Visit any extreme sports channel and you’ll find surfers in remote regions shredding 50-foot waves, skiers crushing epic obstacle courses, and climbers summiting the world’s toughest accents. What won’t you see? Many women featured front and center.
Alenka Mali aims to change all that. The professional snowboarder and photographer aims to inspire the next generation of girls by creating more content showcasing women doing badass things—and by achieving some pretty serious adrenaline-filled accolades herself. “When you see a couple of girlfriends touring around the backcountry, even just a simple movie like that can inspire other girls to do it on their own,” she says.
Mali, who is currently competing on the Free Ride World Qualifiers Tour, says that growing up, she didn’t need to look far for inspiration. Her mother, Monica Kambic, was one of the world’s top alpinists and together with her father Klemen Mali (a premier climber in his own right), raised their children to embrace an adventurous life. “We spend a couple of months a year living in tents or a van or on the beach or in the mountains,” says Mali “I understood from an early age what my parents were chasing.”
The 23-year-old is also a passionate conservationist, an amateur base jumper, a skilled surfer, and so much more. Here’s what the newest BRANWYN ambassador has to say about her fascinating background and her bucket-list goals.
What was it like growing up with two alpinist parents?
I don’t think I appreciated my childhood until I got older, but I always felt very different from the other kids. We were home-schooled, living between South America and Europe. It was definitely not the normal domestic life, but I have so many good memories. Building tree forts, climbing, skiing, we were just free year-round.
My parents were alpinists. It’s just not sport climbing—it’s surviving going up a mountain and coming home alive. We understood that they might not return from an expedition, but it made sense in my mind. My parents inspired me. With freeriding, I can feel what they felt chasing their climbing dreams. I feel like they can understand me, too.
How did you get into freeriding?
Freeriding is big mountain riding. They give you a venue with cliffs and trees and you need to pick your line given the conditions that day. For me, it was a natural progression. I grew up skiing, switched to snowboarding, and then wanted to keep pushing my limits.
Freeriding could vary from powder to soft snow to ice and hard pack. The terrain is very technical and you have the freedom to introduce tricks, get some air, and show fluidity. What excites me most is the creativity, the free spirit—it’s really a sport with no rules.
Do you have any favorite snowboard memories?
In British Columbia where I live, there’s one couloir (a small shoot between rocks) called the “Glove Box.” In the middle of the line, you need to stop, make an anchor, and repel down a 30-foot cliff. I looked at it for years thinking, Can you even imagine?
One day, my friend and I decided that if we were feeling good the next morning we would go for the Glove Box. When we did it, it was the best feeling in the world. It felt like everything I ever did in my life brought me to that moment. It’s experiences like this that keep me going.
What are your next big goals?
Right now, I’m dedicating my life to freeride. I’m on the Freeride World Qualifiers Tour, trying to qualify for the World Tour. I’ve also been surfing and started base jumping last year.
I love the World Tour concept, but my goal isn’t really to be the best snowboard competitor. My heart is in the backcountry. I want to ski mountains no one’s ever skied before, and push the sport beyond where it is now in terms of terrain.
When did you become interested in sustainability?
I spent a few months in Bali. It’s such a beautiful place, but the plastic pollution is very bad. That was the first time it hit me how quickly our consumption can affect the environment. You buy a plastic bottle in a plastic bag—it goes from the river and then to the ocean.
I started neighborhood clean-ups, putting up posters and posting on Instagram. Back in Canada, I did some presentations at local elementary schools and organized beach clean-ups there, too. People want to get involved. I just make a date and say, hey, let’s do something.
BRANWYN Innerwear is the only thing I want to wear when I’m doing any kind of sport. My mom was a huge advocate of Merino years ago before anyone else was talking about it. Merino underwear feels warm when it needs to feel warm and cool when you need cooling; it dries fast and it just makes sense. BRANWYN specifically stood out to me because of its philosophy to support women who can inspire others to change the world.
What does it mean to you to be an inspiration to the next generation of girls?
I am who I am today because of my mom. She has been inspiring me my whole life. For years, has been taking young alpinists out on trips with her own money just to keep that next generation of climbers going. She understands how it was and still is to be a woman in a male sport—how extra hard you needed to work to establish yourself. She had to be more badass than anyone else.
For me, inspiring is all about seeing part of yourself in another person. If girls see me riding lines, they might think, Why not me? If she could do it, I can do it, too. It’s not being afraid of your weaknesses—showing your failures and your triumphs.