words and photos: Mary T. Walsh

In the first two weeks of April, Jess Kimura and Sharalee Hazen were posted up in North Lake Tahoe, grinding out last minute details: refining park plans, putting together branding, smoothing out logistics and communications, and preparing giant checks for dolling out 40,000 dollars. Ben Bilocq had also made the trip to Tahoe and was literally sleeping in the Boreal parking lot every night, putting in long hours in the welding shop.

The grind paid off, as on the morning of April 13th, a steady stream of the best street snowboarders out there filled the top floor of the Woodward Bunker, grabbing event credentials and lift tickets while reuniting. You couldn’t move through the space without running into heavy talent like Maria Thomsen, Ivika Jürgenson, Jill Perkins, Naima Antolin, Egan Wint, Emma Crosby, Jaylen Hanson, Himari Takamori, Madison Blackley, Taylor Elliott, Kaleah Opal Driscoll, Grace Warner, Darrah Reid-McLean, Ari Morrone, Alexis Hernandez-Rolland, and many, many more. Everyone had come to Boreal for The Uninvited Invitational.

In 2017, Jess Kimura revealed The Uninvited to the world. The video, born out of her own experiences (always challenging) trying to get a seat at the table in a sport dominated by males. In short, since the opportunity for filming didn’t exist for the majority of up-and-coming women rail riders, so Jess put the industry on her back and created it. To say that the movie upended the paradigm in snowboarding would be an understatement. Darrah Reid-McLean, Maria Thomsen, Ivika Jürgenson, Kennedi Deck, Miyon Yamaguchi, Taylor Elliott, Madison Blackley, and more stocked 28 minutes with how much fire the women’s side of street riding had at the time. The video catapulted riders into more opportunity—a snowball only beginning to grow. At the time, Jess was still pointedly in the midst of her own filming career, but she eagerly and decisively gave her time to the collective. While prior to The Uninvited, Jess was a heavily respected individual—her relentless drive and commitment to perfection coupled with her snowboarding prowess—when she applied her determination to raising the tide all around her, she further became a force to be reckoned with.

With the release of the first Uninvited, followed by two additional movies—The Uninvited II in 2020, and The Uninvited III in 2021—Jess showed everyone else what she already clearly saw: a rapidly rising tide of women snowboarders who were changing the status quo in the streets. They just needed someone to shine the spotlight their way. Jess did just that. Her personal commitment to the girls of the trilogy—mentoring them, supporting them, raising money, finding filmers, managing media, editing the projects, running premiere tours, and just producing EVERYTHING was an incredible amount of work and pressure to take on, but just as she has always applied herself to her own video parts, she did the same with each Uninvited. That is, with full, ‘till-the-wheels-fall-off commitment and an utter aversion to taking credit for how impactful and amazing she is.

The past six years have amplified the fruits of Jess’ labor (also, she will be the first to credit all of her collaborators that have helped along the way). The opportunity that The Uninvited has created has buoyed an entire generation—multiple generations, actually—of riders and street snowboarding is in an undeniable renaissance on the women’s side. And there are more young rippers waiting in the wings and honing their skills at their home resorts. The riding is seen in team movies, all-women’s offerings, the slew of rail jams coming back on the scene, in contests and local parks and on Instagram. We’re out of the blue water and into the oncoming groundswell.

But in order to keep the momentum growing, there’s still work to be done. There’s still plenty of room for the tide to increase, and leaders like Jess are still necessary for creating space and opportunity, and advocating for women in snowboarding. When it really comes down to it, women are not asking for much and when they get just SOME of what they need, the results are astounding. One look at the riding at The Uninvited Invitational was proof positive of what support, resources, and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and guts can bring to fruition: In short, a whole hell of a lot of really, really good snowboarding.

For The Uninvited Invitational, the goal was multifaceted to further incubate snowboarding talent: bring up-and-coming ams together with established pros to ride together; provide them with a set up that would support progressive riding; point cameras at the riders for lots of photo and video to create far-reaching media; showcase the high level status quo of snowboarding to a big audience, both in person and online; and give out 40,000 dollars in prize money to fuel aspirations.

Jess partnered with Sharalee Hazen, known fondly as Haze, to make The Uninvited Invitational a reality. As event co-founders, they toiled in the trenches from making sponsor decks to setting rails alongside the Woodward Tahoe park crew and for two days, five dozen riders sessioned a set up at Boreal that was designed specifically for them to have a good time. Seven different features that could be hit a variety of ways were lined up next to one another, beginning with a storage container on rider’s right and including down-flat-downs, a stairset, canon, wallride, and more that all led into a double-sided hip with rider’s right and left bowls.

