Burrell letting it pour atop the bar at Le Chamois, in Olympic Valley, California;
Michelle Groskopf
Burrell letting it pour atop the bar at Le Chamois, in Olympic Valley, California;
Burrell letting it pour atop the bar at Le Chamois, in Olympic Valley, California. Burrell’s comedy celebrates the joys of non-extreme. (Photos: Michelle Groskopf)

Meet the New Queen of Slopeside Fun

Katie Burrell has developed a brand around teaching winter-sports experts and strivers to chill out and share a laugh. Her upcoming film, ‘Weak Layers,’ revives the old party-hard ski comedy—with women at the center of the action.

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Le Chamois, which locals in Lake Tahoe, California, call the Chammy, is one of those ski-town bars that holds stories in its couches. Pro skiers and weekend warriors have made out and passed out on those leather sofas while the windows steamed after a deep powder day.

On this crisp, snowy night in early December, the Chammy is packed with people wearing bibs and beanies, though none of them have been out on the slopes. They’re extras in Weak Layers, a film starring and directed by Katie Burrell, a Canadian comedian, skier, and filmmaker who has made a name for herself in the outdoor world with her slapstick social media content. On-screen, Burrell calls herself a “professional leisure athlete,” which basically means she’s happy to sleep in, then ski the groomers until it’s après time.

In the bar, a stunt double for one of the lead actresses is rehearsing a complicated bit that involves tumbling over a table littered with beers, then cartwheeling over a chairlift hanging from the ceiling before bumping into actor and pro skier KC Deane, who in the script is identified simply as Hot Mystery Man.

One of the extras is pretending to be passed-out drunk on that chairlift swing in the middle of the bar. Burrell, offering direction, points to him and says with a straight face, “Shall we draw a dick on his cheek? Who has a Sharpie?”

The crowd erupts with laughter.

The stunt double practices her tumbling sequence over the table, but it’s more of a graceful dance than a drunken stumble. “It’s too pretty,” Burrell says. “Make it uglier.”

A podcaster once described Burrell as Canada’s Larry David. Her friends think she’s more like Tina Fey. She’s made a career out of poking fun at overly serious, hard-charging mountain-town folks, using the kind of inside jokes that only a fellow skier and mountain biker could pull off. The character she most often plays is a deadpan diva who may be lacking in athletic prowess but offers no shortage of one-liners.

In one video posted to TikTok, she’s seen skinning uphill in a storm. She says to an imaginary boyfriend off-screen, “No, I’m not OK. My feet are no longer with us. I’m holding a funeral for them. Maybe you’d like to say a few words? Like, ‘This is my fault.’ ”

There were bigger names featured in the 2022 Warren Miller film Daymaker, but Burrell arguably stole the show in a segment where she heli-skis with a group of pros, then squeaks her way into a Freeride World Tour contest, slowly taking the most timid line down the mountain. “Just because there are black diamonds, guys, that doesn’t mean we have to ski them,” she says in the film.

Burrell is, essentially, an influencer, though she doesn’t love that term. (She prefers entertainer.) But in the polished world of social media—home to those sun-kissed athletes, filmmakers, and activists who say all the right things and look impossibly fresh after a bike ride or trail run—Burrell is the opposite.

She’s intentionally disheveled, a hot mess with tangled hair and grass stains who’s not afraid to say out loud what we’re all thinking. If she’s influencing, it’s to encourage people to accept themselves where they’re at.

I’ve lived in a mountain town for more than a decade, so I get where Burrell is coming from. It’s not easy to fit into these communities. On top of the very real struggles such places currently face—a shortage of affordable housing, a workforce crisis putting small businesses in dire straits, and environmental threats like wildfire and drought—there are also less obvious social challenges. To earn coveted local status in places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Crested Butte, Colorado, you basically need to have been born there; otherwise, your social currency depends on your fitness level and tolerance for risk. The more ultramarathons you’ve run or 5.12’s you’ve climbed, the cooler you are.

Burrell’s satirical character celebrates mediocrity and reminds us that it’s OK to leave the climbing gym early for a glass of rosé. She lives in Revelstoke, British Columbia, a rugged mountain town sandwiched between the Monashee and Selkirk Ranges, and this M.O. isn’t all that different from her real life.

