Episode 57: Speak Up, Not Over with Vasu Sojitra
We're back for August with brand new episodes! This week we have Vasu Sojitra joining us on the show. As a professional athlete, Adaptive Sports Director at Eagle Mount Bozeman, and Coordinator at Earthtone Outside MT, Vasu keeps himself busy. Vasu shares his mission to elevate the voices of underrepresented folks in the outdoor industry, how he navigates skiing's bro culture, barriers to entry in snow sports, and our word of the month, Alignment.
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Lisa: Hi, welcome back to Outside by Design.
Iris: Hey, hey, we’re back.
Lisa: This is Lisa.
Iris: And Iris.
Lisa: Your hosts from Wheelie, a creative agency for people who thrive outside. You may have noticed that we took the month of July off, you may not have noticed, that’s fine too. But July is insane at Wheelie because we do so much execution of photoshoots and design and the rest of the year is heavily based on strategy and then July is really the month where the execution happens. So we had to put the podcast on hold.
Iris: But don’t worry, we’re back and better than ever.
Lisa: Ooh ooh!
Iris: And this week we have an incredible guest.
Lisa: We do. He is a badass.
Iris: This week we have Vasu Sojitra. He is Adaptive Sports Director at Eagle Mount Bozeman, Coordinator at Earthtone Outside Montana, as well as the very first adaptive athlete for the North Face and a professional athlete. So he’s got a lot going on. And Vasu’s here to talk about his personal mission, he likes to say that he is ninjasticking through the woods to bring intersectionality to the outdoors. So he talks about his work elevating the voices of underrepresented people in the outdoor industry, he talks about finding balance in his life, and learning to listen with a capital L, and all sorts of juicy things.
Lisa: And he also touches on our new word of the month, can’t forget about the word of the month.
Iris: The word of the month for August is:
Robot Computer Voice: Alignment.
Robot Computer Voice: Alignment.
Iris: And what does alignment mean?
Lisa: An arrangement in a straight line or in correct or appropriate relative positions, or a position of agreement or alliance.
Iris: Well we will get quite a few different opinions on the word alignment and what it means in the lives of our guests this month. And without further ado, let’s listen to Vasu.
Lisa: So Vasu, thanks so much for being here today.
Vasu: Yeah, definitely. Thanks for having me.
Lisa: And the first thing we ask everyone is to describe where you are in the world and what you're looking at.
Vasu: I'm currently located on Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Salish, Kootenai, and many other ancestral lands here in Bozeman, Montana. Now, it's… now that is known as Bozeman, Montana. And currently I'm just looking at my green backyard and my friend’s tent that's drying apparently… I was wondering why that was there.
Vasu: There's some mountains in the back and everything like that, which is what I enjoy and love to be around.
Lisa: Nice. Nice. And can you just introduce yourself to our audience who, like I said, is a lot of photographers and creatives in the outdoor industry.
Vasu: Sure. My name is Vasu Sojitra. My pronouns are he/him/his and I am a first-generation American born to parents that immigrated here from India and I'm also a person that has a disability. I am a right leg amputee above the knee and use crutches 24/7 to do all the activities that I do. I'm also the Adaptive Sports Director for a non-profit year called he Eagle Mount Bozeman that helps people with disabilities, folks affected with cancer and Veterans as well as their family members recreate outside on our lands. And also one of the founders and coordinators for Earth Tone Outside Montana to help elevate people of color in the outdoors primarily focusing on Montana. And then also a professional athlete. Headline sponsor is the North Face as well as a few other smaller ones.
Lisa: Wow, so many things. That's exciting.
Vasu: Yeah, super fun.
Lisa: Yeah, and I got on your website and I love... I love the writing that says “ninja sticking through the woods to bring intersectionality to the outdoors.”
Lisa: Tell us about that. That's a cool sentence.
