Q&A: Molly Armanino

If there were someone I’d want to huck it off a powdery cliff with, it’d be Molly Armanino. 

For one, she has a knack for finding big features in out of the way spots. She rides with her brother and filmmaker Sam Armanino with a big crew of hucksters in Squid and Friends – which includes among others Garrett Balen, Chris Whatford, and Mike Emmet – miles south of the crowded ski resorts that dot the lake. At Kirkwood, they bomb the iconic Wall, dart through couliers, and backflip rocky ridges that form the resort’s horseshoe bend. Armanino’s adventurous line choices are a big reason she currently sits first atop the rankings after back-to-back second place finishes at Baqueira and Ordino on this year’s Freeride World Tour.  

More importantly, she embraces risk and leads into the crux of the situation with her head down and smiling. She understands the danger of playing in the mountains and trusts herself to engage fully with the experience in order to come out the other end. There are certainly learning moments, like when she had to end her Freeride World Tour early last year after promising results because of frostbite she sustained riding in Canada. But Armanino knows the whole point of being on the mountain in the first place is to try to ski your best, even while knowing all the risks. 

“I feel like most of the stuff I want to ski I might only have a 50% success rate,” laughed Armanino. 

Photo Credit: SCOTT Sports Poland

She takes that same striving attitude into her work to combat climate change in her South Lake Tahoe home. In 2021, she helped successfully influence the South Lake Tahoe city council to update its climate change goals to run off 100% carbon-free renewable energy by 2030. Now she is helping in her capacity as a city planner to help make that important transition and hopes that her recent incorporation of the Tahoe Climate Change Action Network will help raise funds for such actions. She looks to Protect Our Winters (POW) as a model for mass mobilization for environmental action to change the future. 

“I think POW does a really good job at creating the wave of collective action in what they call The Outdoor State. It’s filed with outdoor enthusiasts who want to see change systematically and politically. They do a good job of empowering a large group of individuals to have a voice within federal policy. My goal would be to do the same thing with South Lake Tahoe.” said Armanino.  

Her steepest, most technical line right now is navigating the regulatory restrictions that come with the city’s current agreement with energy provider Liberty Utility and looking for ways to achieve renewable energy. If she and her colleagues can’t patchwork together a cohesive set of strategies and actionable progress, there’s a solid chance Armanino and the city’s route to meeting its climate goals are cliffed out.

Even then, Armanino will still be looking for ways to get down, even if she has to jump. Sometimes it’s the only way down. 

“People will ask why we will waste money to try things that won’t work, but we need to try things and make mistakes and lose money and figure out something that works. We can’t wait for the perfect solution, we need to create it ourselves.” 

The following is an interview with Molly Armanino. It has been edited for length and clarity. Top Photo Credit: SCOTT Sports Poland

I heard you just got back from Canada. How was up north?

It was great, I did the Sisters Summit. It was a women’s pro gathering where we had lectures and skiing every day. We were in this lodge for about seven days and there was lot’s of pow. I don’t think I’ve ever skied pow like that. It was over Thanksgiving and I met a rad group of composed women who were so professional. As a rookie it was enlightening. My sponsor Scott set up the whole trip. Then I went back home for 5 days, and was right back out for a Scott photo shoot. 

You’ve been doing qualifying events for the Freeride World Tour for a number of years now and this year you were designated a wild card. What’s that mean and how does it affect how you ski? 

It’s like a sideline invite, you don’t have to specifically qualify. They had invited me last year. I made it to finals and did really well throughout, then I got frostbite and had to deal with the fallout of that. I couldn’t do the finals and I think they felt bad. 

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What type of shape are you hoping to be in for the events and how do you think you’ll get there? 

There’s a couple aspects I want to do well in. Two years ago was my first year of qualifiers and first time competing. I was convinced I was the best skier on the mountain (laughs) and I didn’t do that well. I got so down on myself and my ego and headspace and happiness all got stunted. Last year I told myself that no matter what happened I’d be at the bottom of the mountain with a smile on my face; unless I have frostbite and end up in the hospital (laughs). 

Recognizing the event is not only about the competition but it’s about the people and the community; it’s about growing individually and as an athlete. It took me a year to get that. This year is going to be completely different and I’m going to have to go back to that mindset: if I ski and I don’t do well I’ll be ok. That’s what I will work on mentally. 

Skiing, I’m working on finding a balance in my lines. People say ski what you want to ski, but don’t ski too hard and crash. I’m just going to try and get to the finals and not ski anything too crazy. If I don’t do that well, just be cool and have a good time regardless. 

What does succeeding look like to you over there?

I would really like to find success within myself no matter the result. That would mean being happy with where I am and where I’ve gotten so far. I would really like to make it to the finals. There’s three comps and if I do ok there, I’ll make it to the finals. If I make it there, I’m just going to send it. I wouldn’t care if I landed anything, I just want to ski something sick and not have this weird feeling of wondering if I skied too conservatively. I’d want to ski something I was super stoked about.

You made a ski movie that detailed both your skiing in Tahoe and your efforts to successfully pass a South Lake Tahoe city council resolution to be 100% renewable energy free and carbon neutral by 2030. How does the way you interact with the outside inform the climate hurdles that you want to approach? 

I don’t think it’s hard to explain how beautiful and precious and important snow is. The colder it is, the quieter it is, and the more objectively beautiful it is. If something like a snow covered mountain top is so beautiful, there has to be an environmental importance to it, and there is. Snow is our reservoir and our life source.

I was in Montana last year, I was in Canada this year, and you see it more than ever this year in Tahoe. It can be the most beautiful day of snow, and then the next day it’s raining and flooding. Rain took away all the snow and flooded everything, it’s unhealthy. The closer I feel to winter and snow and a healthy cycle of snowfall, the more I feel passionate to save it where we can.

Amend by Molly Armanino

I know you have some environmental consulting in your background. What is some of the stuff you are working on day to day? 

Last year I wanted to put my energy and paycheck to go to some kind of environmental good. I talked to the city of South Lake Tahoe after the Caldor Fire and got in touch with a lot of people in South Lake Tahoe who are doing a lot of work towards climate change. Through that I got hired, kind of as an environmental planner. 

My boss works with the TRPA (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency), the environmental regulator in Tahoe. As a planner it’s a lot of permitting, but in the mix we have a little bit of control on the codes and how people choose to execute it. So we’re pushing a lot for solar and affordable housing and solar on affordable housing. 

I just incorporated Tahoe Climate Change Action Network, I’m the CEO technically (laughs). I haven’t done much with it yet, but it will be an opportunity to get funding to support affordable housing projects and pilot projects.

It’s been a year or so since the city council updated their goals. Have they provided any update or shown any action to hitting those goals? 

This new infrastructure bill will be good and helpful. There are about 10 volunteers working to figure out the legislative hurdles that we have to become 100% renewable. Before we can get to the technology point, we’re legally bound to the utility company. The only way to become unbound to them is to become a CCA, Community Choice Aggregation. We’re in this really weird regulatory issue and Liberty Utility is big and objectively said they will not partner with us to become 100% renewable by 2030. We need them as partners in order to do that. 

Our next step is to start preparing our own local energy through microgrids and biomass facilities and get the technology to make it work. The one thing I am coming to terms with is that we need a mix of everything to make this work. It’s exciting because it opens a lot of opportunities for innovation. 

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