Years ago, Burrell went backcountry skiing on Rogers Pass, not far from her home, and she was so slow that her ski partners left her behind. At dinner that night they apologized. She was bewildered. “All you guys were doing was looking at each other,” she says. “Who’s the best? Go fast, fast, fast. Meanwhile, I’m going to potentially die out here.”

These sports, she adds, are Darwinian in nature. “You’re out in the wilderness, and no one wants to be back of the pack,” she says. “People are insecure, and society in mountain towns has created this way for people to feel good about themselves by being good at something. I just wasn’t that. So I felt like an outsider.”

In normal life off-screen, Burrell likes to wake up (not too early!), go for coffee, then ski casually for a half a day. In the summer, she’ll ride her favorite hourlong mountain-bike trail with her dog, Teddy. “Not everything needs to be a frickin’ epic,” she has said. “You shouldn’t always need gels.”

But behind the seemingly breezy alter ego, Burrell is ferociously hardworking. “My parents have joked since I was little, ‘Tell me I can’t do something and watch the fuck out,’ ” she says. She is in fact a seasoned skier, mountain biker, and trail runner, and she’s been hustling to build her own brand, Katie Burrell TV, for years. Now outdoor-industry companies are paying her legitimate money to make spoof content for the internet. Chances are you’ve clicked on her videos. Nearly 80,000 people follow her on Instagram.

Now Burrell is making her dream feature debut, slated for a theatrical release or streaming platforms next fall. It’s a raunchy romantic comedy set on the ski slopes of California’s legendary Palisades Tahoe. On the set of Weak Layers, in the steamy bar that night, sweating through her fleece while cracking crass jokes, is a woman who’s determined to build herself an empire.

Hanging out after a hard week on the set
Hanging out after a hard week on the set (Michelle Groskopf)
Hamming it up with a local young shredder, Avery Hamrick
Hamming it up with a local young shredder, Avery Hamrick (Michelle Groskopf)

Snow accumulates in layers. When a storm comes through, the new layer usually sticks to the one it falls on, making for a safe, stable snowpack. But sometimes new snow doesn’t adhere properly. Avalanche experts call that a weak layer. With additional snow piled atop, it becomes a wobbly sheet prone to collapse. And when it goes, it can cause the whole slope to slide. In Burrell’s usage, a weak layer is also someone who needs to figure their shit out.

Burrell and the Weak Layers crew arrived in Tahoe in mid-November 2022, with nothing on the ground and 23 days of filming ahead. If nature didn’t deliver, the producers would bring in truckloads of artificial snow. Luckily, a series of massive storms slammed the Sierra soon after, saving the producers about $15,000. (The film’s budget was less than $1 million.)

Burrell wrote the first draft of Weak Layers over two weeks in 2021, in a friend’s basement. She teamed up with Tahoe-based Realization Films—a company that includes Jared Drake, Steve Siig, and Mark Gogolewski, best known for their 2021 documentary Buried, about a 1982 avalanche in the area—to produce it. Los Angeles–based writer and former ski racer Andrew Ladd helped fine-tune the script.

The movie is about three girlfriends who are roommates in a ski town, including Burrell’s character, Cleo, who is a decade older than the other two. They’re getting evicted, and end up entering a ski-movie contest. The winnings would cover their rent, but they’re way out of their league, up against popular pro skiers and skilled filmmakers. Antics ensue.

Weak Layers is a coming-of-age saga about the transition from your wild twenties to figuring out who you really are. The characters are loosely based on Burrell and some of her college friends, who moved to Revelstoke after graduating and engaged in considerable debauchery.

“We were all single and living together in a ski town, so of course it was complete 22-year-old silliness,” says Carter Berton, one of Burrell’s best friends. “Anywhere Katie goes, she’s the life of the party.”

One scene in the movie was shot at a house on the west shore of Lake Tahoe that would be undergoing a major remodel, and the homeowners gave the crew permission to tear down walls and break windows. The night I visited the set, extras were all over the place, dressed in ski clothes and faking a party, with mountains of empty beer cans and a smoke machine.

It had snowed 20 inches the day before, and the heating system was off, so it was frigid inside. One of the starring actors, Jadyn Wong, was shoving hand-warmer pouches into her shoes to keep her feet from freezing. Wong’s stunt double that night was Tahoe freeskier Emily Tewksbury, who was on snowblades and standing on a tiled kitchen counter.

