Episode 4 of the POWcast features power-duo of the Australian backcountry, Chess Smee and Divya Gordon.

Chess is a ski guide, instructor and educator whose love of the mountains is infectious and empowers others to enjoy the alpine environment. Divya, an accomplished outdoor filmmaker, has spent her adult life bringing inspiring stories of adventure to the screen.

Fittingly, these women have teamed up, alongside fellow guide Leah Foster, to create a film celebrating women in the Australian backcountry. While filming, conditions in the backcountry forced them to confront a changing climate and explore the ecological threats to the environment and community they love.

Tickets for their film Maven are available here

Catch it on on Youtube:

In this episode, we discuss how Chess and Divya came to fall in love with the mountains, and their unique journeys into becoming part of the outdoor community and into guiding and film-making. They share what they love about the Australian mountains and what makes our alpine landscape so unique.

Chess and Divya talk about how they began to explore the backcountry, and how their love of exploring wild places on skis culminated in the creation of their film, Maven. They discuss how their plans to create an epic film were challenged by the sixth-lowest snowfall season on record, and how it made them get creative with novelty adventures.

In being confronted by climate impacts on the Alps, we discuss how the film took a strong ecological focus, showcasing the work of those working to protect our mountains. Chess and Divya also explain how Maven was a celebration of a fantastic community of women in the backcountry.

We also talk about how the backcountry community is closely intertwined to environmental issues, and how many like Chess and Divya use their unique roles to educate and bring others closer to nature. We discuss how energised the ski community is on climate action, and the sense of urgency we all feel to tackle the challenges ahead of us. We explore accessibility to the outdoors, and why it is important to Chess and Divya to encourage more people to get out there. Tune in!

Listen on Spotify:

POWcast Episode 4 Transcript

James Worsfold: [00:00:00] This podcast was recorded on the lands of the Ngarigo people in Jindabyne and the Wurundjeri people in Melbourne. Welcome to the POWcast, a podcast from Protect Our Winters Australia where we celebrate the legends of the Australian alpine community and our shared journey to protect the places we love.

I’m James Worsfold and I’m joined here today by fellow POW volunteer Georgia Now Georgia, tell me, why did you get involved?

Georgia McDonald: Thanks, James. I’m relatively new to the POW crew as part of the policy team, but from speaking with many of the amazing volunteers, the common thread that I’ve heard as to why people have joined is, it just made sense.

Most of my mates would say that skiing is 40 percent of my personality. Some would argue more, uh, but working as a ski instructor at Perisher in Mammoth, California, and also in Niseko in Japan, where I was actually fortunate to meet one of our fellow guests later on in the episode, skiing’s a big part of who I am.

My passion for a [00:01:00] climate is deeply intertwined with my love for skiing. There’s no such feeling of being out in the back country and looking out into the mountains and seeing what beautiful landscape we have and wanting to be able to protect that for years to come. They say, if you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together. And addressing the climate crisis requires collective effort. And what better people to go together with than those who are passionate about the alpine and winter community. There are a lot of really amazing people out there who have, um, Put some spotlight onto what’s happening in the industry and how climate is impacting it.

And we’ll get into that during this episode.

James Worsfold: Yeah, the snow sports community is full of people who are passionate about the place where they work and live and play. And the guests in this podcast are no exception. Chess Smee, a ski guide and educator, and Divya Gordon, an outdoor filmmaker, have taken on the responsibility as many who live and work in the mountains should.[00:02:00]

Last season, Divya and Chess, along with their mate Leah Foster, set out to make a film celebrating women in the Australian backcountry. But while filming, they were forced to reckon with our changing climate. And their film, Maven, also became a POWerful story about the communities and environments we need to fight to protect.

I got to have a yarn with Divya and Chess about their inspiring film and the place the Australian Alps holds in their lives.

Georgia McDonald: Great, let’s get into it.

James Worsfold: Uh, I’d love to get into the film stuff soon, but It seems like, uh, Maven has written on the back of years of experience of filmmaking and adventure and skiing and connection to place. Um, so I’d, I’d be curious to know, how did you guys get to where you are today? How did you become, you know, an integral part of the Australian outdoor scene and, and be part of this back country world?

Divya Gordon: Oh, me, me first? I don’t mind. Okay, sure. I had like a pretty, pretty normal beginning, I would say. I like grew up in Sydney, went to a [00:03:00] private school and, um, You know, did uni and then got a job in the corporate world, um, yeah, sort of discovered that that was wrong for me. I just kept wanting to leave my desk and go to the beach.

I was just, like, just kept wanting to, like, I just wasn’t fully engaged, you know? Um, and I felt, I was, they were putting me in charge of, um, some cool tech stuff because I was young and I had to learn stuff. I had no sort of mentor within the business to, to push me along. So I was learning stuff for that company and I thought, you know, if I can learn stuff for them, I could probably learn anything I wanted for myself.