Vasu: Yeah, I mean as you start following along and start understanding what those words mean, for me, ninja sticking is my crutches. I call them ninja sticks, and me using them as a verb would be ninja sticking. And.... Yeah, I predominantly wander around in the woods in the mountains enjoying everything that they have to offer and gift us. And I try to share that to other populations that might not have the privileges to do so. And that intersectionality part is that connection because I identify as a person of color and a person with a disability, those are my two major focuses, but also try to intersect the other minorities that might not have the same opportunities in the US as some of the more privileged folks and majority that are primarily focused in outdoor media currently. I try to elevate those voices and stories as best as I can. Always open to feedback.
Lisa: That’s cool. I have a fun question for you. Well, I think it's fun. How long have you lived in Montana?
Vasu: I've lived on these lands for about five years. Four and a half right now.
Lisa: Cool. Cool. I, uh... my car died about seven years ago. So I've been around here for seven years. So I'm curious. Do you... I noticed the way you speak about land, you're calling out the ancestral lands, which I think is awesome. So do you ever identify as a Montanan? Or like, how do you think of yourself in relation to place?
Vasu: No, I don't identify as Montanan or anything like that. The way I identify is how I identified with you, how I introduced myself as a person of color with a disability. Right now, I know - and I usually say living on stolen land as well - and I think as an outdoor industry, we have to start realizing that the privileges we have are because of the sacrifices and the atrocities that have happened to a lot of populations before us and ancestors before us. And that's why I try to shed light on that in the best way possible, the ways that I know of and try to connect with those communities in a way that helps elevate their stories as well.
Lisa: And what platforms are you finding resonate with you the most to share those stories?
Vasu: I mean, I primarily… and social media is the biggest part of being an athlete nowadays it seems like, and competing as well. But I probably just use media and marketing to elevate these stories and try to potentially educate people if they are open to listening. And then also I try to focus my time and energy into community organizing and the communities here in Bozeman and in Montana to try to, again, elevate the minorities that don't have a seat at the table when it comes to outdoor issues, outdoor industry.
Lisa: Cool, I think you also do a good job, it seems, you know, you're... you're like, oh, yeah, we just were taking kids out... So it seems like you're finding a good balance between digital and like real human connection and going outside.
Vasu: Yeah, I mean, my… I mean, it's not like the stuff I put on my social is not like the fake stuff that some other influencers might be putting up, who knows. I don't know their lives. But yeah, I mean, I try to practice what I preach every day, every hour, every minute, as much as possible and put it into action as much as I can in a way that's sustainable for me and my skills. So I'm an athlete and I know how to coordinate outdoor activities. So I try to use those skills to build those communities through the organizations I work for.
Lisa: That's fantastic and that kind of ties in to the theme of our podcast. So every month, we have, like, a word that every guest discusses and your word is alignment. And I'm curious. What does that look like to you? What does that feel like to you? What comes up when you hear the word alignment?
Vasu: Alignment. Well, that's like, I feel like that's synonymous to balance. And alignment, balance, for me, is just understanding my privileges as a cis mail and being able to leverage that privilege to help elevate the communities that are most affected by systemic issues like racism and sexism and ableism and all the isms that are out there. And just, yeah, aligning my goals with the community's goals as much as possible in a way that finds that alignment and balance between the two. Yeah, it's... it seems like it's working out. It's exhausting, but it works. A lot of people time and a lot of listening, active listening, unlearning a lot of information that I've been quote unquote brainwashed through school and media that tells me that me as a brown person with a disability shouldn't be doing a lot of these things. Where as, you know, trying to break that down and learn that we are all human and we are of these lands that we have to utilize it in line with a lot of these issues that are happening around us. No matter how many times people say stop bringing politics into it, politics has always around us no matter how hard we try to get away from it. And if you can get away from it, that's a privilege in itself.
Lisa: Mmm. There's a lot there. What does it feel like to you when you're out of alignment and like, what do you do when you get that feeling?
