“My dad bought a snowboard in the early 90’s. It was one where you slide your feet in, but I was too little to do it,” said 3x USA Snowboarding Association National Champion Elizabeth Niotis, recalling her first time standing on a board. “My brother was big enough to actually get into the snowboard. He’s a year and a half older [than me], so everything he did, I wanted to do. I threw this huge temper tantrum. [So] I wore my tennis shoes inside my brother’s moon boots and I slid my tiny foot into the board. I remember my dad holding my hand while I was on this snowboard [that I could only get] one foot in.”

Niotis grew up in a snow family. She laughed as she said, “When my mom was pregnant with me, she skied. [And then] my dad would take me in a basket and ski with me.” When she was able to stand on her own, Niotis started her snow adventures on skis, spending holidays with her family cruising around Snowbird, UT. Over the years Niotis’ dad and sister transitioned more into snowboarding. Not wanting to be the odd one out, Niotis decided to give the sport a real try.

“I hated it,” she laughed. “I didn’t ever want to do it again. I sat in the car most of the day because my feet hurt and I kept falling.”

But when Christmas came round and Niotis needed a size up in her boots and skis, she conveniently forgot all that hate and opted to get a snowboard instead. “I wanted to be like my brother and sister,” she said. “Then I was stuck. I had to learn it. I got better and better at snowboarding with my brother because I’d always want to follow him everywhere.”

Elizabeth Niotis making a silly face in her snowboarding gear.

Danielle Taylor

Now with twenty-nine medals to her name, it is clear that she made the right choice. For Niotis, competitive snowboarding was love at first-slalom at the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge. One part due to her innate competitive nature, and the other, the acquisition of a very big trophy. “We were just on vacation in Breckenridge and we entered into the [competition]. I ended up getting a year’s supply of free pizza and a giant trophy,” she grinned. “I couldn’t even carry it, it was so big. I was like, ‘this is really cool!’ [So], from about thirteen I wanted to be a professional snowboarder.”

Snowboarding enveloped Niotis’ life. In middle school and high school she spent her winters on the mountain with friends and the off season flipping through Snowboarder magazines. Niotis chuckled as she recalled, “On the day of my senior prom, I snowboarded in a competition and won. I went to prom and had a total goggle tan.”

Upon graduating, Niotis moved to Breckenridge to chase her dreams of going pro. She was motivated by her passion for the sport and by a promise she made to her grandma. “My grandma helped raise us [and when] I told her I wanted to be a pro snowboarder, she was like, ‘that’s great!’” explained Niotis. “Unfortunately she died my senior year, so telling her that before she passed away was really important to me. I take that very seriously.”

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Niotis’ competitive career started in half pipe and she didn’t even consider trying other events until she accidentally registered for a border cross competition. Having already made the trek to the event, she decided to give it a go. “I got fourth and was like, ‘this is really cool!’” said Niotis. “I really loved border cross, and I ended up qualifying for Nationals.”

Though she didn’t place at Nationals that year, she would later claim the National Champion title in her division for the USASA Halfpipe, Boardercross, and Slopestyle events in 2021, Niotis enjoyed the new style of snowboarding and continued entering border cross competitions. She qualified for Nationals again the next year, and was stoked. In order to prepare herself, she went to her first professional border cross competition in Crested Butte, CO. Already psyched to compete, Niotis was doubly excited because of a date with a cute boy she’d had the day before. “I hung out with him the day before [the race], and I was like, come to this competition with me. Come to this competition with me.”

Unfortunately, the competition did not go as well as her date. Niotis explained, “I spent all my money to try and just enter that competition. It was so cool because I got to be with all of that year’s pros. Then in time trials, I cased the jump and broke my foot.”

“It was a bad break and it was really traumatic to be honest. I thought my whole career was over.”

Elizabeth Niotis snowboarding in that deep pow

Matt Francomano

Luckily Niotis’ foot made a full recovery and that cute boy ended up being incredibly kind, and as Niotis now knows, a wonderful husband. “I called him and told him I broke my foot. And this guy, who I barely knew, was like, ‘are you okay? Do you want me to rent a car to come get you? What can I do for you?’” smiled Niotis. “He was just so kind.”

Coming back from her injury, Niotis was understandably hesitant to return to border cross. The courses and their jumps were just getting bigger and Niotis’ aggression through the pumps and turns would just fizzle out when she had to hit a jump. Not wanting to reinjure herself, Niotis decided to take a break from border cross.

Years passed, and Niotis continued to compete in half pipe, but overall in terms of competition, Niotis felt lost. The Waldo Canyon fires of 2012 had burned down her house, melting her medals, destroying any evidence of her efforts. It felt as though she had nothing to show for the years she’d dedicated to snowboarding.

At the same time, Niotis and her husband were experimenting with van life, a dream they’d shared from their first conversations. Their initial trial, six months in Whistler sleeping in a Honda Element, was rough. “I don’t recommend it,” she laughed. “It’s horrible living in the Honda Element in the winter because it’s so cold.”

Still the duo loved the freedom and, of course, the snowboarding. So they ended up purchasing an old airport shuttle to convert. Layering up the insulation, their nights are certainly warmer now, and Niotis has figured out a few hacks along the way. “If we know it’s going to be really cold, I’ll put a shot of 151 in one of our big five gallon containers of water,” she grinned. “It’s my anti-freeze.”

It was that first year in the Honda Element that gave Niotis the time and space she needed to reflect on what she really wanted in life. “I was running in Whistler, B.C. and there were all these bear warning signs, which maybe that heightened my alertness, but I was like, ‘I haven’t given being a pro snowboarder a real shot’,” said Niotis. “I need to do this. I need to be a professional snowboarder.”

