Ratty during the North Face Masters event at Kirkwood, Tahoe (left) & Snowbird, Utah (right). Photos: Gus Booth
Words: Paul Colby
Photos: Gus Booth and Tony Harrington
Australian snowboarder Rachel “Ratty” Sheidow is proving that the mountains of Australia can produce big mountain freeriders who can compete on a world stage.
Emotional-looking jibbers with a love of tight pants is the style of rider we have come to expect from Mt Buller, not nerves-of-steel-big-mountain-freeriders. Rachel Sheidow, or “Ratty” as she is known, is a Mt Buller local who has been making her presence felt at a number of the big mountain freeride events this past North American season. Including a very respectable 6th place finish at the King of the Hill World Freeride Championships in Alaska in April.
Ratty proclaims that, “in a good year the chutes at Mt Buller provide some awesome steep terrain to ride”, however she does leave most of her big mountain training for her second home of Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the USA. When she isn’t pushing herself on the steeps of Buller or Jackson you will find Ratty at her day job, as a snowboard instructor. Sharing the knowledge and skills that she has acquired over her snowboarding career to hopefully future big mountain riders.
Ratty is preparing to don the “smurf” suit for another season in Australia, so before she starts her falling leaf training we asked her about her life beyond Burke street.
Sponsors: Coal Headwear, Trigger Brothers, Fearlesss Fems
Home Resort: Mt Buller and Jackson Hole
You had a pretty successful Northern hemisphere, what were the results from the events you entered.
I had so much fun competing this year. In the North Face Masters of Snowboarding Tour in the U.S. I placed 4th at Crystal Mountain and 9th at Kirkwood, which put me in 8th spot for the overall NFM tour for 2010. I placed 4th at the Salomon Extreme Freeride Championships in Taos, and most recently I placed 6th at the King of the Hill World Freeride Championships in Alaska. I ended up 9th on the World Freeride Tour Qualifier rankings for 2010.
Were you based anywhere in particular this summer or just kept moving around?
I was based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the northern winter, but as soon as the end of January came around I was on the road every two weeks until early April doing competitions.
Ratty riding to a 6th place finish at the King Of The Hill event in Alaska. Photo: Tony Harrington
What was the sketchiest situation you got into while competing this year?
Luckily I didn’t find myself in too many sketchy situations while actually competing this year. One time I did feel nervous was at the King of the Hill in Alaska where the guides told us many times in our athlete meeting that “we were not in a ski resort”, “the slope has deep instability and during our competition someone will trigger an avalanche”. They sent some male competitors down first to see how it went, thankfully the face held out all day and it was awesome. I have ridden in uncontrolled slopes before but in Alaska everything is very big and just that bit more intimidating!
Was it a conscious decision with your snowboarding to be more of a big mountain/freerider, or did it just happen?
It kind of just happened. When I was standing at the top of the course at King of the Hill looking around at the likes of Ann-Flore Marxer and Travis Rice I did have a huge moment of how the heck did I end up here from teaching beginners on Bourke Street? I had to laugh to myself, it was an awesome feeling! I guess it all really happened when I was unable to get a work visa in the USA anymore, I went back to Jackson anyway and thought I’d just go ride. Being able to ride Jackson Hole without teaching for a season had a huge influence on me falling in love with big mountain riding. Then one day Julie Zell (3x Queen of the Hill, World Extreme Champion and Jackson Hole local) told me about a big mountain competition coming up in Snowbird and that I should go, so I did. I got 7th at that event and ended up with a 3rd in the next one, I was hooked. I definitely have Julie to thank for getting me started on this path!
Ratty NOT on Burke Street, Mt Buller Photo: Tony Harrington
What number back to back season will it be at Mt Buller this year instructing? Do you always enjoy putting on the blue suit and starting another season on Burke Street? What is the secret?
