words and photos: Ally Watson

It was early February when Abby “Gail” Lewis shared a call-out for female diggers in Western Canada on her Instagram account. Without knowing what she was up to, I knew I wanted to be a part of it, so I dropped her a line asking her to keep me in the loop. Fast Forward to April 12, 2023, and I was standing at the base of my home mountain, Sunshine Village, introducing myself to the crew of women selected to partake in Abby’s debut park building event, The Build Up. As the introductions closed, I was brimming with excitement to get things started and dive into our first agenda item: riding together.

The Build Up took place over five days with the front-stage goal to design and build a terrain park in the Spring Hill area of SSV and then open it to the public. The event was far more than a terrain park build though, it was about creating connection, safe space, and belonging in the community. Whether or not the participants arrived with that intention, it was something that The Build Up most definitely provided to everyone involved. Gail set the tone on day one when she firmly denoted that everyone’s invitation was purposeful, and their presence was valid without expectations to perform.

“I’m usually more involved in the planning side of snowboarding events, so to be able to just go out there and be a sponge and learn from all the rad women without feeling like I needed to perform was refreshing,” said Maggie Dekker, an event organizer from Canada Snowboard.

I’d like to say that Gail was the shepherd in bringing the group together, but the participants responded more like a pack of wolves leaping at her dangling callout, myself included. The group was made up of diggers past and present, event coordinators, operators, and media, rounding out with a total of thirteen including folks representing all three local resorts in the Bow Valley, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mount Norquay, as well as Silver Star, Seymour, Grouse, Snowboard Canada, and Arena Snowparks.

We spent the first day getting to know each other and lapping the resort, finding powder stashes from the previous storm, and exploring what the SSV terrain parks had to offer. The energy was riot-like as the crew laced laps all over the mountain before settling into the meeting room for the afternoon. An uncanny silence took over as the brainstorming began, followed by a sense of prodigious sophistication as everyone presented their ideas. By the end of day one, The Build Up was mapped.

Days two and three were scheduled as the primary build days, but with some cat malfunctions on day two, we all took some extra time to hot lap the SSV parks and get to know each other.  Day three turned into the longest working day where the crew teamed up feature-by-feature, rotating between sitting in the cat, raking, shaping, and pushing snow.

From Gail’s perspective, “It’s more than just building careers to me, it’s about building people’s confidence and self-worth, and being authentic and comfortable in spaces that you are sometimes asked to be someone you’re not. And being okay with that…and being loud about it.”

Gail is a force in the industry, and without knowing the true origin of her nickname “Gail-force wind,” it’s clear it came from her infectious energy, powerful riding style, and her commitment to strengthening everything in her path. “I want this industry to be more about what people do and who people are, and the community they foster,” she said while discussing her motivation to create The Build Up. Gail has always been a part of organizing women’s meetups and after participating in Trollhaugen’s Take the Rake, she decided to take it to the next step by creating an event in Canada that was also focused on allyship. “I was thinking the Canadian community is quite small there’s not really a connection for diggers, both male and female.”

With allyship in mind, we were graced with the skilled prowess of Lucas Ouellette from Arena Snowparks behind the cat controls, who ensured everyone’s vision was brought to life and that there was ample opportunity to jump in the cat and learn as much as possible about operations. Abby’s goal by including male operators in the event was to create conversation about allyship and encourage inclusive and safe space for non-male identifying folks in the broader space of terrain parks.

One takeaway from Nikki Lorentz, former Silver Star park crew and Nothing in the Pantry community organizer, was that she and the team “learned how to look inside ourselves and reflect that onto what we build and how we do so. What we as females bring to the table and how to work with the counterparts of masculine energy both within ourselves and those within our team.”

Everyone showed up wholly as themselves, identifying a sense of belonging they hadn’t experienced before. It was undoubtedly a safe space, so pervasive that it had no walls. While Lorentz shared the various factors that pushed her away from working in terrain parks, she concluded that, “If it wasn’t for this, I may have hung up the rake forever, but now more than ever, I am so passionate about shaping. Removing myself from working at the mountain gave me a moment to breathe and this event—along with Take the Rake—brought me back. It has let me regain my confidence as a shaper and a human, something I was lacking before”.

“If you had told me two months ago I’d be hanging out with a bunch of chicks from around Canada who do the same thing as me, I’d be like ‘Pffft, whatever.’ But it happened! And when you put a bunch of lovely humans in the same space, it’s like an untold bond that feels so damn good. No judgment, just love,” said Jax Silich, hailing from Mount Seymour.

The positive outcome of community and connection usurps the lack of belonging many of these women describe, but it is concurrently devasting to hear that for some, this was the first time they felt undeniably welcome, heard, or represented in the realm of terrain parks. It is events like The Build Up that support women with the intention of growth that allow us all to lead by example, provide mentorship, and positive space. These opportunities encourage us to continue to build strong alliances with our counterparts and peers in the industry and be able to keep moving forward.

Jax said that participating in The Build Up “was an outlet to be creative when building your own park, something I’ve always dreamed of, but never thought I would actually be here doing it, with a bunch of girls just like me.” And with that, Gail’s goal to build up the community to a point of self-sufficiency is well on its way. She is working toward a place where, she described, “People can stay who they are and also have the knowledge and confidence to cause a ripple effect, inspiring more women and men to get into digger and operator jobs.”

Nikki summed it all up, saying, “At the end of the day, we built a rad park, laughed, cried, and grew as a whole and as individuals. We built a park and a family.” Although the inaugural Build Up event was monumental for the Canadian terrain park community, it won’t be stopping now. With strong intentions for growth, Gail has plans for more, and if she can use her community and her Gail-force wind energy, I’d suggest keeping your eyes peeled for what’s next.

The Build Up was affectionately sponsored by Arena Snowparks, Dinosaurs Will Die, King Snow Magazine, Sunshine Village, Vans Canada, and Volcom Snow.

Diggers and Operators
Abby (Gail) Lewis – @younggail (Arena Snowparks)
Lucas Ouellette – @lucas_ouellette (Arena Snowparks)
Coralie Ogez – @ogcoralie (Sunshine Village)
Erin Book (Grouse)
Hanna Brinkhurst – @scrap_hannah (Silver Star)
Jax Silich – @jaxlyn_ (Seymour)
Lex Pence – @lexipence (Grouse)
Maggie Dekker – @maggiemech (Canada Snowboard)
Monique Maclean – @monique_maclean (Mount Norquay)
Nikki Lorentz – @nikkilorentz (Nothing In The Pantry)
Sam Hamilton – @saamlouise (Lake Louise)