Um, and so I just thought, If I’m not fully engaged here, I should probably figure out what it is that does make me tick. So I quit. Uh, I started just, I traveled for a while and I decided to try things that I thought I would like. Tried film. I tried social work. I worked with asylum seekers. [00:04:00] Um, my mom’s a refugee and um, film just really took off.

Uh, but not so much that it took up all my time. So, um, somehow when I came back from Berlin, I. I went for a walk and met a slackliner in the park. Um, and it was from meeting that slackliner that everything kind of changed because they became my best friends. I learned about rock climbing, I learned about highlining.

Um, I built out a van and moved into it to save money but also spend as much time out in the wilderness as I could. just sort of pursuing those passions. Um, and from there, my first film, like after four years of sort of dabbling around with film and sort of building up my skillset, I decided to make a film and it was about the longest highline rigged in Australia at the time.

The film’s called 777. Um, and it’s done pretty well. It’s been into a couple of film festivals. [00:05:00] Um, yeah. And from there, I just sort of been rolling with it because Yeah, I sort of feel most passionate about telling stories about the people that I meet and the places that I go. And, um, there are some really incredible people out there like Chess that just kind of have these great stories.

So take it away, Chess. Where did you get into the outdoors?

Chess Smee: Great question. Thanks, dude. Um, from a young age, I loved spending time in the outdoors and I’m It was really privileged to have parents that, um, fostered a love of nature and spending time in nature as well. In primary school I would have bushwalking birthday parties, um, where everyone from primary school would come over and we’d go and do some like rock art on the sandstone.

I finished high school. With, uh, it wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do, but it was that I wanted to do everything. So [00:06:00] I think I, yeah, I enrolled in a double degree of business and psychology cause I thought. Wow, that’s like the two most broad things you could do. And um, yeah, just before uni started I’d been working all summer and I just thought, you know what, uh, I want to go learn a little bit more about myself and my world.

And I got a ride over to WA and hitchhiked the west coast of Australia. Found myself working as a deck hand on boats on the Ningaloo Reef, taking people swimming with whale sharks. and yeah, just learning more about that beautiful ecosystem and how to move respectfully within it. And, um, at the time, this was my gap year before I went to uni.

So I thought, okay, what’s the most different thing I could possibly do to working on this beautiful tropical reef in the ocean? And yeah, it was a snow season. [00:07:00] So I came to Threadbow. And I started ski instructing and I had only been skiing a couple of times myself. So I was learning to ski parallel while I was teaching these little three to six year olds.

And as well as falling in love with the sport of skiing and the mountains, I really fell in love with the community. And, um, yeah, the beautiful people that we have up here in the mountains with a love of the outdoors and time in nature and, yeah, a really strong sense of community and togetherness up here.

And since then it’s taken me to Japan. So I’ve done a few winters instructing in Japan, um, seven in Australia. And now a few in Canada working as a practicum heli ski guide, race and free ride coach, and avalanche educator.

James Worsfold: [00:08:00] Wowee! So you’ve had these epic adventures overseas and you’ve experienced these mountains that are a lot bigger, uh, Ours and have a lot more snow.

What is it about the Australian Alps that makes you want to come back and experience this environment?

Chess Smee: Yeah, they are ours. They’re our beautiful backyard, and there’s no place like home. You know, , I think. So it is amazing learning to go overseas and have these, uh, incredible experiences. But yeah, I think it comes back to that beautiful sense of community, um, and the Australian mountains, they’re ancient, they’re weathered, They’ve been through so much and um, yeah, our granite here, it’s over 350 million years old and it’s just, it’s beautiful and it’s ours.


Divya Gordon: for me it’s the gum trees. And when I, when [00:09:00] I go abroad, I miss our trees. There’s something about our trees. And um, the snow gums here are something to behold. They, if you get them just right, and you’ve had, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this James, but, I love it. The, the frost sort of like, you know, freezes on them and they become wind chimes.

And it’s a super rare sound. I’ve been like out on the backcountry just with my H4 zoom just trying to try to get that sound. I still haven’t. It’s elusive. But if you can hear it, it’s, it’s pretty magical. Um, and yeah, we’ve, we’ve got snow, so it’s definitely, it’s worth checking out. And there’s, I’ve had so many great times out there.

Chess Smee: Yeah. Here in Jindabyne, where, where we’re Only two hours from the coast. So there’s been a couple of days where I’ve surfed and skied in the same day. Like there’s not many countries you can do that in.

James Worsfold: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s crazy that, you know, if you were to tell someone what the Australian snow landscape would look like, gum trees with snow on them, like you’d think that’s [00:10:00] something that you just made up, but yet it’s real.

And we had this huge, vast dry continent, and yet we have stones. It’s amazing that we do.

Divya Gordon: My partner likes to say that if you look, who’s a, he’s, he runs K7, he’s backcountry guide. Um, and has done more of these mountains than, than anyone I know, but he, he, he talks about the, the Kosciuszko National Park as being this giant snowy croissant from above.

And all the resorts are kind of like in this bottom quadrant, but there’s heaps of wilderness. Um, there’s this like whole different map that you, you don’t even look at if you, if you just ski resort called the Jagungla Wilderness. Um, which is really cool to check out. Beautiful huts, like really old, antiquated huts that aren’t fancy and nice, like in New Zealand.

