How Amanda Hankison Beat Addiction and Mental Illness to Join Splitboarding's Elite

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Hankison beaming while on the approach to White Baldy in the Wasatch. Sean Ryan photo

Very few people would consider a five-centimeter tumor a blessing, but for Amanda Hankison—it was a necessary wake-up call two years ago.

When the tumor was discovered, Hankison was at what she perceived to be the height of her career as a content creator within the snowboard industry.

“I was on top of the world. I had filmed this successful web series and was in the process of launching a brand. My friends were getting sponsorship opportunities from the content I created, and I was finally starting to live this dream of being a filmer,” said Hankison.

Now Hankison is literally on top of the world. Obsessed with trail running the local peaks in the Wasatch, she tries to find any excuse to be up high in the mountains. Sean Ryan photo.

However, at the age of 26, right in the middle of winter Hankison got really sick. Confused, she went to the doctors, only to learn that she had a tumor on her left ovary. Surgery for the tumor derailed everything–planned trips, projects, and her ability to ride.

“That was the first time that my body fully betrayed me,” said Hankison. “You know it wasn’t my fault, and I had a really hard time with it.”

It was Hankison’s first true brush with mortality.

“I attribute that tumor to my change of direction. All of a sudden I started to focus on being in the backcountry and snowboarding the way I wanted to,” said Hankison. “I just remember thinking ‘I can’t wait anymore to do this, I have to do this now’ because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Hankison sledding towards her line in the BC backcountry.Marissa Krawczak Photo

This rude awakening served as a touchstone moment for the snowboarder and content creator. Through introspection, Hankison realized that–despite the success in her film career–she wasn’t addressing one of her greatest obstacles: her long-term struggle with depression and anxiety, which she says battling with for 17 years since the untimely passing of her father.


Backstory

Far from her current home in the Wasatch, Hankison grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. Her childhood wasn’t spent in the mountains.

“I grew up outside but when we were outside we were working. We didn't camp growing up, it was a very different world compared to those who grew up recreating in the outdoors. Most of the things that I’ve done outside—mountaineering and big trail running—I’ve literally just sought it out, learned about it, and then went for it,” Hankison told TGR.

After her parents divorced in 3rd grade, she moved to Illinois with her mom. This distance from her dad wasn’t easy for her, and then, at the age of 11, Hankison unexpectedly lost her father to a heart attack.

Hankinson has spent the past seven summers working on Mt. Hood, with the last three being a digger. Her favorite part about digging is the opportunity to session your projects with your buddies. Sean Genovese Photo

“My whole world just shut down and I felt like I was operating on autopilot. I didn’t really grieve, because I was 11 when it happened and you know the last thing you wanted as kid was to be different from your friends,” she explained. “It was a rough spot to be in as 11-year-old in a new town, so I didn’t want anything to do with the grief counseling.”


Snowboarding

Hankison’s mother bought the 11-year-old Hankison a snowboard in hopes it would help her cope with the loss, and the sport became her one release from the pain.

“Whenever I would go snowboarding it was my way to escape from all this sadness I was dealing with” Hankison said.

One of her favorite lines to date, Hankison has had a long love affair with snowboarding—pursuing the sport for the past 17 years. Sean Ryan photo.

But snowboarding could only provide momentary respite. In the years following her father’s death, Hankison was still coping with the trauma. In 2007, when she went to college she was debilitated from a depression hidden from friends, and each meeting with the therapist meant her medication list grew and grew.

“It got to the point I was fully comatose—I was taking eight or nine prescription pills a day,” said Hankison. “The doctors had sold me on it. When that's the world you grow up in—that you go to the doctor and they make you better—you believe that.”

By the age of 20, in 2009 she was so medicated and lost, that she decided to withdraw from college. She moved back to Chicago with her mother, but her problems only compounded. For about six months, all she could do was sleep roughly 18 hours a day.

“It’s hard–the further away I get from it–it’s hard to believe it when I say it out loud. It seems insane,” said Hankison. “You could see it in my eyes, I just looked dead.”


