When you talk with Jess Tennyson about snowboarding, or about art, or about fostering bonds and community through snowboarding, or really about anything she finds compelling, there is an unmistakable energy in her eyes. She intently pays attention to what you’re saying, though you can see the gears alight in her mind, spinning, brainstorming, creating. She smiles easily and laughs often, readily connecting with those around her. And she is constantly thinking a few steps ahead, whether tackling a new trick in the park, designing marketing materials for an event, or writing code for a website, tapping into both the free-flowing creative side of her brain and the logical, mathematical side with equal fervor. Jess is a painter, a graphic designer, a web developer, a park rat, a new devotee of the backcountry, and as of last spring, the marketing manager and women’s team manager at Never Summer. In her relatively new position, her first full-time gig in the industry, the Wyoming native brings fresh perspective to the brand, fueled by her inventive, passionate approach.
For Jess, both snowboarding and art have been centerpieces of her life since she was young. One informs the other and vice versa, creative forces propelling her forward from Wyoming to South Dakota to Arizona to California and now to Colorado, where she will live in the Rockies for her in-house role with Never Summer. “I was always into art when I was growing up, but snowboarding played a huge role in that, too—I think even before you notice that it does—with graphics and outerwear and stickers and everything. When I was getting into snowboarding, I was always taking note of the art through what I was doodling and drawing. I had a kids’ Burton board with rainbows and clouds on it and I remember drawing those things because it was so cool to me.”
It was in Jackson where Jess started snowboarding. Her mother worked as a ski patroller at Snow King, a small resort right in town. Jess was on skis as soon as she could walk, and then when she was about eight, her older brother switched to snowboarding and she did too. “Snow King had night skiing, so I would go almost every day after school,” says Jess. In junior high she joined the snowboard team and started riding Jackson Hole more and competing in USASA events.
In was also in Jackson that Jess fell in love with art. From a very young age, creativity and artistic exploration were encouraged in her family. “I was always making art,” she says. “My mom was also a big influence on that. She had me in any 4-H that I could do—cake decorating to paper making to painting—until I found what I liked.” In high school, after her family had moved to a small town in South Dakota, art classes fueled this expression.
Jess headed to Flagstaff, Arizona to attend college, selecting a school that had solid academics and was only twenty minutes away from a resort. She majored in graphic design, with aspirations to merge snowboarding and art professionally down the line. “Working with Never Summer just speaks to this coming to fruition,” she explains. While her position isn’t specific to design, she has been able to flex her artistic muscles in projects already and will continue to do so. But even more so, her creative POV is invaluable to her role in shaping the brand within the marketing schema. The perspective that Jess has brought to Never Summer is built on a foundation of passion, connection, and commitment to riding and the community it can foster.
Jess first became involved with Never Summer as a team rider when she and her boyfriend, Matt Williams, who also rides and works for the brand, were living in Mammoth. Being a part of NS was immediately a unique experience. “Honestly, it’s just been cool feeling heard,” she says about the brand’s proclivity for listening to its riders. “With Never Summer, if you get a board and you’re like, ‘oh, this is too soft’ or ‘something should be changed about this,’ even if it was a graphic, for instance, they’ll listen to you. They really take your feedback.”
As the newest member of the in-house team, Jess is most excited about building on this collaborative environment and contributing to snowboarding as a whole. “Never Summer has made huge strides—shouts to Mary Lefensky, because so much of this was her brainchild— in building community in women’s snowboarding,” says Jess. Two years ago, Mary launched a women’s-specific virtual discussion series called Women Empowering Women that strove to bring together female snowboarders to learn and connect about specific monthly topics. Since it began, the Zoom events have ballooned in attendance. “This was just huge the past two years and I’m excited to keep the momentum going and hopefully grow it even more. I’m super excited to be able to now have in-person events, too, and create awesome opportunities that get more women involved in snowboarding.”
At Never Summer, in addition to brand and team marketing, Jess is involved in cultivating relationships and communication with consumers, with whom the company has a famously loyal following. Jess’ goal is to help even more people enjoy making turns and to this end, she is quick to credit the current groundswell of collaboration among women in the industry as a whole, as well as the Never Summer crew, for making this possible. “I’m also so inspired by all these other women in snowboarding; everyone’s so open to collaboration and bouncing ideas off each other. I’m kind of lucky because I think even twenty years ago entering this position, I would’ve felt more intimidated maybe, or that I wasn’t going to be able to change anything because my voice wouldn’t be heard. But I am able bring things to life or make things bigger or just make an impact because everyone at the company is so supportive.” And it’s support like this that she intends to radiate into snowboarding, creating opportunities for the building of relationships in order to welcome more folks in and deepen their involvement.
“Community events, I think, are one of the best ways for more girls to either get into park or to get into snowboarding, in general,” adds Jess. She mentions experiences at Snowboy Productions’ IT’S TITS! and Beyond the Boundaries Women’s Snowboard Camp as examples of non-competitive gatherings that build confidence, foster support, and create long-lasting friendships. She believes deeply in these experiences, adding, “And not just on the women’s side—for everyone. I am really excited about creating opportunities for building community, for people to meet each other, go ride with friends, and growth will stem from that.”
This winter will be her first in Colorado. The past few seasons she started to get into the backcountry, both on snowmobile and via splitboard, while living in Tahoe. This is a new area of exploration for Jess and when she talks about learning more about riding out of bounds, her excitement is significant. And that is Jess. Constantly pushing herself, whether on her snowboard, in her design, or through joining the ranks of the snowboard industry and affecting the community she loves so much.