And I have a real soft spot for the huts here, cause they’re Just kind of fun. It feels like the wild, wild west, you know, a few people out there. I feel like I can go on for days. Stop me Chess.

James Worsfold: How did you guys break out of that resort skiing and, and start to [00:11:00] explore the backcountry?

Chess Smee: In Japan, in the mountains of Hokkaido, um, I was working as a ski instructor in Niseko and just looking at the surrounding hills.

It was amazing to think, wow, you can hike up these and ski down them. And in the Seko, there’s this awesome gates system where if you have a transceiver, probe, shovel, and a helmet, you can leave the resort boundary. Ideally, you have the appropriate training to do so and make good decisions. That was a beautiful opportunity.

to step out with, with mentors and with friends, um, who I could learn from. Um, yeah, same thing here, you know, like we have so much fun within the resorts, but you get glimpses of what lies beyond. And so with some friends and some more training, I studied my Cert IV in outdoor recreation and specialized in alpine [00:12:00] guiding and yeah, just spent more and more time beyond the boundaries of the resort.

And it’s been, um, yeah, it’s been totally awesome to ski untouched lines, untouched snow and to be out there with friends and just having the time of our lives. It’s, it’s awesome. You do

Divya Gordon: sort of have those moments where you’re like looking at it. Hey, when you’re going up the resort and you’re just looking out there and you’re like, what’s over there.

I want to touch it. How do I go there? Yeah. Yeah. I was, yeah, similar journey during COVID. I, I got locked out of Sydney and then the resorts were closing down. I had some friends going out the back who had met in other like wilderness communities, um, and got my shot and took it and haven’t gone back. Yeah.

James Worsfold: So now that you’ve gotten to a point where the Australian Alps, uh, have become such a big part of your lives that you wanted to make a film about them. So how did this idea come about and how, [00:13:00] how do you make it a reality?

Divya Gordon: So I’ve made, yeah, I’ve made a few films now and I’m starting to feel, um, like it’s, it’s good to challenge and push and try different things.

I’d made a film or I’d started making a film about higher landing in the snow, which unfortunately, um, we’re still in talks with parks about whether that’s an appropriate thing to make a film about because they’re unsure about the activity. Um, there’s, you know, uh, you know, quite a bit of regulation to go through to make sure that everything’s safe.

So, I decided to pivot, and, you know, there’s actually never been a film made about women in the backcountry, in our area. Um, and I just thought, there’s such an incredible community out here, doing things. I met Francesca. And um, a bunch of the other girls. As part of my film making journey as well, like, you just, you start to question the narratives that you are telling, and the stories that you’re [00:14:00] putting forward.

Um, and I feel like a lot of my films have been about records being broken, and like, incredible people doing incredible things, but, There’s a lot of, like, white males in that, so I guess it was just a look at, you know, where my focus was and, hey, maybe not the most important story is that record being broken, maybe, like, it’s, yeah, the, the incredible people who do these things that aren’t breaking records, but are just as important a story to tell.

Um, and that’s when Maven was born.

Chess Smee: Yeah, I think when Divya approached me about making a film in the Australian backcountry, I got really giddy. I got so excited, um, to showcase the, the steeps we have, the, and POWder slashes, cliff drops. I’m like visualizing all this amazing, um, skiing that we’ve done abroad.

And yeah, I’ve got really excited about showcasing the best of the Australian backcountry and the best of the [00:15:00] women’s. free ride community here. And we had the sixth lowest snowfall winter on record. The first, um, half of the season, the main range, it went through this incredible icing event. So it made a lot of the steeper lines and a lot of the backcountry in general unrideable because it was really icy and and corally and really quite unpleasant.

So we stayed in bounds for the first half of the season and by the time it was safe to step out into the backcountry spring had come early and we were running out of time and we were running out of snow to make this film so it became the season of novelty adventures. So, um, we’ve just We knew that we had this amazing community that we wanted to showcase and, um, and so we revised our goals [00:16:00] and kind of, yeah, came up with a few awesome things.

One, I skied Australia’s 11 highest peaks in a day. So that’s about over 40 kilometers, um, and yep, 11 transitions up, down, up, down, up, down all day. We also skied to Opera House Hut, uh, the most inaccessible hut in Kosciuszko National Park. And yeah, these are the

Divya Gordon: two missions that the film is about and you’d have to watch the film to see more.

Chess Smee: As well as a, a snow camping adventure with over 16 women camping in the back country, which has got to be a first in Australia.

James Worsfold: As a film, Mabin has a Very strong ecological focus. Why was it important to you to make? a film not just about skiing, but also about the mountain environment.

Divya Gordon: I feel like that was forced on us, to be honest.

We, we wanted to make this, this awesome [00:17:00] pal, look at us shred film. And we were just dealt this, um, this, this season that just didn’t have, didn’t put up for us. So we, it was the natural, it was the natural move to then sort of, question why, why is this happening and, and go have a look. It was, the film was a great excuse to talk to ecologists and learn more about this place that we love.

