Earlier this year Briony May Johnson spent a large chunk of her Northern Hemisphere season in Myoko, Japan. After years of living in some of the snowiest destinations on the planet, Briony has manifested one of those styles that can't be taught — a combination of control and fluidity — which seems to comes so naturally to the 25-year-old Australian.
TASMAN TEAM is YES. Snowboards and SlidePath's brand new four-part series which celebrates their Australian and New Zealand team. We got to sit down with Briony to ask her about her life in and out of snowboarding, her plans for competing in the Freeride World Tour, what her thoughts are on the current state of female snowboarding, and much more.
It’s been a refreshing year for women in snowboarding. There’s been some female-only movies and even the recent announcement of the first all-women photo book. How does it feel being one of the important female figures in snowboarding?
Briony: And how exciting is it! It has been extremely rewarding to be a part of the growth in women's snowboarding. I never could have imagined that I would have been given these opportunities that put me in a position to become a role model for other female riders. I have always been one of those girls who look up to the women who are pushing the boundaries and doing extraordinary things in this sport, so to be able to be that person even for just one other female is a pretty incredible feeling. It makes me feel very proud to be involved in this movement that is encouraging girls and women more than ever to chase their dreams and “snowboard like a girl” because we are amazing.
You’re no stranger to an adventure. How and when did this passion start?
B: My family will tell you that I don't like to sit still — at all! So if I started a sport or hobby I took it head-on and never did things “half-assed” — it's 120% or nothing. So I think my sense of adventure started at a very young age, I have always loved being challenged and this just escalated when I got on my board. It wasn't enough to just ride in-bounds, I had to climb higher to get to the untouched lines. I think I enjoy the climb just as much as I enjoy the ride down.
And when did snowboarding come into the mix?
B: I was around 12 years old. I guess I can say I've spent over half of my life being attached to my snowboard. I can thank my brothers for being my role models — they were the inspiration to make the switch from skiing.
I saw your Hotham season got cut a little short. Where are you right now and what's been keeping you sane this winter?
B: A little short? Well, I put my uniform on for 3 hours... the shortest season ever lived. I am now living down in the valley in Porepunkah just outside of Bright so I'm lucky to still be amongst the mountains. I’m staying sane by hiking, running, bike riding, and finishing an online course in personal training. Staying fit and strong so when I can be on my snowboard my body will be more than ready to strap back in.
Are you still planning to get over to NZ for a season whenever the world allows?
B: Absolutely. I was all set up to make the move this season prior to the travel restrictions which forced me to make new arrangements, so I will get there. I’d love to think sooner than later, NZ definitely ticks all my boxes.
Seemed like your plans last summer for the FWT comps got pretty derailed due to COVID-19. How hard was this for you?
B: Everything I planned was derailed. I think I'm still grieving, this was and still is really heartbreaking for me. I had a big season of competitions lined up for the year, a trip booked and I got one competition in before COVID-19 struck. Because I decided this was the year I'd drop everything and just “go for it” — it's really taken some time for me to adjust, accept and move forward.
Any word on what is happening comp-wise in the Northern Hemi this coming summer?
B: We haven't yet heard what the plans are for the FWT and FWQ competitions this coming summer. I guess we just keep our fingers and toes crossed tightly and hope there's some light at the end of a long dark tunnel. I really feel for everyone involved in these competitions as it must just be hell trying to organise events when the future of travelling is unknown.
Are you still planning to continue down that FWT qualification road when the state of the world allows?
B: A big fat YES. The pandemic may have had a different vision for us all this year but mine are still intact for when the world reopens. I said to myself that at least I have to go and try, otherwise I'll kick myself whilst wondering, so when I can, I'll be going!
What would be your favourite place in Australia be to hold a freeride competition?
B: Hotham, of course! We have the terrain, there are a few of us up here that have a dream to hold a freeride comp down Avi Gully one day. This has been something that constantly gets brought up and I think it’s achievable given we get some of that quality Australian pow we all know is possible. I'm optimistic that we can make this happen one day.
Any big splitboard touring trips planned for the next year or so?
