Ski chatter with Dennis Ranalter

side-profile shot of skier Dennis Ranalter, background unfocussed

Who is Dennis Ranalter, D-RAN, one of the most stylish skiers on the mountain?

In his new film, Descendance, that’s the question Dennis Ranalter tries to answer for himself.

Half Ghanaian, half Austrian, and now at the top of his game in a sport that remains predominantly and conspicuously white, the film examines the arc of Dennis’ ski career while exploring his identity, his roots, and the impact of racism on his own life and the wider community.

We caught up with Dennis at the Kendal Mountain Festival ahead of another screening on the film’s worldwide tour.

Amy Marwick: How has it been to show the film? Did you get the reaction you were expecting?

Dennis Ranalter: It’s been pretty nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m super happy with the response it’s had.

The younger generation is reaching out and that, for me, is one of the coolest things. They were saying, “finally something to watch! Somebody who can relate to the feelings I have because I’m going through the same thing right now”.

When you see comments like this underneath the film on YouTube, how does it make you feel…? “I can’t express to you how much it means that you guys continue to show up for people that look like me in spaces that, unfortunately, a lot of us have been conditioned to believe we don’t belong or it’s not for us.”

On one side, it makes me very sad that people are feeling like that, and on the other side, if it helps just a single person and they know they’re not alone, it gives me hope.

a skier pulls a trick whilst taking big air off piste in pristine snow
© Pally Learmond

Why was now the time to make Descendance?

I got the opportunity to pitch to The North Face and just wrote everything I was feeling down. I knew that if I was going to do something, I wanted to do something meaningful. I decided to empty my head a little bit and that it would be about finding myself as a person.

Do you think the mountains have become a more inclusive space since you were a child?

A couple of years ago I thought there was a change, butI feel like maybe it’s just the younger generation that change and it’s how I perceive it that is different. When I was younger it bothered me more, but the looks that give you the feeling ‘you’re different’, they’re still there. When you grow older you probably deal with those kinds of situations differently.

What can the outdoor industry do to move forward?

The message should be that everybody is welcome. That it doesn’t matter what you believe in, where you are from, how you look, what your sexuality is…

The industry could do a better job of showing more differences in campaigns. But this is happening way more now, and that’s positive.

Did you have anyone to look up to as a role model?

Yeah, I had role models… Skiers, snowboarders, but no-one who looked like me, to be honest.

skier tucks, jumping sideways, in the trees off piste, the colourful bases of his skis the image focus
© Aaron Jamieson

What has helped carry you through your career?

Skiing was my way out. Like my therapy. I knew that if I had a day where something stupid happened, I could go ski the next day and I would forget about it. Just going up there, the fresh air, the surroundings, the scenery – I think it was this that carried me. The motivation to get that feeling again.

How did the idea for the film’s content come about?

I did a lot of research and contacted my Dad again for the first time in a long time. I’ve never been to Ghana, and when I got back in contact with Dad I had a lot of questions about where my grandparents came from. I asked him if he would be keen to go to Ghana with me, and straight away he said: “Yeah, of course, let’s do it.”

It kind of started from there.

It must have been quite intense having these very intimate moments captured on camera?

It was okay, because everybody who was there with me I knew well. I was super nervous seeing my grandmother for the first time, meeting my aunt and my cousins, and being there with my Dad after such a long period. It was an intense moment, but a very beautiful one too. I just tried to soak it in and go in there as relaxed as possible and see what happened.

The film is beautifully produced, were you involved in the creative design as well?

Yeah, that was super cool to be involved with. The guy who did the sketches is a friend and I was always a fan of his drawings and paintings. We were talking from the beginning about making it abstract and putting in some animations.

That’s a world away from the start of your ski career, competing in Slopestyle in European and World Cups. Did you enjoy competing?

Mmm, back in the day, I was pretty competitive with myself and I wanted to give 100% all the time, but I was never happy competing – it always stressed me out. I kind of forced myself into it because I thought, ‘I have to do it to become a better skier’.

When I was 18, I realised I didn’t want to ski like that; I wanted to focus on the things I loved, otherwise I would have probably stopped skiing for fun, and that made no sense.

Filming was my first big love. I looked up to all the ski movie producers and writers – I wanted to be one of those guys. I actually enjoyed a lot about competing… the travel, the people, but just not competing itself.

skier jumping off cliffy rock section, barely visible so small on huge drop with each rock cushioned with a pile of snow
© Aaron Jamieson

What do you enjoy most about making ski films?

The beautiful thing for me is that you can make it look how you want, how you feel; totally your vision. You can work with the surroundings and you can do so much different stuff. It’s unlimited, and I think that makes it beautiful.

What’s your favourite ski movie of all time?

Show & Prove, the Tanner Hall movie. The soundtrack and the whole vibe of the movie, the riders in there…

I’ve probably seen that movie 300 times. I watched it twice a day when I was young. That was the first time I’d seen Sean Pettit and his brother, Callum, doing a cork seven off a cliff. They were maybe a year older than me, and I was so far away from that. This motivated me a lot, seeing the young guns throwing down crazy tricks. I was like, ‘I wanna do that too’.

These days, you’re renowned for taking big tricks into the backcountry. How easy is it to transfer these skills from the park to the off-piste?

In the park, everything is perfect. So, most of the time you have a good take-off, you know the speed, and usually there’s a steep landing. But in the backcountry, nothing is certain. The more often you do it though, the better you can read the mountain and select the right trick for the jump. It’s just decision making – but to make the right decision you need to make the wrong one a couple times!

You’ve been described as one of the most stylish skiers. How you would describe your ski style now?

Lately, I just go with the flow. Your body and mind know what to do. If you just ski, if you’re not forcing it in any direction, then it probably looks the most relaxed and the most comfy. And you feel comfy… I don’t know. It’s very hard to talk about your own skiing!

What are your goals for the future?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I want to produce ski movies as well. Filming, cutting, this is my second favorite thing to do after skiing.

Hopefully I can keep helping the younger generation too. I’d like to build something to get younger kids hyped to start skiing. To run a program that brings people in who would not usually have the chance to ski. Getting out with people, having fun, and showing them that there’s no reason to be scared and that everybody’s welcome.