This will be my 15th year working at Mt Buller. It will be my 13th teaching, I had 2 years before that in rental and retail. I do look forward to getting back in my “smurf” suit and getting back to Bourke St. Well maybe not Bourke Street but I do like my job. I don’t think there’s a secret, but sticking with it if you can definitely pays off. It can be a tough job when it’s raining, or if you have a ridiculously big class (the list could go on) but it sure beats being inside. I have met some awesome people that I have taught over the years so that makes up for all of the negative bits.
Other than a world class falling leaf, what else has instructing bought to your riding style and the way you approach the big mountain events?
Ha ha, the falling leaf really is a sport in itself, I think they should take it to the Xgames. I have seen some pretty incredible falling leaf skills over the years! Instructing has given me some valuable technical knowledge and experience. Big mountain competitions are about riding technical terrain in control but charging it and making it look good. It is harder than it sounds, we can often get really challenging snow conditions on the day of competition. I sat through many riding exams where we were expected to ride perfect turns in far less than perfect conditions, maybe that helped me with this!
Do you have any funny private lesson stores you can share?
I do have plenty of funny stories…but not that I can share, sorry!
I imagine riding Alaska and riding Mt Buller is very different, how do you prepare for these big mountain events when Australia is a little lacking in vertical faces?
A busy day teaching on Bourke Street provides me with the extreme mental toughness training I need….ha ha ( I think I’m more scared out there on some busy days than in any big mountain comp!) But seriously, in a good year the Chutes at Mt Buller provide some awesome steep terrain to ride, but generally my big mountain training happens when I am back in Jackson.
What riders have inspired you over your riding career?
Watching Victoria Jealouse has definitely been a huge inspiration to me. Other riders I admire are Shannon Dunn and Barrett Christy they have kicked ass for a long time and still do.
What are some of the goals you still want to achieve with your snowboarding?
On both the North Face Tour and in the King of the Hill comp the winners are presented with kick ass swords. That’s my goal, I want a sword!! I’m not stopping until I get that!
Ratty at the 2009 World Heli Challenge in New Zealand. Photo: Gus Booth
Do you think female big mountain rider’s gets the respect they deserve?
I think we do, but I feel it can be limited to the pros that get to ride a big line in a movie part. Female big mountain competitors are mostly only known in the freeride world and by those who follow it. We definitely get respect from the guys that we compete with, they are always really stoked and supportive. I know women who have killed it on the world tour, they have been World Champions in Freeride, competing on some of the gnarliest slopes and they struggle to get sponsors let alone get a feature in a magazine or DVD. It is exciting that freeride and big mountain riding is on its way back in to the media spotlight. The days of only 3 or 4 women turning up to these events is fading, the North Face Events attract 30 or more women to each stop. Hopefully the trend of paying the chicks far less prize money will end soon.
If money wasn’t an issue what would be your ideal snowboard trip?
Where do I start,lets see… Jackson Hole in December, side trip to Japan in January, back to Jackson for February and March with a few well timed trips in a pimped out Winnebago to wherever is getting dumped on, then up to Thompsons Pass Alaska in April for King of the Hill and lots of heli time, then back in the pimping Winnebago down to California and Utah for fun springtime riding till June, pop down to Costa Rica for some sun, back to Oz to Mt Buller for opening weekend and July, then over to Wanaka for the World Heli Challenge and hang out and ride for August, then over to Argentina to finish out their season….all with a few friends!
What is the plan for this Australian season?
I will be back working at Buller for most of the 2010 winter. I am really excited that I have confirmed my spot in this year’s World Heli challenge so I will be heading back there at the end of June. If you haven’t checked out this awesome event you can do at http://www.worldhelichallenge.com. There are also some World Freeride Tour qualifier events on around that time so it would be great if I could do some of those too.
Thanks to: Mel and Jc at Volcom, Gus and Harro.
Ratty’s top 5 places to ride.
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Thompsons Pass, Alaska
- Wanaka, New Zealand
- Mt. Buller Australia
- Its a tie for 5th…Crystal Mountain, Washington, Snowbird Utah, and Kirkwood California they’re all great!