Vasu: I feel like the word self care is a buzzword nowadays. I just try to take care of my body and my mind as much as possible. On a cognitive level, on a physical level, on a spiritual level, whatever that would be. Maybe spend time with friends that I'm really close to, talk to them, hang out with them, do things I enjoy, go trail running - right now. It's summertime and I do a lot of trail running. When it's winter time I go skiing with my friends and occasionally go skiing alone just to decompress. Sleep a lot if I need to, sometimes that helps. Sometimes it doesn't. Yeah, we had an overnight camp out with 15 kids with disabilities last night or two nights ago, and that's definitely heartwarming, but it's also draining of my emotional capacity. So still feeling it a little bit even though I slept well and you know, took care of myself and ate well and all that stuff, but it's still... still have to determine good ways to fuel that part of me as well. And that's kind of how I realign, rebalance, self care, whatever words people want to use to describe getting back to homeostasis. Yeah, that's kind of about it.
Lisa: Yeah, and what... what if you're not feeling alignment with an organization that you're working with or an organization that wants to work with you. Like how do you know how to like... how do you trust in your own sense of alignment at that point?
Vasu: So if like our missions don't overlap?
Vasu: Is that what you’re trying to get at? That's, of course, a hard one. I mean, I put out what I do as an athlete, I don't talk... I try not to talk about myself in a lot of the work I do and try to de-center myself in a lot of the conversations even though I do identify as a minority in this country. So I kind of find this balance between talking about myself a little bit but also talking about a lot of the populations that are affected that might identify as something I identify as. And if an organization or company doesn't see that, then I don't... I don't need to be with them. That's pretty much it. I... I told my friend who's potentially getting sponsored by a major company that same exact thing.
But again, that, for me, comes with privilege. I have these three jobs. I have another job of helping my brother manage some properties and stuff. So, you know, I do have financial backing in case I don't my athletic career comes to a stop. Whereas, I know a lot of folks do not have that. So... and that's why I can say all those words prior to this.
Lisa: Mmm-hmm. And it's, I think, a positive thing for the industry that you are kind of... you're staying really, really in line with your values and your mission statement in order to use your voice.
Vasu: Yeah, for sure, and I'm not... like, I've stopped being apologetic to a lot of these issues just because if you don't understand and don't want to listen to us, then that's... not your, but that's their fault, I'd say, I think. There's a lot of information out there. There's also people talking about this all the time. The number one thing I tell folks that want to understand a lot of these minority populations is to just show up to spaces that are open to all identities and just listen, instead of impulsively explaining your rhetoric and your perspective onto other people that have been affected by the systems that are in play in this country. Just showing up is such a big part of doing the work. And then of course Listening with the capital L is another big part of doing this work as well.
Lisa: Yeah, earlier you used the phrase active listening which I really like, and what like, what does that look like to you? And, and how can you kind of turn that into advice for people who are interested in Listening with a capital L?
Vasu: I'd say just kind of be a fly on the wall. I mean you can speak up about some of the issues but you don't to speak over people when it comes to a lot of these issues. Again, me being a man and having that privilege of the patriarchy behind me, I try not to speak over women but in line with them as much as possible in a way that helps elevate their stories and not just my perspective. And the way I do it is through action, of showing up. And if I was in a group full of mostly dudes who are being sexist or whatever, I do speak up and call them out on it as graciously as I can, sometimes it comes pretty aggressive. But, you know, sometimes the rhetoric that they're using is also incredibly aggressive. So it's definitely a hard balance there.
But yeah. It's a lot of listening and then putting into action what is needed to be used. Yeah. If that makes sense.
Lisa: It does.
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Iris: So Lisa, I love what Vasu has to say about speaking up, not speaking over. So listening to people who have different experiences than you and not trying to tell them how they feel. Just sitting back and listening and learning.
Lisa: Absolutely. And I really appreciate that listening and learning go hand in hand and you can’t really have one without the other. So I think it’s a very relevant point.
Iris: And if you’re going to be an ally, you have to stop and listen instead of speaking over people who are trying to help you and educate you.