B: There were a few trips on the cards, but like all my plans this has also been canned. I’ve decided to not make plans at this stage and go with the flow; that way I can dodge disappointment haha, how sad! Every day I stare at my splitboard thinking about when I'll be able to get back on it, and as soon as I can start planning again I'll most likely be reliving my childhood where you dress up in all your gear the night before a snow trip. So maybe not in the foreseeable future, but it’s on my bucket list.
I bet you're itching for YES. to release a women's splitboard!?
B: I’ve been scratching for years now. But it’s coming, soon! I have a feeling the wait will be worth it and I'll be spending a lot more time touring when that day comes around. I’ve ridden the Optimistic splitboard which had me charging up and downhill, so I am very excited for what is to come for us female adventurers.
Australia can have some pretty sketchy weather. Have you had many “oh fuck” moments on your splitboard trips?
B: Oh yeah! I’ve been on trips where it’s been so icy that none of the group could grasp an edge. Every time we tried to make some distance touring we would slip out and slide all the way back down to the flat. I’ve had times where a storm has rolled in and I have been completely blindsided by a whiteout, of course, this happens on what started as a beautiful bluebird day — very typical Australian conditions where the weather changes at minimum five times a day. I have been lucky though, nothing that wasn't impossible to overcome but at the time all you can think is “oh fuck!”
As someone who has had their last two seasons completely upturned by the pandemic, I feel I need to ask you, what is/was your favourite COVID meme on Instagram?
B: Haha. There's too many! But there is one that reads “I CAN'T BELIEVE WE STAYED UP AND SCREAMED HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR THIS BULLSHIT!” I find this way too related considering how my year has panned out so far.
In your opinion, what are the chances that you will get back to Myoko this year and put another season in at your family's lodge, Refre Hotel?
B: This is a tough one to swallow. At this stage, I am losing a bit of hope, even though my parents are fighting to do everything they can to help me get home for the winter. I would go to the extremes to make it back to Myoko this year, so, for now, we have been taking it week by week and will try to remain positive that there may be a way for me to make it back to help run the lodge.
Congrats on just signing with Airblaster. You must be stoked!
B: A dream come true! I am SO stoked! I grew up riding in their gear so it was a special moment to sign on with them. They are an incredible company so I feel very honored to be representing the brand.
Just like YES., Airblaster has some industry veterans steering their ship. In your opinion, how important is it for snowboarders to be in control of snowboarding brands?
B: Extremely. And you can absolutely tell the difference when it is the snowboarders who are in control. Just like YES., Airblaster is passionate about creating products specific to snowboarders, they understand what is wanted, required, and they test it themselves. This is what I love so much about being supported by these brands who take such pride in their company, they care and listen to their riders and their customers. When I get to spend time with DCP, JP and Romain it blows me away how dedicated they are to snowboarding and the determination they have to deliver the best product.
Favourite thing you have witnessed whilst filming on a YES. trip?
B: JP feeding a monkey a banana. Yes, that did happen. We were at Shiga Kogen filming and came across a few in the street, he kept saying all he wanted to do was “feed a monkey a banana” — sure enough, he did and we then had the whole family of monkeys rock up didn't we! It was definitely a highlight for JP but also for the rest of us!
Current YES. board model and length you are riding?
B: I am riding a mix of the Hel Yes 152, the Hello 149 and the 420 145. Each of these boards travel with me everywhere — one of each type of day — however, my Hel Yes is definitely my go-to lady.
How many videos have you filmed with YES. so far?
B: Two so far; this year's video will be my first proper edit so it’s a very surreal moment for me to see this come to life and relive the trip all over again. I had the time of my life filming this edit so let's hope you all enjoy as much as I did!
And lastly, what advice would you give to other women (or guys) looking to get into the backcountry?
B: Listen and learn. Doing an AST course is a great start. I had a mentor — a few actually — who were a lot more experienced than me that I spent a lot of time learning from and following behind. I learnt how to be adaptable because mother nature always wins and I got to witness how they evaluate a face and what they were looking for when observing aspects and planning trips. My advice would be to never think you know everything, because mountains don't stop growing, so why should you? I am definitely still learning!