Um, you know, Chester’s out there guiding every day and has an incredible wealth of knowledge and just the ability to go out with people who, who study that area and, um, know so much more. They’re an, they’re an incredible breed. Such a font of knowledge and it’s so exciting for them being out in like the space that, you know, they, They care about so deeply that they study it.

Chess Smee: It was an amazing opportunity to explore our curiosity, uh, both Divya, Leo and myself. We all have this desire [00:18:00] to learn more about the mountains and seeing the fluctuations between seasons, just wanting to explore, yeah, what is happening here? What can we do to protect them? Actually, the roots of the word maven, maven meaning one who understands, So, it’s our journey to becoming MAVEN, or our attempt to become MAVEN, through, yeah, learning from people who are experts in their field.

So we do chat with environmental scientists and, um, environmental advocates and communicators. Learning about the environment, it’s something that means so much to me as a mountain guide. and working in outdoor education with high school students to Yeah, gain information from from these wonderful researchers so that we can share that with my clients, my students, and now our audience through [00:19:00] this film.

Divya Gordon: Yeah, I feel like, and I feel that, yeah, there’s something in there about understanding. Understanding isn’t necessarily about knowing, and I think a lot of people can relate to growing up in this time. We get a lot of, a lot of information fed to us. It’s, it’s quite difficult to come to terms with, and I think part of this journey is about coming to terms with.

what we know and, you know, finding a way through, finding a way to love it and appreciate the environment. Um, and, you know, try our best when, you know, it’s, it’s pretty hard out there. There’s, there’s a lot. So I feel like, I hope Maven is, is a relatable film. Um, and yeah, one, one that has a little bit of wisdom.

Chess Smee: Yeah, I think it’s a call for courage, even if we don’t have all the answers, for people to take a bit of personal action and [00:20:00] advocate for commercial and industrial action to to do better, to care for our country and to, yeah, we often acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land. Here it’s the Ngarigo people and perhaps it’s an opportunity for us to step into that role of custodianship.

to explore what we can do as individuals to better connect and care for our beautiful land that surrounds us.

James Worsfold: So over the course of this journey, what are some things that you learned that really stuck with you?

Chess Smee: The historical decrease in snowpack for a lot of us here in Jindabyne, a large part of our livelihoods, livelihoods, uh, are within the snow industry.

So, uh, A decreasing and shortening winter. It’s something that we’ve got to work with.

Divya Gordon: And [00:21:00] we, yeah, being mountain people, we get to observe it. Like, you know, year by year. We get to see it more intimately. I haven’t been here that long, but, um, I’m now in a community that’s been here for forever. My partner grew up here.

Um, But, yeah, we got to spend an amazing day out on the range with Dr. Susanna Venn, who studies what grows underneath snow patches when they go away, and then they come back, and how that impacts them. Um, we were setting up a camera for her to observe it, and I got to help position it. Just had a really cool time out there, um.

Obviously you can only brush with this, you know, the vast quantities of information that these people are processing and working with, but Um, that’s, that’ll definitely stand out to me, this, the rigor and the, the effort that goes into, it’s much like a lot of these snow sports, like it’s, it’s So much effort when you think about it, um, but you do it for the love, it’s um, yeah, it [00:22:00] was really, it was, it was beautiful and inspiring.

Chess Smee: We also went out with Dr. Linda Broom, who’s a small, small mammal specialist, working with National Parks and Wildlife Service. Over 30 years, she’s been doing it, right? Yeah, she’s been doing it for ages. And we helped her survey the populations of mountain pygmy possums at Perisher and on Mount Kosciuszko, which was So beautiful to hold them and see them and help to count them and, um, open up the pouches and see the little babies.

So cool. And, um, yeah, learned a lot from Dr. Broome. about the impacts of feral animals on the alpine ecosystem, whether it be hard hoofed animals from the grazing days, having really compacted the soil and trampled a lot of vegetation makes it hard for the ecosystem to hold water, which leads to [00:23:00] increased drought and increased fire frequency, um, which is really damaging and hard to come back from for the alpine and subalpine ecosystems.

Divya Gordon: These species of plants who’ve worked so hard just to grow there in the first place, sort of thing. As well

Chess Smee: as foxes and feral cats, predating our Antechinus, our, our small bush rats up there, and rodents, as well as the mountain pygmy possum. Um, habitat destruction of, of the corroboree frog. All these amazing animals that are only found in the Australian Alps.

They’re endemic to this region. And, um They’re actually protected by the snowpack, aren’t they?

Divya Gordon: I think that’s what she said.

Chess Smee: Yeah. And it’s, it’s confronting, it’s confronting information hearing, um, hearing these threats to our native plants and animals. But there is so much room for us to step up and do what we can to protect them.

[00:24:00] And, um, and I think that starts with education and, and learning about what’s going on in the first place.

