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Scratching the Surface

Reading Time: 8 minutes

A conversation exploring creativity, snowboarding, and what allyship really means

Sofia Jaramillo and Emilé Zynobia are friends and women of color working to create a space for themselves and other BIPOC in the outdoor world. Sofia Jaramillo is a professional photographer, shooting for major news publications like the New York Times and National Geographic, and a variety of outdoor brands. Emilé Zynobia is a professional snowboarder and environmental writer, who came to Jackson Hole for the first time at age 13 and fell in love with snowboarding, the mountains, and the people. In addition to her freelance life, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Management at Yale University. Along with other Jackson locals of diverse backgrounds, Sofia and Emilé are part of the growing BIPOC mountain community. The pair have found synergy collaborating on projects for The North Face and Patagonia, with many more stories and projects already in the pipeline.

In the following conversation, Sofia and Emilé dive into what creativity means to them, explore their relationships to snowboarding as women of color and discuss what allyship really means.

Emilé Zynobia: Sofia, you’ve become quite an accomplished photographer over the last couple of years. What is one piece of advice you would give to photographers who aspire to the level of careership you’ve attained?

Sofia Jaramillo: I would say shoot the work you love and trust it’ll take you where you’re supposed to go. I had a really good friend tell me that one day, and it definitely rings true in my life. How do you push yourself?

Emilé skinning up Teton Pass in the mid-winter sun. Photo: Sofia Jaramillo

Emilé: I think under external physical environmental stresses or stressors, you really learn about how much you’re capable of—I don’t regularly love to suffer at that level, but I always think it’s a good reminder and puts a lot of life into perspective. So many people, due to various circumstances, don’t have the comforts we have.

Sofia: I can relate to that and why we love being in the mountains, regardless of the conditions. When you are presented with those stressors in the mountains, you’re reminded of your connection to the earth and how you can persist through struggle. Where do you draw inspiration and/or creativity from?

Emilé: I think it’s always sort of a moving target. Currently, I’m drawing inspiration from a lot of the women in snowboarding. It is incredible to witness how much women have been able to achieve in the last couple of years with films like The Uninvited, Full Moon, and Facets. It makes me think about the ways I am holding myself back and whether I can push myself in a similar way… In the midst of this pandemic, I’m drawing inspiration from the mundane—we’re all spending a lot more time close to home. It’s beautiful to root into the simple acts that sustain us through the days.

Sofia: Absolutely. I think that there are so many incredible women, especially in Jackson. I’ve been inspired by so many of them. In some ways, the women here are at a different level and it encourages you to push yourself. For me, that was a surprise. I didn’t think that the women here would be what inspired me. I thought it was going to be the mountains, but it’s all about interacting with women in the mountains. My creativity ebbs and flows, and there are times when I need to find an artistic outlet in something that isn’t my work. So I do pottery. It is art just for myself, and that’s kind of a way that I’m able to refill my creativity well. As someone who is creative for work, you’re always expected to be creative, so therefore you also need to do the work to replenish that creativity when it’s low. It’s not a realistic expectation to think that people can always be consistently creative.

Emilé: Yes, like a muscle you have to work. I find that between school and the amount of writing work I’ve been getting, I’ve definitely come close to the point of burnout. It’s a new place for me to be because honestly, I wouldn’t have really done much writing without you pushing me to write for Patagonia. Now writing is a real possibility for me. And so now it’s not just about having the cool one-off piece, but exploring how you make the creative flow sustainable. What other than pottery helps you replenish your creativity?

Sofia: When I’m hanging out with my friends or going on a backpacking trip just shooting for myself. Or leaving my camera at home, and going out and having adventures without the camera.

Emilé: The times that refresh me are those moments where I just like to be goofy and kind of like a kid again, where there isn’t any sort of purpose or outcome. I definitely find that in the mountains.

Sofia: I think that’s why I like shooting with snowboarders because, in some ways, you are more playful than the skiers I go out with.

Sofia and Emilé enjoying a day on Teton Pass. Photo: Dave Ryder

Emilé: I snowboarded for the first time at 13, when my grandparents started raising me and brought me to Jackson. Every winter from then on, I fell in love, I was absolutely obsessed. I still have all of those early copies of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. I have them stacked in my closet. I followed all the local characters, but I really wasn’t that good for many years. I sort of stuck with it because it gave me so much joy, and it fed me. I’ve been so lucky to be in Jackson Hole long enough to meet many of my idols, and even get to ride and make a few turns with some of them. Once I got to college, I was able to snowboard more consistently. I went to school in Montana and the snow was just as epic there. Then I graduated and moved back to Jackson and kept snowboarding for like six, seven years. Then finally I went back to graduate school. But with the pandemic, now I’m back. I’m so grateful to sort of be at this point where I get to do it and someone like you wants to take my picture. Getting to this point makes me feel like anything is possible and, honestly, snowboarding has always been this vehicle that’s made me feel like anything is possible.

