Pro skier Lily Bradley disrupts mountain culture in new queer ski film

In ‘People Like Us,’ LGBTQ+ skiers take center stage.


Freeskier Lily Bradley in the new ski film, “People Like Us.”
Courtesy film still

In a dazzling shot in the new ski film, People Like Us, freeskier Lily Bradley drops in from a ridge, slashing through a snowfield. In a series of spins, flips and grabs, Bradley racks up points in a freeride competition, a discipline based on expression, creativity and style. Bradley, a genderqueer skier from Lake Tahoe, California, has been skiing since they were two and competing on the freeride world tour since the age of 18. But years of training and traveling in remote ski towns offered little opportunity to connect with the larger queer community. This fall, Bradley and filmmaker Ryan Collins set out to share the experience of LGBTQ+ skiers in rural communities. 

Bradley, Collins and the handful of queer skiers who appear in the film hope to start a conversation about queer isolation in mountain towns and in the snow-sports community.  The film premiered on Oct. 14, and additional screenings will take place through December in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. Bradley spoke with High Country News about the joys and challenges of queer expression in the skiing world.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Bradley, a genderqueer skier from Lake Tahoe, California, has been skiing since they were two and competing on the freeride world tour since the age of 18.
Courtesy film still

HCN: What was it like working with Ryan and collaborating with other queer skiers?

Lily Bradley: I remember the first time he approached me, and just talking with him was gratifying. I wasn’t alone in having an isolated queer existence growing up in a rural place. It made me feel visible, and I hadn’t really talked to a lot of people over 22, who were queer in the world of sports. So it was cool to get his perspective.

HCN: What kind of impact do you think the film will have?

LB: I’m looking for people to reevaluate the way snow sports exclude some people. I'm looking for people to confront gaps in their worldview. Basically, I just hope that it makes people who wouldn’t usually be in queer spaces confront queerness. I want it to show queer inclusion, which I think is something that a lot of people in the ski-verse go out of their way to avoid.

I’m hoping that the queer audience will feel inspired to make their own art. I feel like there’s so much potential for more visibility of queer athletes. I’m hoping that people feel like they’re not alone. You can always build a community in any space that you’re in. And you can create any content that makes you feel in your body and expresses yourself in a positive way.

HCN: How long did it take you to find queer community in the snowsports world?

LB: I feel like I’ve got a split identity. I have my college queer friends — anarchist, punk, niche queer community — and I can express myself fully with them. And then I get transplanted into alienation — this jock, mountain town and competition culture. On the (freeride world) tour, it was really cool to be able to meet some women and women-adjacent queer athletes who were skiing at the highest level in the world. But it was definitely an unspoken, super-subtle queer culture on the tour.

During filming for “People Like Us.” “I feel like there’s so much potential for more visibility of queer athletes. I’m hoping that people feel like they’re not alone,” said Bradley about the film.
Courtesy of Ryan Collins

HCN:  What makes it subtle? Is there pressure for queer folks in pro skiing to keep quiet?

LB: I think it’s inaccessibility. Queer people tend to be more marginalized and prone to not having the financial resources to be able to pursue competition. I’d say another part is the machismo-masculine culture of the tour in combination with the capital-driven culture of being a competitive sports athlete. Those combine to make people present a gilded image of their personality that is easily palatable and marketable to appease sponsors. Any hyper-masculine atmosphere is not going to be a conducive place to have an openly flourishing (queer) community. And the tour is very hyper-masculine. It does not have a history of good female inclusion or accessibility.

HCN: Do you think that the tide is starting to turn in the snow-sports community and these rural mountain towns? Or is it still pretty isolated in terms of queer connection?

LB: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve settled down in one place long enough to have been able to establish a good queer community. I know that there are flourishing little pockets of queer snow folk. Usually, (queer community is) in urban areas more often than in rural towns. When you’re in a rural town, it’s four lesbians, and we all know each other. It can be super isolated. 

To me, skiing is super gay, skiing is super trans. I don’t know if there’s ever going to be an actual culture shift because skiing is a very white, elitist and heterocentric sport. But there are pockets that are emerging, and even if we can’t change the entire culture, we can create a culture that works for us within the sport.

HCN: Do you find ways to express your queerness and identity when skiing?

LB: I think that skiing was one of the earliest ways that I expressed my masculinity. You can wear unisex clothing, it’s a very gender-nihilist kind of feeling. I get mistaken for a man when I’m skiing, because I get to express myself through my clothing.

I found a lot of confidence and gender expression in skiing. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I was just like, “People perceiving me as a boy means I’m better at skiing because men are better at skiing,” and then I developed, and looking back, I thought, wait a minute, that was actually a really early component of learning that I feel better when I’m perceived in a masculine way. It gives you platforms to be perceived in the way you want and just be completely in your body. I do think sport erases gender in a lot of ways, and it has helped me construct my own gender identity.

Ollie Hancock is an editorial intern for High Country News reporting from Portland, Oregon. Email them at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

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