Drop Everything and Hit the Open Road With ‘The United Slopes of America’

We talked to top snowboarder Desiree Melancon about her new series of films that document her snowboarding road trip through the resorts of America.

Imagine dropping everything, packing up your snowboard and setting off on a road trip, wind in your hair and not a care in the world except for snow and shredding. For most of us, it’s a distant fantasy—but it’s one that Desiree Melancon actually made happen last winter. The top snowboarder had a goal to ride every resort in the U.S. and document it through film, so the rest of us could sit at home on our couches in jealousy. That little project resulted in The United Slopes of America: a series of films that showcases her trip and the crazy beautiful nature it involved through episodes, airing on snowboarder.com. Although all the films aren’t out yet, the first episode below can give you a taste of the vibe: taking her custom-built trapper to Truckee, California, you see powder, open road, even a storm cycle and all of the sweetness that comes with pursuing an on the road and snowboarding lifestyle. Other snowboarders pop in and out of the film, giving you a total sense of envy-inducing community narrated by Desiree.

Before the other films are completed, we took the time to catch up with Desiree about the process behind the film, life on the road and what’s coming up next.

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Desiree and videographer Tyler Orton.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hey, Desiree. Break it down for us. What is United Slopes of America?

Desiree Melancon: United Slopes is a passion project I launched last winter. The basic idea is that we travel around to as many resorts in North America as we can… snowboard, enjoy the mountain and document the experience.

How many resorts are there in the US? What’s the scope of this project?

There are roughly 427. I dream of riding them all and the plan is to go until I can’t go anymore. It’s a project that takes time but needs minimal resources. All that’s required is a truck, snow, some lift tickets, a camera/filmer, and friends.

Did you mostly travel alone, with a filmer or what was the set up?

I lived out of my truck for five months with Tyler Orton, who was the filmer.

In the intro of your first film, you talk of a general need to reconnect with nature. What does ‘connecting with nature’ mean to you?

It means clarity to me.

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Your films make it seem like a lot of planning goes into the edit and storytelling method. Tell us about that.

Thank you! Tyler Orton and I initially had no idea what we were making. We winged it. I would interview the riders who had time and were interested in the project. Resorts were sometimes responsive, sometimes not… so that resulted in all types of content. For the storytelling, there wasn’t something that we could copy or use as a starting point. It was a lot of trial and error in finding the right formula that flowed well for what we were trying to deliver to the viewer. I had a feeling I knew I wanted to share, but the actual method to creating it was still unknown. It was also a lot of research in watching documentaries and snowboarding films. We still have a long way to go as far as making something that works 100%, but I am really proud of what Tyler and I were able to create from our first attempt. Not to mention, we are still editing. I had no idea about the amount of work and time that goes into even creating the narrative. It’s been a crazy learning experience.

Did the pressure of making a film get in the way of that connection with nature, or did it make it easier to spend time outdoors?

It was a mix of both. The series is an outdoor series. I would be in the mountains regardless, but making United Slopes was a sacrifice in what I was used to doing. I went from only needing to snowboard to having to narrate, produce, plan, fund, direct, and sometimes film. It was a lot of work, but being able to do it in amazing locations made the hard work all extremely fun. I know a lot of people think it’s a joke, in a way. A dream life scenario. I guess it is.

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Is it a bummer for you to have to deal with all the post-production and marketing aspects of this, like social media and assets? Wasn’t the whole point to get away from all that nonsense?

Nothing involving United Slopes is a bummer. It’s an experience and an adventure that I am taking one step at a time. It’s like any brand/business: post production and marketing are all a part of it. Bottom line is, nothing is free. Snowboarding is expensive. United Slopes has many purposes to it. It shows that snowboarding is relatable again, that it’s fun… and that many types of people do it. It makes it so viewers can see that there are places and resorts at their fingertips, accessible without having to break the bank, and I’m trying to encourage people to be more adventurous. There is no brand hierarchy to it. What you see is what we experienced, which is refreshing in snowboarding. Yes, the whole point is to get away from the nonsense… but there are different types and purposes of media.

Your camper van looks sick! Tell us about building that thing. What mod cons did you include for pleasurable survival?

I had to look up what a mod con was! Building the camper was insane. I basically moved back into my parents’ house in southern California to construct it. It took three months and it was just my dad and I working on it. He works full time Monday through Fridays, so I would be alone swinging a nail gun, pretending to be productive until he showed up on his lunch breaks and after work. My dad can build anything and we hadn’t hung out in a couple years, so when the idea arose… I think we were both excited to make something together. All of our resources were from the Internet. We built the entire thing specific to my size and my truck’s size, which is awesome. In the end it cost us about $5,000 in materials and a priceless amount of manual labor. As far as mod cons, we have self-sustaining electricity, waterproof walls, incredible insulation, and propane heat. She is meant to house two people, but you can squeeze in five.

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Did you encounter any bumps in the road? What sort of challenges did you face?

Too many to count. My truck breaks down a lot. I spent a lot of time and money on making sure she could keep running. The real challenges were in getting resorts to get on board with what we were making and getting the riders to link up with us on a regular basis. Finding true locals to the resorts turned out to be difficult, as well. People have jobs. It was all a learning experience. Plus, we are low on funding for the project. I am in a lot of debt because of the initial costs.

Do you have a most memorable run from the first few films you made? What are your favorite spots to hit up and why?

This past winter, I rode the most powder I have ever ridden in my life. I will never forget it—or the kindness of my friends who helped us in Tahoe during the making of the project. My favorite resort from the winter was Boreal.

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So, dumb question—but what do you dream of, what’s your ultimate existence?

There are only dumb answers, never dumb questions. I dream of happiness.

Thanks, Desiree.