Georgia McDonald: Like Divya and Chess, the whole snow sports community have been on a journey to learn about the climate impacts on our mountains. At PAO we’ve commissioned an independent report on behalf of the alpine community to better understand how climate change will affect the Australian Alps in the near future.

Created in partnership with the Australian National University and the Australian Mountain Research Facility, it uses the best available modelling to map changes to our snowpack and how global heating will impact the tourism economy, regional communities, high country ecosystems, hydroelectricity, The Murray Darling Basin, First Nations and Carbon Sequestration.

James Worsfold: Its findings are sobering. If we don’t take further action, our snow season is projected to reduce by 55 days in a high emission scenario, or 44 days in a mid emission scenario. That’s on average across all the resorts. This will have impacts on [00:25:00] communities, economies and environments throughout Australia.

But the good news is that our ski industry and our Alps still have a fighting chance. A low emission scenario would ensure that our ski industry, regions and mountain environments will have a viable future. This means taking decisive action now to cut climate pollution and safeguard our Alps. We need governments and communities to step up to the challenge, because a lot is at stake.

To read the full report, head to protectourwinters. org. au

Yeah, the Australian high country ecosystems are host to a fantastic array of plants and animals. To what extent do you think members of the snowsports community are engaged in environmental and climate issues?

Divya Gordon: I would say very, um, from my small, you know, group, like people that I know in this [00:26:00] area. I, yeah, I, um, I feel like people who live here love the place and therefore You know, I’m always open to listening to how to protect it.

The POWer meetings here are getting stronger and stronger and, um, hoping to tee something up to make something for POWer this year. What about you Chess?

Chess Smee: Yeah, I would also say very, um, yeah, occasionally at Threadbow we get a wombat wander across the slope, which is like, everyone’s like, Oh my gosh, did you see the wombat on the village trail?

That was so sick. And, uh, yeah, we all get, we all get so stoked on, um. on the animals and the beautiful rivers and waterways and, um, yeah, the beautiful mountain landscape. I think there is a fine balance, especially with resort skiing of, um, you know, we’re building infrastructure, we’re taking down Trees, we’re using POWer to facilitate this [00:27:00] sport and people are aware of that and I’m aware of that every time I buy a lift pass.

Um, there’s definitely a community desire to, to do better for sure.

James Worsfold: So we touched on before the importance of education in this space. And as people who live and work in the snow, you’re kind of the interface between the environment and visitors. What is the responsibility of people working in this space?

And, and, what more can we all do to, to make people more aware of the threats faced by our, our snow and our alpine ecosystem?

Chess Smee: Yeah, so engaging with local educators is awesome. Um, we have a amazing collective of guides up here. Um, I’m working for K7 Adventures and, but there’s a few other guiding organizations in town as well who are out there every day [00:28:00] learning more.

Have someone to ask questions and, and maybe to show you around out there. And then folks in town, like, to engage in conversations. Things like the POW Wows, where we can chat about environmental issues and learn from one another. Over

Divya Gordon: Thursday, Fortnite. Engine burn. You know what?

Chess Smee: Follow POW Australia and they can update you officially.

And um, from abroad, you know, like film. media, social media, it’s amazing the resources that we have online to learn more. Yeah.

Divya Gordon: I think there’s lots to be done and there are people out there doing it. Like when I was searching for a job to, you know, what I, when it was interested in doing, I got to visit lots of interesting like spaces where people are in part of activist groups and you know, there’s all different ways of organizing things.

So, um, so yeah, if you’re curious stuff’s out there, you just got to go look for it. Like, um, The Bob Brown Foundation and Takanya, Takaina. [00:29:00] And um, yeah, POWer doing stuff here. There’s always someone doing something. And it’s just about connecting with those, that organization. And not trying to reinvent the wheel, but just trying to turn up with your knowledge and experience.

To contribute and, you know, drive things forwards if, if you have that eagerness and the keenness to.

James Worsfold: Do you think there might be a bit of a gap between, uh, climate knowledge or desire for climate action between the people living on country, working on snow and, and the visitors, because skiing is sometimes seen as this, you know, hedonistic party activity.

You, you come, you, you have your fun and then, then you leave.

Divya Gordon: I think this world is full of people. I’m getting so like,

Chess Smee: well, it’s funny, like within the back country community, We all have a deep care and and protectiveness over the mountain ecosystem. That’s an interesting question with visitors that there is a big [00:30:00] party culture and a party scene and

James Worsfold: Is skiing perhaps an opportunity to become closer and an opportunity to learn because you’re exposed to this environment?

Chess Smee: Totally and maybe people come down for a party weekend and they’ve bought all brand new gear and whatever they’ve come down for a weekend to test it out. And, but you know what, they’re stepping into this space to, in which maybe they’ll gain a greater, a greater connection with the landscape or, or learn a little extra.

Yeah. It’s hard to speak for all tourists, you know, cause some visitors that come and would probably quite happily just melt the snow, melt all the snow the day after they leave. Yeah. Most of the tourists come down are, um, I, yeah, I believe they really do care about the mountains and want to do their best and, um, yeah, like family’s coming down and maybe they’ve got, uh, they’ve been to the Jindabyan Op Shop and they’re kitted out in the gear that they can find and [00:31:00] it’s, um, There’s heaps

Divya Gordon: of gear there, by the way.