Presented with such a pristine set up, the riders got to work immediately picking things apart and setting the tone for the event—a loud-and-clear 11 loaded with tenacity to showcase just what’s up with snowboarding currently. Veda Hallen, Savannah Golden, Melissa Riitano, Maggie Leon, Christine Savage, Brantley Mullins, Laura Rogoski, Sonny Alba, Savannah Shinske, Stefi Luxton, Paula Benito Porcel, Devi Gupta, Cali Carlson, Danyale Patterson, Juliette and Billy Pelchat, Henna Ikola, Fancy Rutherford, Emily O’Connor, Iris Pham, Telma Särkipaju, Maria Hilde, Sierra Forchheimer, Bryn Valaika, Ava Peterson, Amanda Hankison, Jaime Deister, Sara Säkkinen, Sophia Scroll, Stine Tønnessen, and more put on a show for the judges, photogs and filmers, brand crews (big thanks to all the sponsors for supporting and making this happen), and everyone assembled. Thursday and Friday were jam sessions, opportunities to get clips, and time to ride with friends and idols, but they were also the qualies for Saturday’s finals. Everyone was on one. Unfortunately, Lex Hernandez-Roland, Maria Thomsen, and Grace Warner had to sit finals out due to injury, but their riding was undoubtedly deserving of being in there. Ellie Weiler and Nora Beck were spectating all weekend as they’re both recovering from injury currently, waiting patiently to join the fray next year.

Over the course of the first two days, $500 checks were given to standouts. On Thursday, Jill Perkins, Savannah Shinske, Maggie Leon, and Lolo Derminio snagged the cash. On Friday, Jaylen and Taylor took home the additional gas money.

On Saturday at noon, the course opened for finals as 40 riders turned it on for a two-hour jam. Day three of the event followed the same routine as the first two—no warms up needed, everyone throwing down from the start. Desiree Melancon, Scott Blum, Mikey LeBlanc, Nirvana Ortanez, Jeff Holce, Sam Taxwood, and Jess Kimura had their work cut out for them as judges.

One of the things about an event like this is just how completely stoked everyone is to be there. Snowboarders, in general, take advantage of opportunity. On the women’s side, this is even more emphasized. We’re all really excited to get together and watch our friends succeed. Spectators lined up against the fence on the side of the course and the deck of the bowls was packed. Fancy Rutherford and Christine Savage had brought cardboard and permanent markers to make signs and they passed them through the crowd. “Daaaaangy”, “Move back, Ari”, and “Go Millie’s mom”, a nod to Taylor Elliott’s dog penned by her husband Brandon Cocard, added punctuation to rider drops as Katie Kennedy provided commentary as the emcee.

While the riders were competing against one another for the podium, the atmosphere was more collective upleveling than verses competition. When Taylor planted the Woodward dumpster, Egan backed her up. Telma built on Lolo’s send over the deck from the previous day with a double backflip. Lauren Rogoski, Savannah Golden, and Naima Antolin sought out the lines less traveled. Kennedi Deck, Savannah Shinske, Kaleah Opal-Driscoll, Darrah Reid-McLean, and Emma Crosby put down proper tricks on the stairset and DFD. Jill Perkins was firing, as always. Maggie Leon was explosive, as always. Jaylen Hansen, Iris Pham, Brantley Mullins, the Pelchat sisters, Paula Bonito, Veda Hallen, and Himari Takamori provided a glimpse of what’s coming over the next few seasons as they just all keep getting better and better. Lauren Derminio added high octane riding to everything she touched; Lolo’s snowboarding is the best case scenario of a canister of kerosene on the brink of explosion, but somehow contained.

By the time the bell sounded and the contest was wrapped, the riders had left it all out on the hill. Fat Tires were passed around at the bottom (to those of age), and the judges deliberated while handmade trophies were set up next to a podium of Yeti coolers. The crowd gathered around Jess and Jaze as Kimura addressed the crowd, her voice breaking as she communicated how much this event and all of the riders mean to her. There were few dry eyes on the deck as Jess spoke from the heart. There’s no doubt that she is as humble as they come, but standing with her at The Invitational were dozens of riders, photographers, filmers, and industry members who would follow her anywhere. With her riding, her movies, and now this event, Jess always leaves it all out on the snow, and all of us are so thankful for her, Sharalee, and the rest of the people and brands that made The Uninvited Invitational possible.

As each award was handed out, for best trick, best bail, most heart, and more, the crowd erupted in yells and applause. By the time the top five were names, with Lolo taking first, followed by Telma Särkipaju in second, and Egan Wint in third, everyone was going bananas. Bottles of champagne were passed around to the winners, but they were super hard to open, and after a hold for over a minute, Lolo finally popped hers, spraying it everywhere, in fitting close to one of the best weekends ever. The best part? Getting to do this all again next year.

Huge thanks to Jess, Sharalee, Ben, the Woodward Tahoe park crew, Boreal, The North Face, Smith, CAPiTA, Union, Fat Tire, Sun Bum, Diecutstickers.com, Coal Headwear, Beaver Wax, RMU, Slush, and all of the sponsors who made The Uninvited Invitational a reality. Thank you.

The Uninvited Invitational 2023 Results:

First place: Lauren “Lolo” Derminio
Second place: Telma Särkipaju
Third place: Egan Wint
Fourth place: Jill Perkins
Fifth place: Jaylen Hanson

Heart Awards: Taylor Elliot and Devi Gupta
Bomb Hole Best Slam Award: Alexa McCarthy
Style Award: Emma Crosby
Creativity Award: Laura Rogoski