Izzy Lazarus
Mountain Guide

Izzy Lazarus

Mountain Guide

Izzy Lazarus is a JHMG Mountain Guide, AIARE Instructor and snowboard instructor.

After the third shoot I did for New Maps (way before the official launch) I sat down next to my friend Betsy at a dinner party and talked about the project. She excitedly suggested her badass friend and fellow guide: Izzy. She pulled up photos on her phone of Izzy riding and a photo of the two of them touring. Since, I had an all time number of people suggest Izzy for New Maps. We scheduled her feature with perfect timing to highlight the Ladies Intro to Splitboarding Clinic she's teaching for Teton Splitfest, which is happening next weekend! 

Izzy and I initially met over drinks, we talked about everything from being snowboarders, to working in the outdoor industry, to figuring out your path doing what you love. A week later, Izzy and Betsy took an "active rest day" to get out in the sunshine and shoot some photos with me. To say it was awesome would be a huge understatement.

Q: I want to know your story - how did you get into guiding?

Izzy: I started as an instructor. In college, at the same time I was learning to climb and learning to snowboard, I was also learning to teach snowboarding and climbing and facilitate bringing people out. So my avenue into the outdoor industry was right off of the bat from college. Then after college, I went to work with Outward Bound school in Colorado. [Outward Bound] was something where sometimes it feels like guiding, sometimes it feels like instructing. I was there for a bunch of years. Then a couple of years ago I got asked to come up here by a friend. So I started guiding here four years ago in Jackson and that's the story.

Q: What has changed the most from day one of guiding to today?

Izzy: I think just my ability to make decisions in the mountains. You go through the just copying phase and being like, okay, well when I was here, my friend last time we did this and it kept me alive. So I'll do that again. Then being able understand why you’re making a decision and figure out what the equation actually is to stay safe. I always think about the decisions I made five years ago. What am I going to think about the decisions that I made today, five years from now? So yeah, decision making and being able to understand why I'm choosing to go into what terrain on what day.

Q: How do you think being outside in the mountains for your job has changed the way that you view risk and reward in the outdoors? 

Izzy: Yeah, I have a pretty low risk-tolerance! I just always tell myself, it doesn't have to be extreme to be rad. I have to work with my body so I gotta take that into the equation. So for me, I don't ever feel like I'm pushing “it”, but I’m pushing myself. It’s figuring out new ways to be stoked. I just have to take good care of my body. It’s things like not going to jump off the thing on a hard pack day and I need to stretch and I need to take rest days. I watch folks who don't work with their bodies and they go super hard for two or three days. And for me it's like you just have to keep a steady pace. It's always pretty funny with my friends who don't work in the outdoors - I'm actually kind of jealous when I watch them. They go ski something big or whatever and I'm just like I’m tired and I have to get to work tomorrow and the next day. So I'm gonna just stretch actually.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

Izzy: People, I'm a people person. We talked about that earlier. For me, my two favorite things are walking in the mountains and talking to strangers. I think that's just from how I grew up as well - in the city you had to talk to people. Now, I get to talk to doctors and lawyers and chemists and physicists and engineers and moms, dads, everything. So people I wouldn't normally get to interact with and I've always been into reading memoirs and autobiographies and things like that. So now I get to do that while I'm at work and understand how people function. I always think, if I didn't do this, I would have studied behavioral science. I've always thought this is almost  a social experiment, watching people, how they react to stress and how they get excited and how they listen and how to communicate. I think the communication challenge is really interesting to me.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is looking into getting into backcountry skiing or splitboarding - what do you think is the most important thing for them to know? 

Izzy: The only things you can control are the terrain you ski and the people you ski with. So start out simple with terrain and go with people you trust.

Q: Has working as a snowboarder/splitboarder in the backcountry ski industry been challenging in any way?

Izzy: I think slowly the stigma is breaking down as the equipment gets better and people get better at using the equipment. But I've worked at operations that still have angst against snowboarding and don't think that snowboarders can be effective guides. I think that maybe 10 or 15 years ago, that may have been the case in some instances with the equipment being crappy. And then snowboarding is just relatively new, but always think if you're in good snowboard train, it's good ski terrain. If you're taking snowboarders to ski terrain and you're getting them screwed in the flats, then yeah, it's going to be ineffective.

So I think I haven't personally felt too much of a wall, but that's because there's been a generation ahead of me breaking it down. And I’ve been able to watch them, you know, get their splitboard certifications and say, okay, that's possible. There's no reason I can't do that. I just have to get to be at that standard. I mean there's just still a stigma around snowboarding that, oh, you get stuck in the flats and blah, blah, blah. And it's like, if you can split ski what isn't effective to snowboard, then you're on the most effective tool. You're riding this board on awesome pow and on steeper lines. 

And a lot of times a snowboard is better in more variable snow. If there's a crust or it's different density snow - I’m psyched to be on a snowboard. And then if it's undulating mellow terrain and I can just split ski and then I start walking and I'd say bye skiers! I think for me it's been a motivator to be like, well, this is what I love to do, when somebody tells me I can't do something I love. It’s what I want to do. 

We started saying “whatever turns you on are the turns you should be on.” We came up with that when I was at this internship: the guy was kind of against snowboarding and tele skiing and there were two snowboarders and two tele skiers working there. And then we were like, let's go. This is what makes us happy.

Q: Why should someone sign up to take your women's intro to splitboarding? 

Izzy: I think there's a lot of nuance transferring from a resort rider to a backcountry rider. For me it was a lot of just watching what my friends who had been splitboarding for longer were doing. It took a lot of time to pick up all the little tips and tricks to make splitboarding feel less inefficient. So then it's like, well if you can go take a class for a day and pick up 15 new things between how your bindings work, how to do a better transition, how to look at terrain when to get out your poles, all these things, why not? It's all about having more fun and if you understand your equipment then you can have more fun.

Q: A lot of these women's specific clinics or courses have really risen in popularity in the last five years - do you think creating those spaces is important? 

Izzy: I think for some people it's a really safe space to learn; among other women or in a single gender environment. The way I approach it then as an instructor is that it's not necessarily a women's course. Yes, we’re all women but really what’s important is we all want to go out in the backcountry. 

So for me, that's how I tried to come at it as an instructor. I’m a lady, you're a lady. Cool. Moving on to the fun stuff - let's go out and talk about how to be in the mountains. I think just finding the right people to go out with is important. I want to say - I have really great guy friends and mentors as well.

If you're interested in taking Izzy's Intro to Splitboarding clinic or other splitboarding clinics coming up, find out more here: https://www.tetonsplitfest.com/clinics

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