North American snowboarders offer fresh perspective on Scotland's Right to Roam

'O wad some Power the giftie gie us, / to see oursels as ithers see us!' It's a pretty safe bet that Robert Burns wasn't thinking of the Scottish snowboarding scene when he wrote those lines in the 1780s, but in snowsports as in all things, occasionally a little fresh perspective can be useful. The US-based ethical outdoor gear giant Patagonia recently released a short film called Right To Roam, which shows two of its sponsored athletes '“ Alex Yoder of the USA and Marie-France Roy of Canada '“ touring Scotland in Yoder's elderly camper van, searching for scenic backcountry lines to ride. Given the snow-sure locations the duo hail from, you might expect that a film about their experiences of snowboarding in Scotland, particularly one made during one of the least snowy winters on record, would turn into something toe-curlingly awful; something, perhaps, like 'Skiing in Scotland in Kilts', the segment famously recorded by US filmmaker Warren Miller in 1996 which mostly focused on the food, the weather and what the instructors at Nevis Range didn't have on under their kilts, and culminated in a deeply silly search for the Loch Ness Monster.

The cast of Right to Roam, roaming PIC: Patagonia/Wade Dunstan

Yoder and Roy, however, offer a much more cerebral take on the Scottish snowsliding experience. As the title of their film suggests, what really floats their boat about Scotland is the fact that they can literally snowboard anywhere they can see a hill with snow on it. In the years since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was passed in 2003, the right to roam it ushered in has become all too easy to take for granted. When I was in Portland, Maine a couple of summers ago, I remember being shocked to hear surfers talking about stealth missions using fishing boats to ride waves on “private” beaches and “private” islands. The ability to toddle off and enjoy yourself wherever you like is still very far from universal, even in the so-called Land of the Free.

Yoder and Roy are clearly inspired by the possibilities of the Scottish backcountry, even if the conditions aren’t quite as perfect as they’re used to back home, and they find themselves a very eloquent local guide in the shape of Scottish snowboarder Lauren MacCallum, who takes them on a magical mystery tour of some of the most mouthwatering terrain in the Highlands while also offering some thoughtful commentary on the philosophy that allows the right to roam to work in practice.

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“There are people that are going to make a mess,” she says, in a piece to camera filmed during a stay in a bothy, “there are people that are going to spoil things and leave trash and burn fires that they’re not meant to. We had a couple of rogue guys last summer burn this absolutely beautiful tree that had been there for hundreds of years, just out of pure ignorance. But I guess the way you’ve got to think of it is that, for that one tree, or that one really natural thing to be spoiled by this small minority of people, think about the other thousands of people that have been able to just get out of their car and just go - not even think - just go... just leave, shut the door and go. That is such a liberty that we take for granted.”

Alex Yoder of the USA and Marie-France Roy of Canada - multi-talented. PIC: Patagonia/Wade Dunstan

Yoder and Roy take full advantage of their new-found freedom, drawing graceful lines on snowy mountainsides everywhere from the Back Corries at Nevis Range (no kilt gags this time) to the hills around Ben Lawers, where they also hook up with Craig Burry, an old friend of the Final Words column and a man who has played a key role in popularising backcountry snowboarding through his crowdfunded Splitboards Scotland rental initiative.

There are cameo appearances, too, for poet and musician Griogiar Labhruidh, who adds some haunting small pipes playing to the mix, and for Ian “Spike” Sykes, founder of the Nevis Range ski resort, who closes the film with a banjo-accompanied rendition of The Last of the Grand Old Masters – a song written, appropriately enough, by the late mountaineer Tom Patey.

Viewed through the lenses of cinematographers David Cleeland and Wade Dunstan, Yoder and Roy’s Scottish adventure looks spectacular, especially in some of the “follow-me-down” drone shots, but it also goes to the trouble of meeting some of the people who live here – and, more importantly, listening to what they have to say – rather than simply turning them into comedy props. n

To watch Right to Roam, click here

Alex Yoder of the USA and Marie-France Roy of Canada - multi-talented. PIC: Patagonia/Wade Dunstan