Lisa: That’s right.
Iris: And then put that learning into action. So let’s keep listening to what Vasu has to say.
Lisa: You kind of touched on a question I have written down for you, because you're an athlete. I don't know how much you identify with like, typical athlete culture or kind of like where the industry has been in the past, but I'm curious how you navigate what the ski industry kind of calls “bro culture” and how you try to dismantle it. Or I guess how you feel about that.
Vasu: Oh, I love skiing. Don’t get me wrong. That's definitely my... one of my top passions in the world right now, but I despise ski culture. That's definitely true. And I do not like hanging out with the bree/brahs or anyone like that.
It's just... too toxic and doesn't really do anything positive for the world other than just promote narcissism. And I try to… I don’t avoid it, I just don't spend my energy trying to educate people that might not want to even listen. And again, I try to hang out with friends that are listening or create communities that are open to listening.
We, at Eagle Mount, the adaptive sports organization, we have a ski program up at Bridger and there's not much of that kind of culture in our ski office, which is great, just because it doesn't really condone it or it doesn't really percolate any of that kind of information just because of what the needs of that community are - of our community, the disability community are. And the volunteers kind of realized that as they spend more and more time there, that it's more empathetic and lot more emotional than 99% of the mountain, potentially, who knows. And that's the cool part of being part of that. I in no way started Eagle Mount or the ski program. I'm just one of the directors and enjoy doing the work I do. Yeah, it's cool to be at least a part of that that doesn't promote that bree/brah culture and narcissism. It's more of sharing your enjoyment with folks that might not have the same opportunities as you.
Lisa: Absolutely. Can I ask you more questions about this?
Lisa: Okay. So, you said that you despise ski culture, so I would love to have you just talk about that a little bit because I think our audience needs to hear what you have to say about that. We have a very big audience of like action sports photographers.
Vasu: Well, right now ski culture, if you look through anyone's Instagram, any kind of ski movie or whatever. It is predominantly white dudes and white women. And I know there's a lot of skiers out there that aren't, don't identify as white as well that aren't getting their voices on the table and their culture on the table to feel included in these ways. I also know that skiing is incredibly expensive and also, that is a massive barrier for a lot of communities that don't prioritize recreation over family and their culture, which makes total sense. I kind of had to break away from my own culture of being Indian to to go towards skiing. And that... now that I start realizing more and more over the past several years, like, I definitely want to reconnect with my roots, my ancestors, and my family because of it. It's definitely a hole in my emotional well-being.
But with skiing, because it's so expensive, it just doesn't... It's not attractive to a lot of communities, at least that's the way I look at it and that's what I've heard from a lot of other minorities as well. I mean, they’d love to do it. It's also... seems dangerous to a lot of folks, especially the stuff that's marketed through extreme skiing and everything like that. Also, it's... the weather does not condone a lot of minorities just because a lot of Indians, a lot of darker folks, folks of color don’t predominantly enjoy the cold that much, that's just a stereotype that kind of comes to fruition. There are a handful of folks that do, but... but just because a lot of us did grow up in warmer climates, it's kind of just a custom to us to stay in warmer climates. Yeah, those, I feel like those are some big barriers. Culturally, of course, like... It's... a lot of the narratives that are shared in skiing are constantly that bree/brah culture that we see all the time at the ski mountains… the baggy clothes, whatever that culture may be. But... and that's just not what other minorities are. That's just what we... either... we don't try not to be, it's just not who we are as a culture, so it's never attractive to us to be a part of that.
But if it was, you know, promoted with a certain kind of clothing that might be created by artists of color, that would be really cool to promote that within the outerwear industry. That might start attracting a lot more diverse backgrounds to these communities. If it was different events that were centered around different cultures at the ski areas, that would be a cool way to do it. I mean, again, money has a lot to do with it. So it... it would probably have to be sponsored or some sort of compensation or sliding scale. And yeah, it's just a... it's just a hard thing for a lot of cultures to get with because of... also the elitist vibes that come with skiing, of like, just getting after it or going bigger, faster, stronger, harder, whatever words that some pro athletes use. And it's just intimidating for folks to even be a part of that. That's not just skiing, but that's... I'd say a lot of the outdoor industry as well.