Returning to the Mountains

Eventually, Hankison couldn’t take being in Illinois. She quit her meds completely—a suggestion that she doesn’t advocate—and in 2010 relocated to Utah to get back to her main foundation: snowboarding.

“You know how you have a friend that’s always in a sling from hurting themselves—yeah I’m always that person,” Hankison laughs. Hankison credits her predisposition to injury for pushing her into the media side of the sport.

“I needed some self-preservation [from injury], that’s when I started seriously using a camera. Cause I just moved to Utah and I wanted to hang out with all my friends who were snowboarding—I still wanted to be on the scene,” Hankison tells us when asked about the origins of her career. Jason Wilson Photo.

While she dabbled with photography in high school, shooting video caught her attention. The trend at the time in the industry was making online edits, so she grabbed her camera and followed her friends, and was quickly submitting content to online publications like Snowboarder Magazine.

“Amanda is 100 percent dedicated to whatever she puts her mind to. She loves snowboarding and wants to see the women's side of things move in a positive direction,” Jess Kimura tells us. Kimura, a fellow team rider for North Face, is one of Hankison’s close friends.

“She has lots of relevant experience you don't find in a lot of riders,” Kimura continued. “ Since, she has been a filmer, producer, digger, and photographer in the past. She has a good eye and a unique approach.”

Her film career started small and–even while juggling a slew of side gigs (fry cook, landscaper, etc.)–eventually turned into her very own brand: Jetpack.

“She is one of the hardest working and most motivated people that I know by far. She graduated with a degree in finance from the University of Utah and instead of pursuing anything related to that at all went and packed her truck to travel and film rails,” said Taylor Boyd, the managing editor of Transworld Snowboarding.

She finds a line through Holy Bowly with Nirvana Ortanez. Despite loving the mountaineering aspect of riding, Hankison never will forget her roots in freestyle terrain. Sean Genovese photo.

A longtime friend and colleague, Boyd has watched Hankison and her work grow the past eight years.

“As much as she is analytical, she is extremely creative and driven by what she wants to do,” said Boyd. “I think she does an incredible job breaking down gender as a barrier, but not in the traditional way—she makes a point to include both males and females in her projects.”

But, again, her successes professionally masked something more insidious–while she was doing well filming and had successfully stayed away from anti-depressants, she has developed a serious drinking problem. Hankison found herself at times struggling to remember the last time she went a day without drinking.

“I never really [recognized the problem] because as soon as I moved to college in 2007, I was partying, then I was comatose from the medication, and then back in Utah I was back to partying,” said Hankison. “I finally got to a point where I just didn’t want to be so drunk all the time. Your body doesn’t work right when you drink so much.”


Breaking Point

In 2013, while working as a videographer at Brighton Resort, Hankison was riding down the mountain to film a jump and caught an edge on her board. Smashing her head into her camera, blood cascaded down her face onto the snow.

Laying in bed the next day, numb from the painkillers, Hankison tried to articulate the last thing she did that she was proud of. She couldn’t think of anything recent. Shaken, she didn’t want her legacy to be what she described as a “three-month hangover.”

The last peak of the Hematoma Quad. Summits like these are some of Hankison's favorites to run when there's no snow. Sean Ryan photo.

Two days later she decided to try trail running. It was a complete struggle, but needed in every way. By 2014 she was running half-marathons, and then full marathons. The next year, with running now a positive outlet for her energy, Hankison started to expand her riding to the backcountry.

When she struggled with drinking, Hankison never had the ability to venture into the backcountry–the toll her partying put on her body was too severe for her to meet the physical demands of climbing peaks.

But trail running changed her. She began bagging peaks on her own and realized she could replicate the sensation in the winter, just with a splitboard instead.

The following winter she bought her buddy’s splitboard, with the intention of continuing to expand her backcountry exploration.

Unfortunately, that plan hit a snag for Hankison with the discovery of the benign tumor.

Hankison spent two months recovering from the tumor, and once she had finally recovered her health, the looming specter of her body failing her again served as the catalyst to finally break into the backcountry scene as she always wanted to.

“I just couldn’t shake the thought that I could suddenly die and not snowboard the way I’ve been wanting to ride, because this whole time I kept putting it on pause,” she tells us.