It’s so doable. If you want to go down to Vinnie’s or the Offshop, whatever it’s called. Yeah, buy second

Chess Smee: hand. It’s awesome. Buy second hand, there’s so much stuff. Yeah,

Divya Gordon: I personally skied in second hand gear for 8, 20, 20 years before I bought something new. Yeah, me too.

Chess Smee: Me too. There’s ways, like, It’s potentially quite a consumptive, is that a word?

The high consumption sport and industry. But there’s better ways to do it. So much great secondhand gear. The resorts are really stepping up in terms of where they get their energy from. So, um, yeah, it’s hard to speak for visitors versus locals. But I think there’s opportunities for us all to learn more, connect more and, um, and improve our interactions with the mountains.

James Worsfold: And how are you guys feeling personally about what climate change is [00:32:00] doing to the Australian snow season? Because this is, this is a place that you love and have a big connection to. Are you feeling optimistic? Are you feeling pessimistic? What are, what are the vibes?

Divya Gordon: It’s a little bit worrying. I, I, I don’t feel, I feel like I’ve been on so many ups and downs.

At the moment, I don’t feel like there’s any reason to be optimistic or pessimistic. I think, um, there’s just more room for learning about it and I’m really keen to get down to my Thursday POWwow and, um, have a bit of a POWwow about what can be done next and put my skills forward as a filmmaker. Because that’s the best that I can do.

Yeah, but it really will impact a lot of people, and, um, change a lot about the spaces that we’ll love. So, I

Chess Smee: feel curiosity [00:33:00] for the patterns that we’re seeing, and the forecasts that have been published. It’s really interesting to look back on past data. And there’s lessons that we can learn from that and patterns that we can recognize.

My reputation around the globe is optimistic. That I’m always, uh, what did my students say last week? That I’m a half, a glass half full kind of gal. Um, but yeah, so I’m optimistic. I always will be, you know, there’s, uh, we love these spaces. We want to protect them. I’m going to keep exploring my curiosity and see what I can do better.

And, and, um, yeah, we’ll see what the beautiful universe has in store for us. In the meantime, let’s, uh, let’s do the best we can to protect these beautiful places. [00:34:00]

James Worsfold: Yeah, I think that’s a very important point. Thanks. Bye. There is a lot of uncertainty, and, you know, maybe there’s a chance that we won’t be able to protect the places that we love, we won’t be able to save it, but we can try, and trying can work, so we may as well give it a go.

Chess Smee: For sure, yeah. Absolutely. Stay engaged, stay interested. I don’t want to get 10 years down the line and be like, oh, I could have done that, or that was my opportunity to step up and I didn’t do it. Like, well, yeah, the decisions we have control over are here and now. And, um, and regardless of what happens in the future, if we can do our absolute best with the now, um, and that’s going to look different for different people.

I think by now with advocacy for climate. And we all know that these steps that we can take within, um, within our circles [00:35:00] where we can do better. And, um, yeah, if we can just let that, let our personal decisions ripple out into community action and awareness, that’s amazing. Community action and awareness ripples out even further so that we can get into commercial, state, federal, um, action for, um.

Yeah, protection of these beautiful wild places.

James Worsfold: Now, Georgia, what’s all this talk about a Jindabyne local POW group?

Georgia McDonald: Great question, James. The POW Jindy Local Alliance is a collective of people who love our outdoor environment and are working together to protect it. It provides an accessible platform to learn about the issues affecting our mountains.

They host meetings and events to connect you with the POW community and provide accessible opportunities to advocate for meaningful change. If you’re in the Jindy area and want to join like minded mountain lovers, get in touch at [00:36:00] protectourwinters. org. au.

James Worsfold: So that’s for the Jindabyne community. But if you would like to get a POWer local alliance off the ground in your region, we’d be keen to hear from you as well.

Chess Smee: Yeah, we set out with this quest to showcase the best of the Australian backcountry and the women’s freeride community. I think what we came out with was a story that’s actually far more relatable to the everyday person. And it’s a story about getting outside with your friends, engaging with the natural world, and seeing what happens.

In our experience, it was total magic. Yeah, something about the outdoors, particularly the mountains. Uh, it really fosters connection. And, yeah, we just had such a wonderful experience making this film, and exploring the mountains. And now we get to share that story [00:37:00] with the world. And not everyone in life is going to do, a backflip off Carruthers Peak, you know, or drop a three meter cliff into POW and get like the best POWer of their life, but everyone can take a step into nature every day, you know, and maybe it’s waking up half an hour earlier so you can go for a walk on the beach with your mum before school.

Or maybe it’s cycling to work or maybe it’s with your hour lunch break just going down to the park and sitting on a park branch, sitting on the grass, put your fingers in the grass. Pat a dog. Pat a dog. Wink at a goose. We are part of the natural world. We are not separate from it and everybody has the chance to, to, um, to engage with nature.

