. Snowboarding can be whatever you want it to be. Competitive, laid-back, cathartic, expressive—a form of art even. Professional Snowboarder Caley Vanular truly embodies this notion with her painstakingly difficult and “non-traditional” pathway to Pro status. Caley was able to incorporate all of her creative expressions into something that is so impossible to define, yet is so clearly an expression of herself. Truly paving her own pathway, Caley has had an incredible impact and journey in snowboarding—an industry that is dominated by men.
Watch our conversation below or read on to see what we chatted about!
When was your first time strapping into a snowboard?
So my first time snowboarding ever was when I was five years old and I was on a ski team—which was basically a daycare—and they had “snowboard day” every week. After the first one, I wanted to switch straight to snowboarding, but my mom made me finish the season out as a skier.
What was the first snowboard that you owned?
The first snowboard that I owned was a Burton Chopper. It was teal, and I had a robotic dog on it. And I had the step-ins.
Ahhhh, the old-school step-ins.
Yeah! The original ones. 'Cause every rental before that had step-ins. Like you would only rent step-ins back where I'm from.
That's wild! So, your first big wipeout. I know we talked a little bit about your eloquent fall in the half-pipe on the phone earlier, wanna break that down?
Phew, yeah, that would be the first big one that I can remember.
So to understand this, remember that I was honestly shaped like Gumby as a kid. There are photos of me—I'm like five foot something, my feet are huge, and I'm so skinny. Straight up, I was Gumby. I've been the same height since the fifth grade!
Since I started snowboarding so young and was so tall, I had to get a bigger adult board because they didn’t really have kids' rentals that fit me then. So I’m on a snowboard that’s way bigger than me. I literally just fell over riding half-pipe and because the board was so big, it literally pinned me over my head. So there I am…stuck there, tied up like a pretzel, until someone could come to unfold me. So that’s my favorite memory of a fall!
Okay, so what did your pathway to becoming a professional snowboarder look like?
Yeah, my path is very different from most 'cause it took me a really long time to get here. Not for lack of effort! I started snowboarding at five, and I was super into slopestyle, rail jams, and stuff like that as a kid. And I did that for most of my youth.
In high school, I was going to go to Stratton Mountain School, which had been my original goal. Randomly, my dad, who was living in Florida, offered to move to Whistler. I had been going to Camp of Champions there for the past five years prior to my dad bringing that up. And so my dad moved to Whistler! So instead of Stratton, I went to Whistler, which probably changed my life. Yeah, I think it kinda decided everything. Once I got to Whistler, I just started riding powder and everything changed.
So I kept competing in Whistler, and that went pretty well. And then I blew my knee—anyone who’s done that knows it sucks. That kind of took me out for a while and I couldn't snowboard or compete, so I started doing social media. My team manager at CAPiTA at the time ran a social media management company. One of his clients was one of the biggest action sports websites in Canada, so I started working for him while I couldn't snowboard.
I would do the social media for this skate/snowboard website, and that's what kind of got me thinking about it like, "Oh, I can make money other ways and still snowboard and have less pressure on myself around snowboarding.” Because at that point, I was kind of at that age where you just wanna make it your job, and so you're trying to make money but it's not really working. And so you're working at some store at night and snowboarding during the day, and it's such a grind! So when I got hurt, I started working online. And then I just kept working online.
That really opened up a crazy opportunity for me because it was like pre-Instagram. At that point, when I was working for that guy, it was just Facebook and Twitter which is funny. And I was always pretty online anyways. I sold my hats through Myspace! My friend Jody was like, "You were the first person I know on Facebook." So I was just always on the internet!
That job working online kind of motivated me into doing a lot of blogging and writing for brands. I would be doing that and still snowboarding, and it allowed me to snowboard more for fun and kind of take the stress out of it.
I ended up hurting my knee again—my other knee—a couple of years later. So I just went the way of the buffalo, and I went into the backcountry. And yeah, for a while I would just do kind of content trips and started getting into more like adventure snowboarding.