Lisa: And as a professional athlete to those words appeal to you? Like, faster and stronger?
Vasu: I always want to strive to be better as an athlete, primarily just for myself because I... I know I can always be faster or do it better. That's just kind of how my mind always is, but I'm not really that competitive. I don't really strive off competition, which doesn't mean that everyone has to do that, but, yeah, I mean it's... it's more just to push my body and my limits in a way that pushes the sport in general of adaptive skiing. Just so folks can feel included in these spaces even more. Yeah. I mean with that, like, adaptive skiing has been around for 30 plus, 40 plus years now since actually like late 60s, I want to say. Maybe early 70s. And that, if you start looking at that history it's pretty cool and it actually is… a lot of... a lot of ski areas are on Forest Service land and because of that, there's a... there's a law created by the ADA or Rehabilitation Act that they have to have either a third party or a part of their ski school to provide some sort of accessibility for folks that disabilities within a certain time frame.
And because of that, a lot of these nonprofits of adaptive ski organizations have popped up all over the country. There's like two hund- like, hundreds of them now. So many in Colorado, tons in Utah, California, pretty much if you name a big ski area around the country there's an Adaptive sports program there. And that's... that way we are getting included into that ski culture, but we're not... in a way that is still othered, I'd say. We're not in mainstream media just yet. Paralympics just co- you know, are co-titled within the Olympic/Paralympic Committee now, you know, all that kind of stuff is slowly happening of that inclusion part. And that's... that's really cool to see just because of how much push a lot of these athletes are doing when it comes to trying to be at the table.
Lisa: So along those lines, what is… what's your advice to photographers or videographers when they are working with athletes with disabilities?
Vasu: Specifically athletes with disabilities?
Vasu: Try to promote their work as much as possible. There's not... I mean, the folks that are really affected are the ones that are, I don't know, the most affected from top down are the queer, trans, black, indigenous people with disabilities in this country. And to try to find liberation or equity within all these spaces we have to elevate those stories. So the needs of those populations are heard and met and understood and resources are distributed in a way that would help those communities strive.
So I would say try to elevate those stories as much as possible in any form as possible, other than inspiration porn. Which could be another topic or question if you wanted to ask, but just in a genuine form like, you know, don't have to tokenize a person with a disability and make him seem... make them seem like they're on a pedestal or anything. You just put them into marketing campaigns to feel more included within these spaces, have specific clothing that might fit their needs, or whatever. But yeah, just try to include these populations instead of other them. Hopefully that makes sense.
Lisa: It certainly does. What about when we're actually on snow. You know…
Vasu: Treat them like humans.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely and... and you know, sometimes it's about hiking features multiple times and just you know, they're... I'm assuming every person has different limits and I'm assuming open communication is obviously the… the smartest thing to do. But again, you know, I'm using the word assume and that's never smart.
Vasu: Yeah, I mean, I try not to either. But it's... to not assume is to... I mean if you're, yeah, to not assume you'd have to ask the right questions. And usually I just ask if folks need help. And if they don't, I just let them do it. Even though I feel comfortable- uncomfortable watching them try to struggle getting a mono ski onto the snow. If they want help, they're going to ask for it and they don't, I kind of do my own thing and kind of stay close to see if they will need any help. I also have a disability. So I try not to carry too much stuff, but regardless, like, still just asking the questions of like, easy - the easiest thing is like, if someone with medical aides like crutches or wheelchairs or walkers or anything he's going to a door like instead of running to get the door for them, just ask them if you want them to hold the door or want... want to hold the door for them. Something as small as that.
