Jess Kimura is Raising the Bar for Urban Snowboarding
Whether she’s mentoring the next generation of female street riders or shredding urban handrails, Kimura always keeps it real.
There’s a strong argument to be made that street riding—basically the wintertime equivalent of urban skateboarding—is the most creative expression of the sport. And no one rides as hard, or is as inventive, as Jess Kimura, one of the newest members to The North Face’s snow team. While she’s been injured so many times she’s earned the nickname Danger Pony, Kimura has also been rewarded for her ingenuity and fearlessness with countless awards. She’s also typically the only woman featured in the sport’s gritty street films.
That gender gap is one of the reasons Kimura recently added “filmmaker” to her résumé. Instead of sitting on her ass (her words) for the past two seasons while recovering from surgeries, Kimura decided to pick up the camera. The resulting film, The Uninvited, which debuts this October, is the first-ever all-women’s street riding film. “I wanted to create a path to sponsorship for these women,” says Kimura. The film is as raw and honest as she is, and all the more impressive considering that she financed the entire project out of her own pocket.
Street riding taught Kimura to be methodical. Although she’s fearless, she didn’t learn to street ride by hopping on handrails above unforgiving urban staircases. “I started by drawing a line in the snow and trying to ride straight down it,” she says. Later, to mimic a rail, she’d bury a PVC pipe in the snow so only an inch stuck out. She built her skills in increments, while also building resilience. “I learned that failure was part of the process,” Kimura says. “That’s what adventure teaches you—how to find and push your limits. It can make life so much more productive.
That’s what adventure teaches you—how to find and push your limits. It can make life so much more productive.
While urban exploration is at the core of street riding, Kimura hails from the small town of Vernon, British Columbia, and now lives in Whistler. To street ride, she travels to metropolitan areas rich with hills and snow. Once there, she and her crew scout locations, imagine possibilities, and then wait for a storm so they can ride handrails, stadium steps, and parking garage walls. Then it’s game on as they shovel snow into ramps, landing hills, and transitions, often at night, when the streets are deserted. “It’s kind of like parkour but on your snowboard,” says Kimura. “Except on a snowboard you might ride a rail and then drop off a two-story building. It feels more real and more impressive because you make the terrain—not some resort. I’ve had an imagination like a disease since I was a child, and street riding satisfies that part of my brain.”
Kimura loves urban snowboarding because it demands style of creativity, but also because the adventure of street riding is accessible to the masses—and taking an inventive approach to exploring urban areas. “Growing up, I could afford nothing,” she says. “With street riding, all you need is a snowboard and a shovel. You don’t need a season pass, or an address in a fancy resort town.” As evidence of that geographic diversity, The Uninvited was filmed in Salt Lake City, Utah; Sapporo, Japan; and Helsinki, Finland, among other cities. The undisputed epicenter of street riding, though, is Quebec City, for more than the terrain and the climate: “People in Quebec don’t call the cops on you for street riding,” says Kimura. “Maybe it’s because it snows so much there that people are happy to see you digging out the stairways.”
Filmmaking is just the latest adventure Kimura is taking on; her next chance to learn. “After surgery, I gave myself one week to mope. Then I got off my ass. Figuring out how to make this film is the mental equivalent of taking all the physical risks of street riding. But it’s more meaningful because I’m creating an opportunity for the women coming up behind me.”
The North Face believes in celebrating the spirit of exploration that lives within us all. From the mountain to the city, they believe that all explorers share a mindset of curiosity paired with the courage to try something new. This 4-part series also includes a climbing prodigy from New York City and an explorer with creative passions just as varied as his climbing ones. | Hero photo credit: Aaron Blatt