Basically, what I would do is just create a dream trip. Then I would pitch brands and try to get funding and then go do something for the first time! So, one trip I loved, I went to Norway with 11 women. We were the first known women to sail around some fjords there, and we splitboarded at every single one! I was the only snowboarder on that trip which was really funny. The board under my feet was the only snowboard I saw for three weeks, and we were the only group of women which was so nuts.
So, like that, I just started pitching trips and making videos, and I didn't really even have full sponsors at that time. I was just doing one-off brand deals like trading content photos during our trips or videos for the trip itself. I would try to do like one or two of those a year. And by doing that, it just started getting me even more recognition and more opportunity in snowboarding. And with that, I started riding for K2 three years ago now!
So I guess this is an interesting call out for all of those people that are trying to make it in the snowboarding world. Sometimes you just need proof of concept, to show your vision is worth their investment.
It's one thing to say you can do something, but it's another thing to go out and do it. And like that's kinda how I've crawled my way into this. And this position is just like, if no one's gonna give me the hand up, I just find my own way up.
I love that you just used the word crawl. Because, I mean, the work that you put in, it was not a walk. It was no easy jog. It was like a climb, truly, a crawling climb for you.
So we chatted a bit about where your motivation and drive come from. Tracing back to your youth, you mentioned that you started selling some hats as your first kind of hustle. Was that your first gig?
Oh, for sure, I hustled everything as a kid. Lemonade stands, bracelets, I was crocheting hats (tuques) when that was really big in snowboarding.
I would go to Camp of Champions with a garbage bag full of hats, and that’s just how I paid for camp—slingin’ hats!
So the hustle never really stopped or slowed. How about that drive when it came to snowboarding? What was your first big win in a competition, even if it was a personal win?
I’ve basically been competing since I started snowboarding just because there were all these little local competitions. There weren’t many snowboarders then so every snowboarder on the mountain went to those competitions. It was just what you did, ya know?
With so few snowboarders, there were even fewer women. So it was three of us at every single contest in Western New York, and we would essentially just rotate who would win. Eventually, I qualified for USASA Nationals, and that’s where I placed second to Jamie Anderson in slopestyle which is funny now considering her career.
I wound up placing third overall in that competition, which encompassed boardercross, halfpipe, and slopestyle. So third overall was good, but second overall in slopestyle was my realization that, maybe, I was actually kinda good at this. I didn’t have any real competition until I went to the nationals cause then you’re bringing every kid in the U.S.
Yeah, totally. And it's wild even today to say that you took silver to Jamie Anderson. That's a flex.
It's just funny, being that we’re all the same age. You meet so many people at those contests. I don't know if they're still the same thing, but back in that era, that was like what you did as a young person in snowboarding in the States.
Yeah, when I won that I was young, and I was the only girl doing switch tricks, which I think was pretty unique at the time. I have an older brother that skateboarded, and he would walk me through tricks and challenge me, saying like: “It’d be soooo sick if you tried this, etc."
Needless to say, he had a lot of influence on my tricks and because of that, I was learning unique things. I remember doing something switch and people just being like blown away that a 13-year old at the time was even thinking about that.
That's super dope, I mean, skate and snowboard styles are inherently similar so that beta from your brother probably helped a ton! How different was slopestyle back then compared to the courses today?
Yeah, it was way, way different than it is today. I mean, slopestyle now is just like Big Air with a short mega-rail section.
That’s not really what it was. Slopestyle used to be actually slopestyle where you would design your own run. You had creative aspects and different choices to make. The closest thing I can think of comparatively was the Olympic Slopestyle course that Red Gerard won.
But yeah, overall I ended up really into rails. If you would've looked back on my youth, it'd be front boards through like kinks and stuff, that was my jam at the time.
When was the first time that you landed a big trick that you were impressed with?
As a kid, I remember I used to go to this resort called Holiday Valley—it's in Western New York. Being a kid from Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada, it's like an hour and 40 minutes to get across the border. So we would go for the weekend, and I would snowboard till the lights turned off every night.
When the lifts shut down, we'd hit this jump after the resort was closed because the light would stay on like two hours later. And that was when I was learning 360s and 540s. And I remember landing a 540 and being like... it took me like all night!
