“I’m not scared,” says Wende Zomnir, unfl appably discussing being dropped on the peak of a mountain by a helicopter and then careening down with only a thin sheet of plastic and steel strapped to her feet.
This story first appeared in the April 22, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The creative director and co-founder of Newport Beach, Calif.-based Urban Decay began heliboarding four years ago in Utah, where she was deposited on the tops of mountains in the Wasatch Range to descend 2,000 to 2,500 vertical feet. Next, she headed to Alaska’s Chugach Mountains, where she has handled slopes with angles of up to 50 degrees and drops of 3,500 to 6,000 vertical feet. “When you’re deep in powder and on a steep slope and the conditions are perfect, there’s not much more fun that you can have,” says Zomnir. “It just feels like you’re floating.”
Zomnir has always been a thrill seeker. At an early age, her mother says she gravitated to ski runs her peers avoided. And she’s got an encouraging partner in husband Douglas Collier, the executive vice president of action sports clothier Volcom, who occasionally drags her to areas of mountains she didn’t plan on tackling. “In the end, I’m usually glad he dragged me there,” Zomnir swears.
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Ironically, it was a love interest before Collier, who introduced Zomnir to the sport. An avid skier, she dated a man who couldn’t ski. Zomnir decided to learn how to snowboard as he was learning. She became hooked and wanted to snowboard more and more. He didn’t. “I was like, maybe he’s not the right guy for me,” she laughs.
Snowboarding adventures have become a big part of Zomnir’s life. She tries to make annual excursions to Alaska and jets off regularly to Utah, where she and Collier have a house. It isn’t a cheap hobby—Zomnir estimates a heli-boarding trip starts at $1,000, but notes, “I’d rather spend my money having these amazing life experiences than amassing stuff.” Then there’s the gear: On each outing, Zomnir is outfi tted with a shovel and probe (to dig someone out), an avalanche transceiver (so someone can find her), an avalung (in case she gets buried) and a harness (in case she falls into a crevasse and needs to be hoisted out.)
Heli-boarding is a physical challenge that reaffirms Zomnir’s inner and outer strength. “Any kind of experience where you force yourself to become braver and stronger helps you in your real life, too,” she says. The mental part may be the most rewarding. When Zomnir’s zooming down a mountain, she’s forced to concentrate on only that. “You are 100 percent living in the moment,” she says. “You really do erase all of what’s in your head when you are there.”