Sofia: I definitely feel like you deserve to be highlighted as a snowboarder. I love working with you because you’re a great person and you’re fun to be around. And you can shred. But I also see so much potential in you, and I think that’s one of the reasons I love photography, because it helps me see the light in everyone.

Emilé: Damn, that’s a compliment. Thank you!

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Sofia: Okay, so you started snowboarding when you were 13. And after college, it sounds like you got to do it a lot more. What does it mean to you now?

Emilé: I’ve been thinking about this more and more because like, you know, I’m approaching 30, and it’s definitely that point in my life where people—well at least society—tells you that you should be on a particular path. I’m finding that I feel better than ever snowboarding and l know that I want to do this for as long as I can. So it’s definitely making me consider what that means for my trajectory. I think what it means to me, at this point, is tied to my identity as a Black woman, a woman of color. I recognize that a lot of BIPOC women carry a great deal of pain, and snowboarding is a way that I can access that sort of inner-play, inner-child, and inner-joy that is healing.

Sofia: That’s interesting to talk about, that shortened childhood joy. I didn’t think about it that way.

Emilé: So many of us don’t get to be kids or we’re forced to grow up really quickly. I think these are really important spaces for everyone to be able to access. There are high rates of abuse in all its forms and I’ve certainly suffered from that. And, you know, there’s nothing that heals me like getting to fly off of something into some powder, that just allows me to enter into embodied healing. What made you end up choosing photography as your career path? Was there an element of fear, a leap of faith of sorts?

Photo: Sofia Jaramillo

Sofia: There was never fear. I was always just very certain that it was what I wanted to do. I was about 15 when I went on a road trip with my dad and he lent me a point-and-shoot camera. I took this one picture of a lighthouse, and somehow, miraculously, it turned out really good. I looked at that picture and felt like damn, this is like opening Christmas presents. I want to do this over and over again. But there certainly was fear going freelance and running my own business. I had a really good mentor in Seattle, an amazing documentary photographer and he told me, “You just got to jump off the cliff and have faith that all will work out.” And I never forgot those words and I think that’s always really inspired me at different steps in my career to pursue things, regardless of whether the answer is guaranteed.

Emilé: How does your Latina background inform your photography?

Sofia: Well, I grew up in a very white ski town as a Colombian American woman and I didn’t see anyone who looked like me besides my dad. I didn’t see people like me hiking in the kids camps that I used to go to, or on the ski slopes. So for me, what photography does is give me the opportunity to make those images that I didn’t see when I was a kid. And in turn, hopefully, be able to inspire the next kid.

Emilé: I think a question that you and I have both been thinking about is how do we want to see snow sports evolve and change? What do you think is going well and what do you think needs improvement?

Sofia: A big thing for me that I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year, is that representation is a good first step, but then actually showing real support. That’s the next big follow-through that needs to happen from brands in the snow industry. This can come in many different ways. It can come through sponsorship, or by including more people of color in shoots and films. I’d like to see films that are all BIPOC, but I’d also like to see films that have equal parts, white people and BIPOC. Hopefully we’re gonna get there someday…

Emilé: I think a lot of the industry is hammering in on representation, but again, that’s just one piece and that support needs to come in the form of product and financial support. Not just to individuals, but to community organizations who are doing the work. More than anything, I’d love to see brands doing their own work internally. The fact that 73 million people voted for Trump shows us that there’s so much work that still needs to be done across the country, Every community needs to do their own anti-racism work. I think it’s a major problem in society and why wouldn’t that bleed into snow sports?

Sofia: Yeah and for people not to rely on BIPOC folks to do that work for them. Being a true ally is going beyond just making sure that there is diverse representation. I think a really good place to start is for anyone who’s involved in the industry to take steps on their own to understand anti-racism—again, without asking BIPOC folks to do that work for them. That is another reason I’m so passionate about anti-racism work and elevating BIPOC is because I recognize my privilege as a white-passing person of color and as someone of mixed race. I feel a sense of duty to use that privilege to elevate others.

Emilé: Yea, frankly, what I want more than anything is to see more of us out there. Jackson Hole and winter sports are very exclusive. I think there are some people who are really getting it right. And I definitely want to shout out people like Robin Van Gyn and Michelle Parker, who are really using their platforms to advocate for anti-racism work and for Indigenous peoples. Not to mention the many BIPOC folks like Vasu Sojitra and Brooklyn Bell. We need more people, more athletes, advocating for and committing to this shift. That’s real allyship, right?

Sofia Jaramillo is a Latina adventure photographer and filmmaker based out of Jackson. Her mission is to uplift and tell the stories of BIPOC athletes and friends.

Emilé Zynobia is a budding writer and adventurer. Follow her journey and kernels of keen wisdom.

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