See what happens.

James Worsfold: So when you first entered this world of skiing and world of adventure, did you see yourself represented in the media and filmmaking and could you have [00:38:00] seen yourself up there in front of the camera?

Chess Smee: Yeah, I love, um, I’ve always found myself an educator. Like when I was a teenager, I was coaching the under the local under eight soccer team.

And then when I was in year 11 and 12, I was a singing and drama teacher for little kids. And then skiing, I started ski instructing yoga. I became a yoga teacher. So I always have loved the idea of sharing knowledge with others and sharing experience growing up. Yeah. I really didn’t see. Yeah. Many women on the screen in the, in adventure sports entertainment, um, especially in the snow industry.

Yeah. And there is this feeling sometimes that it can be hard to be what you can’t see. And yeah, it’s just, um, it’s really, really awesome. I know how much it means to me to see, uh, a female mentor, whether it be a trainer or an assessor or, um, or in media as [00:39:00] well. When I see someone that I look up to. Up there doing it, living the dream, living their dream.

I’m like, Oh yeah, that’s awesome. So it’s, it’s been a journey, but it’s cool to kind of step into that mentorship role for the people who I run courses for here in the snowies. I feel like that’s working with small groups at a time, whether it be instructing or back country guiding. But what we can do with film and media is reach thousands of people and, um, and tell our story.

in the Australian Alps to people all around Australia, New Zealand and the world. Yeah, yeah,

Divya Gordon: that hit, yeah, really hits a vein for me as well with the whole, because I think as a novice filmmaker, you just pick something that’s really awesome, right? And then you make a film about it. But as I’m maturing as a filmmaker, it’s like, I need to think about, yeah, like, I’m just like, interested in [00:40:00] telling stories that I haven’t seen before, necessarily.

And, um, seeing where that takes me, and it was really, really nervy, actually. It was really tough, but we’re getting so much amazing feedback from, um, school students. And Chess has been, um, Chess works with schools, so she’s, she’s showing schools Maven these days. And, um, got some really hard, heartwarming stuff.

And, um, yeah, really just feel like, um, Um, I’ll probably be doing a bit more of this in the future. Stuff that matters, you know.

James Worsfold: Do you feel like representation has changed a bit since you guys have been working in this space? Um, cause maybe if you opened up, uh, a skit, you know, adventure magazine from a few decades ago, it’d be very white, very blokey.

Has that space changed? I see it changing

Chess Smee: for sure. Yeah. And even talking to our parents, I’ll speak from my experience, um, in local magazines, advertising websites, social [00:41:00] media, they’ll often be the, um, the action shot of the guy doing the POW shot, and then on the next page of the magazine, There’s the lady in the, in Aperol Spritz, like, oh, come ski and it’s cute.

Like, that’s super fun, but where’s the media of, of the women doing this activity that we love, you know? And, um, it is 100 percent changing. It’s got some way to go, but, um, yeah, I’m just, super proud to be in the generation where we are seeing, seeing more and more, um, of an appropriate representation.

Divya Gordon: And I think even with pitching this film, like the opportunities that we were able to unlock with this concept, um, I, I was blown away at the support that was thrown.

So just really grateful, um, to be in this time, um, to be [00:42:00] where we are, the ability to, to tell stories a different way. And, um, yeah, just really excited for the future. There’s definitely more magazines changing. Vertical life’s had a big shift. Um, it’s climbing magazine and, um, I’m definitely reading content that wasn’t available when I was younger, um, and enjoying it.

James Worsfold: Yeah, accessibility to nature seems to be such a big part of both of your lives. Do you think, for some people, there’s that perception that getting out there is Hard or isn’t accessible as something that, you know, just isn’t meant for them.

Divya Gordon: Yeah, I think like, you know, before you know about it, before you find your people or maybe see a thing, like, It is a bit scary.

It’s a bit out there. I’m a city girl. You know, I grew up in the city and, and um, I think it’s amazing that I live in a town with less than 4, 000 people now. And, and, you know, up on a big hill with nothing around me. [00:43:00] Um, but best move I ever made in my life, you know? And I remember, you know, first driving out of the city being like, Oh my God, there’s nothing out here.

Nothing. And then you slowly like learn about all the incredible things bit by bit. Yeah. It’s changed my life dramatically. So highly recommend getting outdoors.

Chess Smee: Yeah, and it’s all, it’s all relative, like a big accomplishment for me last year was skiing Australia’s 11 highest peaks in a day. A lot of people have asked me, why’d you do that?

What’d you do that for? I don’t get it. It’s not, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For me, it was a personal goal to step outside of my comfort zone and learn a bit more about myself and my world. I’d encourage others to do the same, and maybe it’s at a totally different scale. Maybe it is walking to the bus stop, or cruising down to the beach, or um, or your local park.

James Worsfold: And fostering that connection is one of the most [00:44:00] POWerful things you can do for environmental action. Because there are studies that show that the more time you spend in nature, the more pro environmental behavior you show. So just going and taking a ski lesson or going out for a walk, that will make you learn things and that will really build that connection and, and will bring you closer to the natural world and make you fight harder to protect it.