Or if... what we work with our kids that have mostly cognitive disabilities and intellectual disabilities is we try to empower them to be more independent. So if they are trying to put their boot on with all the help possible, we try to see if they can buckle the boot themselves or try to put their foot in the boot themselves without any help. Anything to just promote that independence. And the way I look at it is if you aren't there, or if anyone else wasn't there, like, what would they be doing, you know? Would they be just sitting there doing nothing or trying to put their boot on by themselves and succeeding. Or trying to open the door by themselves or trying to get into their wheelchair by themselves or anything like that. But that's... that's the way I look at it as... and it really depends person to person and that comes from asking questions. In a genuine way instead of probing.
Lisa: Absolutely. Can you share like a... one of your favorite experiences working with a photographer? That's always really helpful for photographers to hear good or bad feedback because so much of photography is working with human beings and it's like there's an interesting amount of customer service that goes into being behind a lens, too.
Vasu: Yeah for sure. So I haven't worked with him in a while, but Tyler Wilkinson-Ray is a good one. And we're trying to promote creating another film. And yeah, he's just patient and just like understands. He's like, this isn't for me. This is highlighting you and centering your needs. So that works well, and then Jessica Jane Hart who has done a lot of photography for me recently. She's the same way. I mean, we're both pretty much the same speed on hiking so that doesn't make a difference. Yeah, usually when I'm in decent shape, my own personal shape, I can keep up with a lot of folks with two legs. But yeah, I mean, just being patient and understanding what other folks are going through and that's that empathy part. And that's not just for photographers, but that's just for people in general. And that understanding part is the hard part and that comes with showing up and understanding these populations, understanding what my needs are when it comes to skiing uphill. Like, I always say, like, I'll be the slowest one. Don't really wait up for me if you don't want to, I'll catch up eventually. And yeah, it's cool. Like... and it does take me to hot sec to transition or hike up a hill but that patience part is very important and photographer - a lot of you know, well known photographers have that patience just because they have so much equipment to lug around, all this technical behind-the-scenes skills that a lot of people don't know about. Yeah. It just comes with that understanding of the person that they're trying to take photos or capture.
Lisa: That's awesome, awesome feedback.
Lisa: I think... I think our listeners are going to appreciate hearing that.
Lisa: Yeah and same for you know, same for all sports, mountain bike, skateboard. Yeah, it can be, it can be so slow, too, carrying camera equipment and switching out lenses and like that stuff's really heavy so patience from everybody.
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Lisa: I can really appreciate what Vasu is saying about working with athletes who are also working with some type of disability because I used to be a photographer at Wasatch Adaptive Sports in Salt Lake City and that job was outrageously fun and challenging and always very exciting. And I really, really appreciate Vasu’s view of bringing patience to the job.
Iris: And asking questions. For anyone that you’re working with, getting familiar with their strengths, their abilities, how you’re going to work together before you even go out into the field is a great way to start a photographer/athlete relationship.
Lisa: True dat. Let’s get back to Vasu.
Lisa: How have you been able to navigate finding gear that enables you to get after it at the level of what you want to do?
Vasu: I make it myself.
Vasu: Yeah, I mean what I do, I really don't know if anyone in the… this is a bold statement, but I have not seen anyone else in the world do what I'm doing. So... at least at the caliber that I'm doing at it, and that probably makes sense why I'm a professional athlete. So I do, it's such a small niche of adaptive Backcountry skiing and I'm trying to promote it as much as possible to get people out there, just because, I mean, I know lift skiing is great. You can do hot laps. But when you're out in the middle of nowhere, it's just... you kind of find... peace. At least that’s the easiest way to put it. And I just want other people to experience that, just because I know I as a person with a disability growing up had a lot of anxiety and depressive issues. And yeah, it's just making feel- people feel comfortable in their bodies is very important. I think the mountains really do that for me and I would love to promote it to other folks that might help them to do that. And yeah, because I have to make the gear myself again, super small Niche and not many companies are making that.
Lisa: So, how are you making it yourself?
