Elena Hight: Blank Canvas
Elena Hight is the kind of athlete we’d all be in awe of even if she’d left the snowboard halfpipe circuit two years ago and taken a job at the Post Office. But she didn’t. She’s gone on to a full second career in the sport – one that even drops the jaws of other pro snowboarders.
After an amazing run in professional pipe riding that spanned 16 years (fun fact: she went pro at age 13 – a detail big mountain rider extraordinaire, Jeremy Jones, said solidified his view of her as a “phenom”), the past two years saw Elena focusing on the kind of big mountain freeriding that only a handful of people on the planet can do well. The new film Blank Canvas illuminates her journey into the unknown, with all the soul-searching questions and unbridled stoke that go with it.
It’s a huge change. And since we all face massive shifts in life (albeit a little less spectacular), we caught up with Elena and Jeremy Jones to talk about her mindset, and what it takes to charge after something new.
Change as the Only Constant
Elena: I really grew up in the snowboard industry. I was on the professional snowboard scene since I was 13. And being a competitive athlete is very regimented. Everything you do is in some way done to fulfill goals. So, moving into a more free-flowing lifestyle that’s based on intuition, that’s dependent on what the weather or the mountains are ready to give you, it’s a huge shift.
The mountains are always changing. Weather is always changing. No two turns are ever alike, even on the same line. In the past five years, snowboarding has given me the ability to learn from change – and to depend on that ever-changing flow as the one thing that’s always going to be there.
Jeremy Jones: Elena has this innate understanding of how to achieve in different aspects of life. She brings incredible hunger and commitment to whatever she does plus that classic growth mindset of surrounding herself with people who have more experience, so she can watch and learn. With big mountain riding, a lot is out of your control and things may not go as planned. Amazingly, that was just fine for her.
Elena Hight’s Inspiration To Take a Left Turn in Life
Elena: I was at a really pivotal point in my life. I’d had tons of success in my career and then there was this moment that took me by surprise: I didn’t make the Olympic team in 2018 after all the planning and training. But sometimes moments of seeming disappointment are windows into what the future will bring. You’re open to something that you may not have been open to in the past. One door shuts and another opens. It gave me the freedom to jump in headfirst and pursue big mountain riding.
Photo by Leslie Hittmeier / Teton Gravity
No Such Thing as an off-the-Couch, Instant Expert
Elena: I have really high expectations of myself. I set standards and I go after them. It’s part of being a professional athlete. And having been a pro snowboarder for such a long time, it was interesting to have to learn to be kind to myself and allow this transition period. I just had to be patient and know that I’m putting in the time and I’ll eventually have all the skills I need. It doesn’t matter how good you are at one thing, it takes time to learn all the things you don’t know, like: reading the mountains, snow safety, and even just making the kinds of split-second decisions you have to make out there.
What Doubts Are Made Of
Elena: This film is all about overcoming doubts. If you want to make a big change in your life and you’re already secure where you are, you’re taking a risk. You have to ask yourself if you’re ready or capable of doing the new thing. You’ll never know until you try. And, of course, it’s intertwined with fear. I’d have these moments of thinking “WHY did I come here???” But breathing is my go-to. If I would panic on top of a peak or in the middle of a line, I’d just get that mental stillness and remember to breathe. It would help me come back to the now instead of worrying about what might happen in the future. Like anything, sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach. And you just have to trust in your preparation and breathe.
Jeremy Jones: She has the two things I think are most important to this kind of riding: self-confidence and the suffer gene. I’d look back at her in a tricky section where I was a little nervous and I’d want to make sure she had a good hold on her ice axe. I’d tell her: hey, this is a no-fall zone. She’d be super calm, just smile, and say: no problem.
Can You Ever Really Be Prepared Enough?
Elena: From years of boarding, I have really good board control and confidence. I trust speed. On the pipe, you need to get going really fast into the transitions. That translates to big mountains because you definitely get up a lot of speed on the way down. But I definitely needed to prep with a lot more cardio fitness for those long days out there – long approaches, steep climbs, plus crampons and ice axes! That was stuff I had no experience with! You can be prepared, but you will always have something to learn.
Elena’s Mental Toughness
Jeremy Jones: Elena is SO tough. I knew she had world-class edge control. Pipe riders have to the way they’re carving up those walls, pulling a ton of G’s. But one thing I didn’t realize about her is how tough she is as a person. Five days into the first trip I took her on, she asked us if anyone had anything for blisters. When she took off her boots, I almost threw up – no joke – she had THE biggest blisters any of us had ever seen. And this was the first time she mentioned anything. I’ve been in the mountains with a lot of people and you really see who people are out there. Elena is a very unique snowboarder, that’s for sure. But it’s more than that. She’s a really unique human. You don’t meet too many people like her.
Elena Hight Athlete Profile
A professional snowboarder, nature enthusiast, and sunshine lover, Elena has spent the better part of her 17-year career competing in events from the U.S. Open to the Olympics.