With this new drive, Niotis sat down and wrote out a list of actionable, achievable goals. “I want to be in a magazine. I want to be in a video. I want to be sponsored by Burton. I want to meet the best tuner in the world,” she listed.

In tandem with this new internal structure, Niotis was finding external structure through the support of women in her community. “It’s weird because I met women in the skate scene first,” she said. “I met these amazing women at Woodward. I met amazing women in Breckenridge, and then the women in Whistler. There was this connection that we’re all doing this together. It’s our community. There’s this love for each other and acceptance for each other. That helped me understand what a culture of women athletes together can look like.”

Elizabeth Niotis racing banked slalom snowboard

Sarah Doody

The final piece in the puzzle was when Niotis was introduced to banked slalom by a stranger. A fellow woman on the slopes with whom she just happened to take a few laps with. “She told me about a Methodology Competition in Eldora and what it’s about. I was like, ‘that seems kind of weird’,” she laughed. Still Niotis decided to attend the event with some friends since there’s no harm in more snowboarding. “I was terrified. I was older than a lot of people and I didn’t know what exactly to do in slalom. But I went and it changed my whole life.”

The biggest difference between banked slalom and border cross is that banked slalom doesn’t have jumps. Able to focus on technique and speed without worrying about a repeat injury, Niotis knew she’d finally found her perfect niche.

She was obsessed. Unfortunately the start of that obsession was in the first few months of 2020. All events shut down for Covid, but Niotis still had all the excitement and energy of discovering her new passion, and nowhere to compete. So, she channeled that energy instead into getting her hands on a board she’d demoed earlier that year. “[It’s called] the Sensei,” said Niotis with a love sick look in her eyes. “It’s a super aggressive board, set back, super stiff, but it has a very narrow waist width. I tried it and loved it.”

However, when Niotis returned to the tent after riding the board, she found out it was unreleased and unavailable. Months later when she was stuck in her van, still pining over that perfect board, she figured there was no harm in reaching out. “[At the event] I ended up talking to Dave Downing, who [is connected with] Burton. I just said, ‘I really love this board. I want to get on it. How can I make that happen?’” said Niotis. “[Later], on a whim, I looked up Dave’s information and I wrote him on Instagram.”

“He’s just been so helpful. He can see that I love that board. That [process of reaching out and connecting with someone in the industry] gave me more confidence and a ‘go get em’ attitude. Then I just started reaching out to companies through Instagram.”

Her friends were also there to help her navigate the maze of finding sponsorships. Whether it was help writing request letters, sending Niotis examples of professional sports resumes, or just a general sense of encouragement, it all culminated in Niotis landing her first sponsor with RYIDAR, the first pro athlete to be sponsored by the company. “I was so lucky and stinking excited,” she grinned. “I still am.”

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Elizabeth Niotis on the podium with a big ol' check.

Mary Estares

Now Niotis travels across the country for competitions, attending almost every U.S. stop of the Burton Mystery Tour, and last year podiumed at almost every event she rode in. For all her hard work, she was awarded the Burton and Fat Tire Boundary Pusher award. Though it may have taken a little more time than she initially anticipated, Niotis is making good on the promise she made to her grandma all those years ago.

Knowing that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the help and support of the women in her life, Niotis prioritizes encouraging other women, especially those above the typical competition age, to give racing a try.

“The thing that bugs me is that a lot of women will come [to competitions] with their kids and say, ‘oh I used to snowboard, but I can’t do that anymore’,” Niotis threw her hands in the air. “I’m like, ‘why not?’ Be that example to your kids. You should get your booty out there and ride. Let’s go have fun and compete.”

Through connecting with other women on the mountain – “my husband calls me a chatty Kathy because I want to make friends with everyone” – Niotis hopes to be a part of the push out of the scarcity mindset that long dominated women’s snowboarding. “These slalom competitions are open to everybody,” said Niotis. “I love the fact that I get exactly the same cash prize as the men at [a Burton Mystery Tour event]. A lot of women at Burton made that happen, like Shannon Dunn.”

Elizabeth Niotis with hanging with the ladies in the half pipe.

Cullen McHale

She continued, “It’s really important that women are representative and represented in the industry. [For example], Kelly Clark, the Olympic halfpipe rider, and Donna Carpenter, the owner of Burton, are on the board of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. As I’ve progressed with Burton more, I really value [that female voice]. Like, they’ll sponsor you as a rider, even if you’re pregnant. They offer so much that’s inclusive to women, and that’s what I think needs to be at the forefront of the entire industry.”

For Niotis, growing alongside snowboarding has been the journey of a lifetime, with each day another chance to fall in love all over again. She smiled saying, “When it snows for the first time in a season, I get so excited because it means it’s going to be snowboarding season.”

“What I love about competitions,” she continued. “Is that I can obsess over my wax. I can obsess over my angles. The most important part though, is I love meeting people. I love to hear their stories. And I love to share these competitions. We all have the same experience, and this is our experience to share together.”

A special thanks from Elizabeth to
Venture Sports
Golden Wren

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding when she isn't reading.

ALEX FIG is the founder of Butter Mag, an online magazine that strives to highlight women and queer folks that you're reading right now. A casual outdoorist, she enjoys climbing, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding when she isn't reading.


Header and Other Images Cullen McHale @cullenmchale
Matt Francomano @mfrancodelic
Danielle Taylor @dtaylordst
Sarah Doody @sarahcdoody
Mary Estares


IG @eniotis
Check out Elizabeth on RYIDAR



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