Divya Gordon: It makes sense. It makes sense, honestly.

Chess Smee: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s my favorite thing about working in outdoor education. Absolutely. With high school students, because I believe the future of our planet relies on people having positive experiences in nature, because if we don’t appreciate it and connect with it, um, then some people might not find the reason to protect it.

Divya Gordon: I definitely think it’s true for me. You know, the more time I spend outdoors, the more like, you know, when I find those little squares of toilet paper out in the bush and someone hasn’t like taken their stuff with them. I just get so furious these days. [00:45:00] I never knew that would be me. The one angry about the toilet paper, but.

You know, um, you know, people misusing it or breaking, you know, a special, a special plant that they hadn’t realized was, it was important to that area and struggling to survive. Like, I think it’s, um, yeah, the deeper down the rabbit hole you go.

James Worsfold: What’s next in store for, for Chess and Divya?

Divya Gordon: Oh, there’s an incredible film where we sailed to trad climb in the middle of somewhere remote, uh, that will be coming out that explores what it is to, um, to climb without knowing what’s been climbed there before, um, and how important it is to, when you go and appreciate somewhere wild, to leave it wild.

So, we won’t be documenting the climbs that we did, even though people get really excited about first ascents. Um, and that, that specific [00:46:00] choice is what that film will explore. There’s also, um, Something coming on for Bridie Rawson with Tuff Tits Co, who is um, all about sort of showcasing the incredible things that women are doing and sort of writing, writing a bit of that skewiff in the media where women are maybe not being showcased as much or overlooked or need a bit of inspiration and we’re going to go around to the resorts.

Five women, five resorts, and talk about what gives them tough tits.

Chess Smee: Yeah, and in Jindabyne this season, I’m excited to be working with K7 Adventures, delivering a range of backcountry progression sessions to upskill and emPOWer people to engage with the mountains, as well as continuing coaching and outdoor education around Australia.

And yeah, a few opportunities for the [00:47:00] Northern Hemisphere winter, both in Canada. and Europe. Um, yeah, both upskilling myself and, and seeing new places and learning more and being able to share that with, with people abroad and then, um, and yeah, bring it back home next year.

Divya Gordon: Wait, there’s one more. Wait, can I tell you about one more film?

There’s this incredible athlete called Gabriel Camalesi who recently beat the world record unicycling on a highline. And so we’ve created a film, it’s called Steady. It’s gonna come out and it talks about, you know, the resilience that Gabe had to do what he did. Um, I’m really excited about it. And so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

Chess Smee: Oh yeah, that’s a great segue Divya. Because people May one of you follow the journey, and we have social media to do so. So we’ve got, um, Maven film at Maven film [00:48:00] and yeah, at K7 Adventures. And, um, and yeah, if you go and check them out, you’ll be able to follow, follow along for some updates on the film tour and beyond.

Divya Gordon: Yeah, we’ll be at all the screenings and we’d love to see, yeah, we’d love to see you there. Always, we’re around for a chat after all of them and we’ll be going skiing the next day, so let us know if you’re about. We’d love to meet you.

James Worsfold: Amazing. And your work exposing people to the mountains, the environment, and this beautiful place and bring them closer to it is very important.

So keep up the great work.

Chess Smee: Thanks, James. Thanks, James.

Georgia McDonald: I really liked how Div mentioned that it’s out there and people are out there and you just have to look. I mean, Chess, a friend, but honestly such an inspiration, one of the reasons why I got into the backcountry in the first place. You’ve just got to have the right people to talk to and [00:49:00] even for myself, getting involved with POW as a volunteer, just trying to find something that is gonna help me be able to connect with the winter community and have an impact.

on climate and people who live and work in our mountains are passionate about them like Chess and Div and for the responsibility to educate people on the issues affecting them. No wonder their community of snow lovers feels strongly about advocating for climate action so they can continue to enjoy this place they love in the future.

James Worsfold: Individuals and businesses across our alpine communities are calling for stronger action to cut climate pollution, but we need the industry as a whole to step up. The ski sector is facing an existential threat and it won’t go away if we just ignore it. Our industry, our ski resorts, have a responsibility to use their loud corporate voices for good.

They must show leadership on behalf of all of us, and act while we still can.

Georgia McDonald: Now, I’m sure you’re itching to see Chess and Divya’s film, [00:50:00] Maven, for yourself. The film is touring with Warren Miller’s All Time, and is part of the Eartiric’s Winter Film Tour. There are a heap of shows throughout July in our resorts.

Ski towns and cities across New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tassie. Head to warrenmiller. com. au to find a screening near you.

James Worsfold: All right. That’s all from us today. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast and do leave an honest review. It really helps get the POWer cast out there. Also follow Protect Our Winters Australia on socials.

Head to our website to become a member or to buy some merch. And the snow is now falling. So hopefully we will see you out there.

Georgia McDonald: Yeah. Thanks for joining us and stay stoked.