Hankison even DIY her very own board. Justin Clark photo.

“Once the trail running started I’d say I was living this double life,” Hankison explained of her push to the backcountry. “I was filmer at a street spot in the city. But secretly I would be going on these big hikes and running like crazy.”

Her perception of reality was that she was just a videographer, and was too scared to pursue the kind of riding she really loved. She wanted to change that.

“When I got the tumor, it helped me not live that double life anymore. It gave me an opportunity to step back from filming and become who I am now. It ruined my life at the moment, but I’ve come to terms with it and see it as this greater blessing,” Hankison explained to us. She takes in the view of Salt Lake from White Baldy. Sean Ryan photo.

“She’s really grown by doing marathons and focusing on the mountaineering aspect of snowboarding, and getting further and further into the mountains,” said Boyd. “I don’t want to use the word athlete because what she does translates more into artistry than athleticism. Her incredible athletic ability provides the catalyst to create what she does.”


Finding Peace through No Man’s Land Film Festival

The tumor, to Hankison, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She told TGR it motivated her to share her story with others, which has in turn helped her heal.

“I’d always just say ‘I’m fine, I’m literally fine’ and I pretty much ran with that mentality until No Man’s Land,” said Hankison. “So from 11 to 28, I didn’t deal with the emotions.”

She’s referring to the No Man’s Land Film Festival (NMLFF), the first all-female adventure film festival.

Last August, NMLFF hosted a pitchfest for aspiring female filmmakers to address the gender inequality within the action sports film industry. The concept was straightforward: Prepare and present an idea to a panel of judges. If picked, you were given a grant to produce the film, which would be shown at NMLFF and the 5 Point Film Festival.

Hankison approached the stage, and in front a complete crowd of strangers shared her story through a film pitch entitled High Again, which sought the explore the past 17 years of her life as in an effort to increase mental health awareness. The pitch centered on her struggle with addiction and mental illness, which was deeply intertwined with her career in snowboarding.

Hankison laid it all out in front of the panel, and won.

“Not having a reasonable outlet to deal with my grief and emotions, instead of letting that experience haunt me forever, I really wanted to use it and make High Again, so it can be a vehicle for those in similar situations,” she said.

“She’s so forthcoming with all of her experiences, and what was really amazing about her pitch in general was it felt like she was coming to this reckoning—and at that time she really was,” explained Aisha Wienhold, the founder of NMLFF and one of the paneled judges at the competition. “Specifically, the reason we chose it is because in ski/snowboarding culture partying is such a big component, and to be able to talk about sobriety in a way that directly relates to extreme adventure sports—that’s really needed in our industry.”


What’s Next

Following pitchfest, Hankison finally felt free from a heavy burden, which allowed her to pursue passions she’d long desired. Taking a bunch of GoPro footage from her backcountry riding, she entered into one of The North Face’s big mountain contests—and won that too.

That, in turn, spurred her sponsorship with The North Face team, despite her humble claims of never considering herself gifted in the sport.

“It's been so awesome to watch her grow as a rider and person. Since she has joined the North Face team I’ve seen her push her riding to a really impressive place—the girl knows what she wants and how she plans to get it,” Kimura told TGR.

Even though she’s bagged some all-female splitboard descents in Slovakia and extensively ridden across a variety of mountains in North America—Jackson, a month in British Columbia, Mammoth, and the Wasatch this year alone—Hankison still has ambitious goals for her career: In addition to producing her film, she hopes to become a professional splitboarder. With hopes that she can continue to use her camera to chase and capture mountains across the world.

Soaking in the Alpenglow, Hankison celebrates with fellow big mountain snowboarder—Marissa Krawczak. Tomas Kucko photo.

“I think what amazes me the most [about splitboarding and trail running] is that your feet get you there,” said Hankison. “The fact that most of us are built with the tools we need to get to the top of the mountain—I mean I was an overweight alcoholic five years ago. Now I can top out these mountains—all the while sharing beautiful moments with close friends and learning how far I can push myself—it’s just surreal.”

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