I was just slamming. I just couldn't get my head around it. And I was a little kid just wearing the helmet that my mom made me wear. Yeah, when you work on anything for a long time, it's pretty cool to land it.
Absolutely, seeing that effort pay off in a clean ride-away is what it’s all about. So when was the first time that you were approached by a sponsor?
So I started Camp of Champions when I was 9 or 10. I was the youngest girl there. But when I was a little older, I’d say 12, there was a Forum Youngblood competition there. I wound up winning it for women’s, and I got my first free snowboard. I won a sponsorship through a brand there, and I honestly don’t think I ever even followed up with them!
Later that year, I got approached by my first sponsor, just out of the blue. It was this guy Steve who now owns The Circle in Whistler. He’s super rad. He came up to me at another Forum Youngblood event at Mount Seymour and gave me his card. He said, “I wanna get you on Electric, you’d be perfect. Give me a call.” I was so shy as a kid that I got his card, was so excited, and never called him.
Months later, he saw me walking through the village to Whistler, stopped me, and said, “Hey, why didn’t you call me?” So yeah, with no excuse, that’s how I wound up with Electric for my whole youth, until around 22 or something.
Awesome. So Electric was your first real sponsor?
I remember my first favorite piece of gear when I was very young, I really wanted a pair of Electric EG2s that were like these giant, pilot-type lenses.
Yes! [Laughing as we both remember how ridiculous gear looked in that era]
Do you have a piece of gear that sticks out for you that was your first favorite purchase piece of gear or like given to you by a sponsorship?
I do! It’s so funny, my brother was a pro skier pretty early, so he would get me a bunch of stuff. He was making money at 16 from skiing, and one year for Christmas, he bought me pink A-Frame Oakley’s. I wanted them so bad and was so hyped on those!
And then I never got new gear, so I would just paint them a different color every year! I had a helmet that I would paint like every month or two, just to switch it up. I mean, if you don't get new stuff, but like you want a new look, paint is cheap!
Did you ever wear the Skullcandy Icons?
No, I never did, but my brother used to ride for Skullcandy. I probably shouldn’t share this, but I’d go into his room to steal a bunch of Icons and sell them at the coach’s sale, and I’d make a ton of money because people loved them.
Truly a hustlin’ mindset! So, you've always had this creative type of mindset, and it seems like you've kind of refused to really be placed in any genre of snowboarding or limited in terms of your career and what defines you. What were the challenges that you faced going along that pathway of becoming a professional snowboarder?
Yeah, you know, it’s so much easier to just be one thing in life. Like if you ride rails, that’s all you do. You’re just a street kid. You’ll probably be more successful quicker, but then you’re boxed in. So yeah, I wouldn't say my route was direct by any means. Probably, arguably, the least direct in that sense, I dunno.
For me, I have so many different interests and I’ve been able to do it all in the end—really, it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning. But I’ve been able to bring it all around full circle. By no means was it quick or easy, I’ll say that!
I know you mentioned that when you first started competing you were one of a few. Do you think that back then, when there were even fewer women in this industry, it was harder to pursue what you really wanted?
Yeah, it's a funny one—women in sports. I mean, right now is like the heyday of being a female snowboarder. I feel like there's so much coverage and so much support in that sense.
Still, brands aren't hiring enough women or paying them enough. I'd say that the biggest issue today is that brands are adding all these women to their team, but they're getting paid like nothing. And I find that almost worse than not having women.
Yeah, it’s insulting in that sense. To use gender as a way of improving brand optics without genuinely being fair.
Yeah, it's like tokenism. But on that note, I think that there are the women that paved the way, like Victoria [Jealouse] and Barrett [Christy] and all those badasses. And then, yeah, it's just like every brand basically had one female pro and that was it. There's only room for one. And it stayed like that for most of my life.
Even to this day, brands rarely have multiple female pros on one team. And that just creates a really competitive atmosphere within women's snowboarding because people don't wanna lose their spot. Then with that mentality, it doesn't benefit people to help each other out. You know, 'cause nobody wants to lose their job too. So that attitude, I'd say it's like the saddest part of women versus men in snowboarding.
