For reasons known only to the snowboard industry women have never been widely supported outside the paradigm of contest riding. Some of the women on this top ten list have released epic video parts but for the majority these are bodies of work created between contest schedules.
Canadian Annie Boulanger is one of the few exceptions and in big mountain terms she is the only woman since Victoria Jealouse to hold her ground with the men in this realm and that is why she sits here at number nine.
Annie had established her career by competing and had built what at the time was regarded as a solid reputation. She’d won the 2001 US Open quarterpipe and the slopestyle in 02, but uncomfortable with the pressure she felt competing she started exploring the idea of filming a video part. A knee injury in 2000 had woken her up to the limitations of her body and a bruised heel at X Games in 03 was the last straw. Unable to ride for the remainder of the season and with no pressure to train Annie found solace on her sled in the backcountry where she realized contests didn’t define what snowboarding was to her and who she was.
It took a couple of years for Annie’s sponsors to come round to her decision to pursue her passion for the backcountry full time. Salomon TM Emmanuel Krebs was Whistler based and worked hard convincing people of Annie’s ability. There was serious lack of confidence in Annie’s career choice in the industry but somehow she didn’t let undermine confidence.
On the mountain however under the watchful eye of mentors Etienne Gilbert, Martin Gallant and Victoria Jealouse Annie started to take some big strides. Her solid, but not butch riding style started to take shape and as her confidence grew the freestyle foundations she had built in the park started to shine through. Natural ability combined with the humility to listen and learn were key attributes in a steep learning curve that in 2006 culminated in Justin Hostynek offering Annie the Holy Grail of an Absinthe part.
Standard had filmed with an array of women through the years and Mack Dawg had featured Tara Dakides and Anne MK, but Absinthe had never filmed with a woman. Taking it in her stride Annie banked a solid part in 07’s Optimistic that gave no quarter to the gender critics with a hefty switch back one drop and some smooth lines. She followed it up with a part in Ready, but it was her third winter in the Absinthe stable that really set her apart.
Her work in Neverland in 2009 showcased Annie riding comfortably at her limits and to her full potential. Time spent in the company of riders like DCP and Romain De Marchi had given her confidence and it was clear that the transition from the contests to the backcountry was complete.
She was rewarded with snowboarding’s equivalent of a masters, a Transworld Interview and Rider of the Year awards from TWS and Snowboarder that welcomed her into their halls of Fame. In the years since Annie has steadily built on this with follow up Absinthe parts and another video part of the year award in 2012.
While her riding ability is immense, it is as much her courage and quiet determination to succeed on the road less travelled that singles Annie Boulanger out as one of the best riders of her generation.