Lisa: You just grab... yeah, what are you doing? What are you making?
Vasu: Well, so the Outriggers, which are forearm crutches, Canadian crutches with little skis on the bottom. Those are made in Colorado by Enabling Technologies and Olympians and all folks that use these Outriggers buy from this company or another company. There's like two or three maybe around the world. Those are... those are made, manufactured. But the two pieces that I've created are the snowshoe attachments that go on the bottom of my Outriggers that help me go uphill. And if folks are interested, if there are listeners that are… have mobility differences or disabilities, feel free to reach out, they're pretty easy to make actually. And they’re the tail ends of MSR snowshoes. The plastic ones that look like the shape of a house, pretty much. And I put a skin toe clip at the front and a Voile or ski strap in the back. And just clip it on like a pair of skins and it works great. The teeth on the bottom do great in the snow. I mean, I post hole here and there. Skinning in like two or three feet of powder is a brutal workout, but they work fine to what I do and what speed I go at, so… I'll keep using them for… I’ve had the same ones for the past six years. So I'd say they're pretty solid.
And then the second piece of equipment I've made is an Outrigger whip it attachment for any steep terrain just to give me a sense of security. Might not give me the hundred percent security but some sort of security. And that's just, one of my friends is a welder and he created a bracket for me to put an ice axe pick on to stab myself in the thigh pretty much more than anything. But yeah.
Lisa: Whoa, so you can go up pretty much anything.
Vasu: Yeah. I mean the steepest stuff I’ve skied is like 55 potentially 60. I don't really know. I didn't really look at an inclinometer. But yeah. And that's my forte is deep and tight. I like couloirs here in Montana that are steep and tight. Yeah, it's pretty interesting to jump turn in those for sure.
Vasu: But yeah, there’s a cool picture me skiing something called the Ruler in the northern Bridgers here in Montana. It's about the width of a car or a 170 centimeter ski. And it's just, it's literally pivot jump turning down the entire thing and potentially combat skiing as well.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, that's super badass.
Vasu: Yeah, so those are... those are the two major ones that I've created to help me in the backcountry and stay in most parts safe. Other than that, it just comes with lot of practice. It is the... like, right next to skateboarding for me, skateboarding's probably the number one most frustrating sport in the world, backcountry skiing is number two. Just because of how brutal and exhausting it is. Yeah, and I reached out to a few - we call it three tracking, what I do, two Outriggers and one ski to make three tracks in the snow. And I've reached out to a bunch of three trackers around the country and they… they've shot me down on trying to go backcountry skiing. Come on like, you know, it's not that hard! It's not, but it actually is. So just trying to convince more folks to do it.
Lisa: Cool, cool. One thing I do love about the ski industry is words like three tracking and you know, it's skiing, snowboarding, split boarding, snowshoeing, like you kind of name, you like add -ing to your equipment and make it a verb. And then you did it with Ninja sticking.
Vasu: Yeah exactly.
Lisa: I have an affinity for that. I like that.
Vasu: It’s the positive thing of English. You can just make anything into weird words.
Lisa: Yeah. I like that you're kind of inventing... you’re providing a lot of solutions for problems. And I think that's very cool. And I think our audience built of creative humans will appreciate that and I like that it's called a creative process. You know, it's not called a creative one and done. It's a creative process. How does your process evolved as the industry evolves or as manufacturing gets better or your or your athleticism changes? Like, how do you, how do you see that process really being a process?
Vasu: For me personally?
Vasu: Usually... so I actually have an engineering degree.
