Personalities: Ralph Backstrom
As the youngest of three, Ralph Backstrom's mountain-man fate was practically predetermined, and he doesn't seem to be complaining. While his parents ski patrolled on weekends at Crystal Mountain near Seattle, WA where he grew up, he and his siblings ski raced. Wanting to do something different he switched to snowboarding at age 11 and never looked back.
After graduating from college and not receiving a call for a "real job," Ralph headed to Squaw Valley enabling him to refine his big mountain skills alongside his brother and sister Arne and Ingrid who had made a name on the skiing front. Once in Squaw, linking up with Jeremy Jones and Jim Zellers was inevitable.
Now a part of the Jones Snowboards crew, Ralph is making his own name in snowboard history. In this week's Personalities, Ralph's talks about riding Squaw's infamous Tram Face, hiking lines with Jeremy Jones and his late brother Arne, who remains his biggest influence.
Tell everyone a little bit about yourself. Where you grew up, when you began snowboarding.
I grew up in Seattle, WA, and skied at Crystal Mt. on the weekends while my parents ski patrolled. At 11, I quit ski racing and began snowboarding. As the youngest of three kids I had to do something a bit different, so I snowboarded. I graduated from Western WA University in 2005 and wanted to get a job with Accenture as a consultant. When my friend, who was working for them at the time, wouldn't return my phone calls regarding setting up an interview I decided to move to Tahoe instead. I couldn't be more happy that my friend wouldn't return my calls!
You come from a family of well-known names, badass skiers and mountain lovers. How did your family play a part in your love of the mountains and wanting to be a pro snowboarder?
My family has always been extremely important to me. My parents were on the volunteer ski patrol at Crystal making it affordable for my brother, sister, and myself to ski/board there. As the youngest sibling, looking up to my brother and sister was natural. Ingrid blew up her ski career before I moved to Squaw, and Arne was a ski rep in Colorado. Riding with them has always been fun, and when you're following around the best skiers on the hill, it does wonders for your snowboarding abilities.
Is Squaw your favorite mountain to ride?
Squaw Valley is indeed my favorite mountain to ride. The terrain is sick and fairly spread out, the local skiers and boarders are all really good and pretty nice (once you get to know them) and there's a competitive vibe that will improve your riding quickly. KT-22 is really all you need. My other favorites are Crystal Mountain, Mt. Baker and Snowbird as far as resorts go.
Rumor has it you were able to ride Tram Face at Squaw this season. Was that your first time? What was it like?
To quote Dave Chappelle, "I plead the fif…F-I-F, fif!!!" Ok fine, I did it. Guilty as charged. I had done it once prior with my brother Arne. It's pretty nerve racking and is high consequence. Jail-time is one of the potential consequences, not to mention the steep, rocky, uncontrolled, avalanche-prone face that you ride down. It is f-ing sick, high adrenaline, charging, since you want to get off the face as quick as possible. Plus, there was a photographer shooting it, so I was in bright colors. It is the first line in this video:
You've became good friends with Jeremy Jones over the years and were able to ride with him on some pretty rad trips last season. When and how did you guys meet and how did you become a part of the Jones Snowboards crew?
Yeah, he's a cool dude. I was introduced to JJ by backcountry legend Jim Zellers when Jeremy was still riding for Rossignol, maybe in 2007. He gave me a couple of boards to ride and I helped him test boards on a few separate occasions.
What are some of your highlights riding with him?
The time he forgot to change his clock for daylight savings and he showed up late was pretty sweet! But seriously, a couple winter camping trips last season were super fun.
How has Jeremy's influence made you a better snowboarder?
I'd say just watching his video parts over the years has influenced my riding. Also, listening to him talk about hazards on a face is an important thing I've learned from him.
When did you start splitboarding?
I split my own board in 2009, just before I went to Las Lenas. A split-your-own is fun for a while, but they feel so dead! I highly recommend a factory split to anyone thinking of getting into it.
How has it changed your snowboarding?
I feel like I'm in better shape, and it's changed the way I look at lines and zones. You can get to a zone on a sled, and then throw on your split and lap it. A lot of back wilderness sled zones you can''t shuttle people to, so a split opens up some doors.
On the podium at TNF Masters
How did you get involved with The North Face?
I went to X Games 11 for Boarder-X, and met Jim Zellers at The North Face through my sister. He set me up with some gear to compete and the relationship kept growing from there.
You competed in the North Face Masters contests getting on the podium at two of the three stops. What do you think of the TNF Masters concept? Do you compete much other than that?
Yeah, I've had some decent success at the Masters the past few seasons (three 2nd places and two 3rd places, but no wins!). Maybe I'll finally win one next year. Big mountain snowboarding needs the support of a tour like the TNF Masters. Not to mention, big mountain snowboarding came before jibbing and parks; we're just getting back to the roots.
It's an awesome concept, and it's getting more popular each year. This year the waiting lists was 50 plus people! The event is always pretty laid back with people hanging out, bbq-ing, drinking Sierra Nevadas, cheering each other on and progressing their own riding. I do the Mt. Baker Banked Slalom as well.
How has TNF supported you career?
They've given me lots of super solid gear, pay for some travel when good opportunities come my way, and the occasional incentive when I earn one.
What trips did you go on this winter?
I went on a really cool four night backcountry trip to a top secret location, as well as to Washington and Utah. There really wasn't too much of a need to go on trips though because we had so much snow in Tahoe this year. I enjoyed getting out and exploring the backcountry here. An Alaska heli trip unfortunately fell through due to lack of snow.
Did you go out and shoot a lot? What can people expect to see this fall?
I played the role of a slashy this season – rider slash filmer. My friends and I film each other and put little edits up online. Abe Blair has been shooting with us a bit as well, and he's snapped some pretty sweet shots that will hopefully hit the mags.
At TNF Masters at Kirkwood/ Photo: MSI
What are your summer plans?
I don't have any major plans, but I'd like to get some surfing in, diving, mountain biking and make it to the Southern Hemi for some shredding.
What do you hope to accomplish with your snowboarding?
Snowboarding is so fun and being in the mountains is amazing. I'd be happy to be able to spend the next few decades in the mountains, progressing the sport, further developing the gear available and enjoying the shit out of some sweet views and deep pow turns.
Who are your influences?
My late brother Arne always has and always will be my biggest influence. My sister, mom and dad are close behind, and Jim Zellers, Tom Burt, Mike and Dave Hatchett, Jeremy Jones, Xavier de le Rue and Terje Haakonsen are other people I find inspirational and influential.
What advice do you have for riders wanting to improve their big mountain riding?
Spend as much time as you can in the mountains. Think about your safety before anything else. Learn and practice avalanche safety. Make sure you know what and where you're riding. And most importantly make sure you're having fun.