Someone shouted, “Action!” Tewksbury dropped off the counter onto a wooden ramp covered in snow, propelled herself across the living room, then launched through a window of fake glass made from sugar, which shattered on impact. Outside, extras hooted from a hot tub. Burrell was standing nearby, wearing a long, black down coat and a knit cap, looking all business. She hollered directions to the extras.

Wong, who was lying in the snow next to the hot tub during her stunt double’s crash through the window, resumed character. “Too many beers!” she shouted as she sat up, bewildered. Everyone in the hot tub cheered.

“Do you want to do it again?” Burrell asked when the cameras stopped rolling.

“Sure,” Wong said. “How do you want it?”

“Like, more ‘What the fuck?’ ” Burrell said.

Wong did it again, with a feral look in her eyes this time, calling out, “Too many beers!”

More cheers. “Perfect,” Burrell said. It was a wrap.

Burrell grew up on Vancouver Island, known for its old-growth forests, craggy beaches, and blue-collar towns. She learned to ski as a toddler at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, a no-frills ski area with a view of the ocean, where people wear jeans with ticket wickets flapping off their unzipped jackets.

She was an only child who acted in high school plays and entertained her parents’ friends at dinner parties. While studying political science at McGill University in Montreal, she developed a crush on a guy who did stand-up comedy in local clubs. She went to watch him and thought: Hey, I could do that.

“I went through a long period of time thinking I wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress,” Burrell says. “Then I found stand-up, where it didn’t matter what you looked like.” Her college comedy routine centered on issues that her peers could relate to, like drinking 40’s in the library or making to-do lists that only involved waking up and taking a shower. Her act had the same let’s-lower-the-bar tone that she uses today.

But her determination was already evident back then. In one routine, she talks about playing a game of Never Have I Ever, in which she’s vastly ill-equipped, experience-wise. “Fuck your slutty drinking game,” she says on stage. “Let’s play One Day I Fucking Will. I will fucking dominate.” (In college, Burrell worked a construction job, where she learned to curse like she’s in a Tarantino flick.)

After graduating in 2010, she wasn’t ready for the real world yet. It’s the classic story: she and her friends moved to Revelstoke for a winter to ski, and now most of them are still there. In her twenties, Burrell worked a smattering of jobs—community manager for gearmaker Salomon, copywriter, and lodge staffer for a heli-ski company, where she monopolized the dinnertime entertainment.

She kept doing comedy on the side. In 2013, she founded the town’s Stoke FM Comedy Festival, in partnership with the local radio station. She hosted a morning radio show, riffing about ski photographers and boyfriends trying to kill her on the mountain. At the festival, Canadian comic Ivan Decker heard Burrell’s bit and told her, “You’re funny, man. You should move to the city and do this.”

In 2015, she left Revelstoke with plans to make it in Vancouver. By day she worked in marketing for a corporate law firm and planned to apply to law school; by night she performed in clubs. A breakup at age 28 sent her into a spiral of depression; her weak layer, you might say, had collapsed. She started therapy and the process of figuring things out. “I realized I didn’t want to do stand-up as a fun hobby,” she says. “I wanted to be an entertainer.”

In 2017, on a group hiking trip with her friend and guide Leah Evans, Burrell met a documentary filmmaker named Colleen Gentemann. They talked for 12 hours straight, brainstorming ideas for content they felt was lacking in the ski and outdoor industries.

Gentemann landed a $10,000 grant from Storyhive, a Canadian organization that funds emerging filmmakers, and she and Burrell made Influencer, an eight-minute short, shot in 2018, that features Burrell as both an outdoor social media wannabe and the academic researcher who studies her. It got 33,000 views on YouTube, not bad for two relative unknowns.

The duo set out to create more. “I wanted to make a movie about women doing exceptional things in the ski industry,” Gentemann says. “I approached Katie and said, ‘Can we make this funny?’ ”

Armed with a bigger grant this time ($50,000), they made Dream Job, a 2019 film in which Burrell ditches a desk job in marketing and shadows prominent women in the ski industry—including Evans, founder of a women’s ski camp, and Christina Lustenberger, an extreme skier and a mountain guide. The flick, a surprise hit, was nominated for best movie at the Powder Awards that year and won the award for best action-sports documentary at England’s Kendal Mountain Festival.