Vasu: From the University of Vermont. And yeah, I didn't really pursue it. I was, yeah, whatever, I'll take the degree. And the way I look at it and the way I've looked at it my entire life is: problem solving and this creative process has always been a top down kind of thing. Where... or working backwards. So I'd like, set a goal, or set this, like, idea of like, I want to do this. Okay, like how do I do it? So I like break it down into the processes that need to happen and keep breaking it down. It's like okay, first I have to train more. I don't know, whatever, it's like, if it's like, me trying to run like a 10,000 foot day. And I'm like, where can I train? Okay, here. What can I do? It's like something as simple as that, but same thing goes with equipment, too. Like okay. I want... I want to have this whip it attachment on my crutch. So I like imagine it attached to my crutch and like okay, well, it looks like I would need a bracket. Where can I make this bracket? Okay, let's talk to some friends to see if there's any welders around here. Or I need to be able to not post hole up the hill when I'm skiing. This snowshoe attachment thing was the third iteration of me trying to go back country skiing. So. I don't want to post hole, I need a wider surface area is what that means and what is possible to come up with that wider surface area. How do I attach this thing to my Outrigger? All these things. And then of course, I want to be able to take it on and off really easily, too. So these breakdowns which really help with that process for me.
With people more so, I do it in a similar way. A lot of our kids, we set goals with, of trying to help them understand social structures and... you know, our manners and policies and good behavior, modeling good behavior. So just trying to reiterate that over and over again to make sure that they have it in their head that they have to treat everyone nicely. That they have to use nice language. They don't, they can't, you know, got to keep their hands to themselves. All this stuff that comes with people skills as well. Yeah, hopefully that answers your question, kind of just started blabbering.
Lisa: Yeah. No, that's… that's great. And I feel like you take, I mean, it just seems... my impression is that… that you take a similar approach with different systemic issues too, where you kind of look at it and take backward- you know, look at it from a goal and take backward steps and really look at like, ask questions and get curious and…
Vasu: Yeah, when, yeah.
Lisa: It just seems like a good approach.
Vasu: Yeah, when it... when it is due time for asking questions. I’m trying to get better at that instead of being so impulsive, which is hard to do for a lot of us, I think. But yeah, just trying to try to understand and of course, there's a ton of resources out there and communities that are out there already doing this work, have been doing this work for thousand- like literally over a thousand years trying to provide equity and liberation for people.
And I mean in this country, there's been so many social justice warriors and civil rights movements and great humans that are trying to promote this in a way that everyone feels safe and heard. And yeah, I try to just understand where it's all coming from as much as possible to help the bigger picture. And that's that intersectionality word part 2. It's not just about me. None of these movements are ever about me. My platform isn't about me. Even though it just has photos of me in it. It's to try to center the voices that don't get heard.
Lisa: Mmm. Awesome. We are pretty much out of time. I guess the last question I want to ask you is what what would you like to tell our audience that I haven't asked you?
Vasu: I always like to ask, even yourself, you can process this, is what is the importance of diversity in our culture? And that's a pretty good thought provoking idea for folks, especially folks that live in mountain towns that are primarily white or they don't hang out with folks that have disabilities or are queer or indigenous or anything. Like what is, what do you think is the importance of diversity in a lot of these spaces? Whether it's lacking that voice or has this like has an overbearing one end of the spectrum to the other. Yeah, that's what I'd like to ask you or and the audience as well.
Lisa: And what's your answer to that?
Vasu: I mean, it's pretty much what this entire podcast interview is about, is just understand where everyone's coming from. Everyone’s so different, everyone identifies as something different. We're all hipsters in our own way and want to do things individually and also help each other out as a family and community. And once we start understanding what the needs of these communities are we can help divvy up our resources in doing that which means time, energy, money, whatever, passion, a career field. You can try to help, and from that we can all be on a level playing field where we feel welcomed in every space instead of feeling othered. And that’ll reduce bullying and that will reduce elitism and all this other stuff but this is my idealist brain thinking in that way.
Lisa: That's awesome. Thank you. Thanks so much for your time. And I appreciate it.
Vasu: Yeah, no problem.
Iris: Thanks so much Vasu for giving us your time and being on the show today.
Lisa: We can’t wait to go skiing with you this winter.
Iris: Oh yeah. And to all our listeners out there, thanks for sticking with us and we’ll be back next week with a new episode of Outside by Design. See you then.