I think having more than one woman on a snowboard team is super important. It's cool to see Vans doing it. They put out that women's movie a couple of years ago where you get to see them promoting the female side of the team. And yeah, at K2 we have an awesome crew forming which is so fun. There's such a big crew of women on K2 now.
But brands need to do that…hiring more women, getting more involved, having both ams [amateurs] and pros. And the brand using their influence to create those mentorships, I think is really important. Especially in women's sports, you just see so many people fall off because they don't have that person encouraging them to keep going.
It's like, with men, you see these like older pros bringing up younger pros and supporting them. And if anything, for the older men, it keeps them relevant when they're hanging out with the younger dudes. Whereas on the flip side, for women, we haven't had that inclusive atmosphere kind of up until now. Like this year, you're seeing a lot more videos come out. Jess Kimura really paved the way with Uninvited and Learning to Drown. She'd kinda started doing that, using her platform to get more exposure. But yeah, it wasn't like that for a very long time, so it's cool to see it happening now.
Totally. I really admire Jess, and Learning to Drown was incredible.
So in the context of burying that competitiveness to survive and stay relevant as a woman in the outdoor industry, what do you think the industry can do to make it more inclusive to women, everybody?
It’s difficult, you know? Like snow itself is not very inclusive. I mean, I live in Canada, so I'd say almost every Canadian interacts with snow. But that’s not the case everywhere, and it’s really not cheap to access riding, no matter where you are.
I mean, the whole industry is just so expensive. I think if you want to really make it inclusive to everyone, cities need to invest in some serious funding.
Woodward is pretty dope. I’ve been to the one in Park City and it's pretty affordable. There’s Big Snow AD too. It would be awesome to have more places like that—you don't need a whole mountain to experience snowboarding and the joy it can bring.
I know on Wednesdays, Seymour will have "fill your car nights." I think it's like $150 for the entire car, and it encourages you to carpool. Smaller resorts doing things like that will inevitably help lower the barrier of entry and get more people into the sport.
Also, secondhand gear is huge. All these brands are coming out with “reduce, reuse, recycle” programs. It feels like it's starting to happen. So yeah, just accessibility to affordable gear, reduce/reuse/recycle programs to gather gear, and more programs like what Mount Seymour does would all help get way more people in the mountains eventually.
That's an incredible answer. There are a lot of positive changes to start implementing, so thank you for that.
I love that you spoke to, you know, having a crew that supports you and motivates you at K2. What's in store for you and the K2 team this season? Do you have any awesome events or trips and stuff planned?
Yeah, last year I worked with Jay Stone, who is the board designer at K2. He's a good friend of mine too. We worked together on a more progressive women's freeride board that is coming out. So I'm very excited about that!
As a taller gal, I struggle with finding a freeride board that's great for me because I'm kind of in that like larger-woman/smaller-man category which a lot of brands haven't filled.
For instance, Austen Sweetin and I weigh the same amount. So he and I technically could ride the same snowboard, but lengthwise, that category has a lapse. So women look for a bit more of an aggressive snowboard, but not too aggressive because then it rides you!
So we were working on a board that is just a little bit stiffer, a little bit more aggressive for freeriding and resort riding, and we made this pretty fun new shape that came out this year called the Passport. So we'll do a trip with that.
And then K2 puts out a team video every year, so there's gonna be a ton of fun trips, and they're mainly based in Utah so I'll probably get out there and enjoy Brighton.
There’s still a ton of late-season stoke in store for Caley, go follow her at @caleyvanular to stay up to date on her latest adventures! I was fortunate to ride with some of the K2 team this season and all I’ve gotta say is—keep your eyes peeled! Big shoutout to Board Engineer @J.Stone for designing the killer new board shapes, Team Manager @Mo, and the entire @dustbox team for absolutely throwing down this season. Big things and more fun to come from K2!
If you were inspired by Caley’s story or stoked on K2’s new gear, reach out to myself or any Curated Snowboard Expert to express your ideas, talk shop, or even find the perfect new board that suits you like Caley’s K2 Passport suits her.