Looking fierce on the hill
Looking fierce on the hill (Michelle Groskopf)
Catching rays with a ski-town canine—who looks like a fan
Catching rays with a ski-town canine—who looks like a fan (Michelle Groskopf)

While on tour with Dream Job, Burrell performed stand-up at ski-town venues around North America and Europe. Her strongest jokes have always been the ones that make fun of her own audience. “She will say things that we’re all thinking, and then she’ll turn it into a joke,” says Evans. “She uses us as her subjects.”

In January of 2020, Burrell and Gentemann were in Japan filming a short comedy called Coach, starring Freeride World Tour competitors Hedvig Wessel and Lorraine Huber, with Burrell as narrator and interloper. Inside a 7-Eleven, a random woman poked Burrell in the arm and said, “Are you Katie Burrell?”

“I was like, ‘Am I arrested? What did I do? Did I sleep with your boyfriend?’ ” Burrell jokes. That was the first time she was recognized.

If anyone gets credit for discovering Burrell, it’s Gentemann. “In the beginning we were like, What are we doing? Do we build a marketing agency? A production company?” Gentemann says. “I suggested to Katie: Let’s build a brand around your name, your talent. She was really what attracted the attention.”

When COVID hit in early 2020, Burrell moved into Gentemann’s house in Revelstoke, where they edited Coach together. Burrell had gone into credit-card debt to fund the project, right when film and marketing budgets were getting slashed and their work dried up. “Everyone was like, Jump for your dreams,” Burrell recalls. “I’m like, Yo, it’s not a leap, it’s a free fall. It was a nightmare.”

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before brands were paying micro-influencers to create content, and Katie Burrell TV gained traction, with work from gear companies like Arc’teryx and Völkl. “We couldn’t leave the house,” Gentemann says, referring to the virus lockdowns. “So we started making social content, and one thing led to the other. Every time we released something, another brand would reach out.”

Their 2020 video Still Solo, a spoof of Free Solo made in partnership with Arc’teryx, casts Burrell as a lonely barista, pining after handsome pro skier Sam Kuch, who appears not to notice her. These videos aren’t what a marketing director in a tidy office would come up with. They’re borderline inappropriate, sometimes lampooning the very customers they’re trying to reach. Which is why it works.

“Katie never follows the guidelines,” says her friend Zoya Lynch, a freelance photographer in Revelstoke. “She just goes rogue.”

It’s the morning after the wrap party for Weak Layers, and Burrell is late to meet me because she’s stuck in ski traffic on a powder Saturday. Everyone else is hungry to get there earlier, go harder, stay out longer. Burrell would rather sleep in.

At last night’s party, which went well past 2 A.M., she managed to cut herself off after just two and a half drinks, and she got a whole five hours in the sack. At the party, she also gave six of the crew members WL tattoos, using a tat pen somebody brought. “I made sure they looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘Yes, I want you to do this,’ ” Burrell says.

She describes making the movie as one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of her life. “This was my Everest,” she says, completely serious.

A few days after the party, I meet Burrell at a nail salon. “My character in the film has trash nails, so I haven’t been able to get mine done in weeks,” she says. She picks bright red.

In a mountain town, it’s easy to get caught up in the extreme bubble, surrounded by superfit people obsessed with doing the next raddest thing. That life doesn’t leave much room for normal things like this.

In Weak Layers, the regular, not too rad folks are called nobodies. “Nobodies are the fabric of mountain towns who don’t get any credit, like the dishwashers, the valets, the people who share rooms because they love a sport,” Burrell says. “They don’t wear their goggles the right way. They’re not cool, they’re not celebrated. They just love what they do.”

The movie is outlandish comedy, but it’s also based in the reality of mountain living, with everyone out to prove that they belong at the front of the pack. Burrell’s character is solidly back of the pack—and in the end, she realizes she can be proud of that.

Burrell, who’s now 35, recently bought her first home, a double-wide trailer on a tenth of an acre on the outskirts of Revelstoke. “It may be a mobile home, but it’s decorated with West Elm,” she jokes.

Her growing fan base includes a lot of women her age. Some tell her they’ve been doing outdoor sports for a while but don’t fit in, and her videos give them a sense that they’re not alone. “She has this way of making people feel comfortable and seen and heard,” says Gentemann.

As far as Burrell is concerned, she’s still happily a nobody, faking it until she makes it. “I feel like I was standing in the right place at the right time, and someone was like, ‘You,’ ” she says. “And I’m like, ‘Who, me? Are you sure about that?’ ”